The remarkable story of Fezekile “Khwezi” Ntsukela Kuzwayo is coming to the State Theatre this month and is expected to draw a big audience.
The former president Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser had to flee in to exile in fear of her safety.
Zuma was found not guilty of the charge, however, the manner in which Khwezi was treated by the courts and society has forced South Africans to rethink the way in which they deal with rape survivors.
The play, KHWEZI Say My (Her) Name, was adapted from the book, Khwezi, by Redi Tlhabi, which was published after her death.
Tlhabi claims that she wrote the book while Khwezi was alive.
Her story was turned into a play by multi-award winning playwright and director Napo Masheane, who says she felt the need to breathe life into the story, as penned by Redi, by retelling it artistically, and on stage.
Her six months’ journey of adapting the story started after she read the book and found lines in it that she deemed powerful enough to tell.
The play is being staged so the country does not forget, she says, and to encourage those who are yet to tell their stories to do so.
“I believe there is still a young girl out there, sitting and hasn’t found the strength or the courage to speak to power.
“So many of us in the industry have not even had the guts to speak and are wearing masks.
“We are seen on covers of magazines, smiling and bubbly.
“But how many of us are worried about the next pay cheque and can’t speak against power?” asks Napo.
“But this woman (Khwezi) went against the most powerful man in the country and that is commendable,” she adds.
Napo also wants to give Khwezi a face beyond rape in the stage production.
“I want to see the Khwezi who laughed, who played hopscotch with her friends in Zimbabwe. I want to see the Fez who sings in a choir and loses herself and wants to be a girl next door.
“And if this is a chance for me and her to show the world that she is like any of us, I will take it. Yes this (rape) happened, it was painful but that is not all that she was,” affirms Napo.
Reflecting on how far she has come with the work, Napo says she wonders how she hasn’t crumbled, given the gravity of this story.
“I’ve always wondered what was happening with Redi when she wrote the book. Something might have given her nightmares.
“Because I’ve got my own nightmares and sometimes you have to face your nightmares to wake up. With the work we do, none of us wakes up to say, ‘I want to be controversial or be a revolutionary.’ Game-changers don’t wake up with such plans.
“People do what they were sent to do by the universe. We are just vessels and I think in this lifetime my journey led me to this.
“If I don’t do it, face the nightmare that is a woman’s body, then I won’t be able to wake up I don’t think it’s a question of wanting, I have to,” she says.
As part of her research, Napo took time off in the mountains of KwaZulu-Natal to connect with Khwezi spiritually - to get guidance from her on how she wants her story to be told.
“All through the development of the play, it was always ‘I need to do this’ and ‘I need to do that,’ but in that moment when I just sat there in Durban, conversing with Khwezi, the ‘I’ changed into ‘we’. And I think this is the most profound thing to happen to me spiritually.”
With such a sensitive story, Napo admits that the nerves are there.
“It is a scary process, I must admit but it has to be done,” she says.
“I don’t think when you are giving birth to a new show or child you can’t just be nonchalant about it.
“This is not the mountain view, not about the trees or the birds but this is serious.
“I am constantly trying to make everyone who is a part of this understand that my heart and soul is in this and therefore you need to do justice to this and serve it,” she says.
The play is not a musical as it is highly narrative but it also includes elements of music, dance and hypothetical demonstrations of a rape story.
“I expect all of us to reflect, not to forget Fezekile. Artistically, I really expect all of us to be bold and brave enough to tell our stories as defined by us, for us, with us.
“If we don’t do that others will come and try and define our stories. They will name our scars, our pain, own our wounds the way they want to. We know our stories best, we lived through that court case with Khwezi.
“So if I don’t do it, a Josephine or a Harry from abroad will. And we will start complaining when we had ample opportunities and resources to do it,” she says.
The cast is made up of well-known industry actors, with two fresh faces. “That is my way of ploughing back to the young. To reaffirm their journeys,” she adds.
The three Fridays of the showcase are themed: black for mourning, red for the blood and white for cleansing.
The play will be staged from July 25 to August 12. “A chance for all of us to say our names,” she concluded.@AmandaMaliba
The Sunday Independent