Citizen. Speak. Amplify.

Redi Tlhabi’s Khwezi is an indictment on patriarchy and sexual violence in SA

Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo breathes within the pages of journalist Redi Tlhabi’s new book, Khwezi, which tells the story of the woman who accused Jacob Zuma of rape in December 2005.

Kuzwayo went through a brutal trial which Tlhabi explains over two extensive chapters. Zuma was acquitted of the rape and the act was ruled as consensual. Kuzwayo was openly hounded, called a liar and accused of setting a ‘honey trap’ for Zuma. She eventually fled the country.

Little was known of Kuzwayo, who was known only as Khwezi until she died of an AIDS-related illness in October 2016. But Kuzwayo is much more than the woman who accused Zuma of rape all those years ago. She shouldn’t be defined by Zuma, and she didn’t want to be.

Tlhabi befriended Kuzwayo when she moved back to South Africa many years after the rape trial. Tlhabi wanted to write about Kuzwayo and Kuzwayo wanted to write about her father and her life, and so the book Khwezi was written. Tlhabi wrote the book that she and Kuzwayo had been discussing together before she passed away.

Tlhabi brings Kuzwayo to life for the reader. The story is woven together with various interviews with people from Kuzwayo’s life, her friends and family. It includes Kuzwayo’s diary entries, messages and conversations with Tlhabi. It also includes the court transcripts of the case. This rich fabric of Kuzwayo’s life is coupled with Tlhabi’s own research and analysis of apartheid and sexual violence.

She describes Kuzwayo’s talkative, warm, bubbly, and sensual nature – she also talks of her naiveté and trusting nature. The book serves as a biography of Kuzwayo’s life but also, as per her request, it tells of her father Judson Kuzwayo whom she feared would be forgotten. Judson Kuzwayo was a struggle stalwart in his own right. He shared a friendship with Jacob Zuma, who Kuzwayo grew up calling ‘Malume’ or Uncle.

Tlhabi is scathing in her criticism of the way malumes who had been entrusted to care for Kuzwayo had hurt her instead. Kuzwayo was also raped in her childhood at the ages of 5, 12 and 13 by different men she grew up with in exile.

Tlhabi describes how the heroism of the liberation struggle was tainted by the violence on women’s bodies. She writes of the way apartheid exacerbated patriarchy and how Black men felt emasculated by apartheid and sought to reclaim their masculinity through violence on women’s bodies.

However, women and their bodies are forgotten casualties of the struggle. Tlhabi writes about how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission never dealt with sexual violence and the rape of girls and women. “These are the women and girls whom the old country violated and the new country neglected,” she writes. In many ways, Kuzwayo’s story is testament to that.

Tlhabi fully believes Kuzwayo had been raped by the man who would become president. Tlhabi’s conviction is an important starting point especially because, although the book is centred around Kuzwayo, it is also about broader patriarchal structures and the sexual violence on women and children’s bodies. This is important because so many sexual assault survivors are doubted.

The book is released at an opportune time, in a year when both #MenAreTrash and #ZumaMustFall have gained a significant following. The country is seething with rage against the entitlement and violence of men on women’s bodies and a corrupt government.

It is a reminder of the continued power disparity between men and women in South Africa. Men have the benefit of the doubt, they are allowed to move on after invading a woman’s body. It is difficult, however, for women to move on. Kuzwayo is testament to how difficult it is for a survivor to move on after being subject to violence. Her psychological trauma was in her restlessness, her preoccupation with the past and her inability to fully commit to one thing. Kuzwayo found it difficult to feel settled in a particular job – she worked as a teacher for some of her life – without feeling the need for change.

The book attests to the power dynamics in the court of law, a patriarchal space where a woman is vilified for her sexual history but a man’s sexual history is accepted. Jacob Zuma escaped the trial virtually unscathed and is now the president and one of the most powerful men in the country. Kuzwayo and her mother were driven out of the country with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They returned to South Africa later, residing in the township, KwaMashu. Kuzwayo’s mother still lives there today.

The book tells the sordid tale of masculinity and the disregard it has for women and children’s bodily autonomy. It is a painful read and a powerful indictment of patriarchy in South Africa.

Khwezi is available for R175 on takealot.com and R277 at Exclusive Books.

1 Comment
  1. Henry Price Jr. says

    comrades even what is written in this article concerning Kuzwayo is moving plus some of it still occur so much in South Africa that it appear Buntu males have grown immune to it. I would in a “nutshell” like to put conditions in line. For all those Buntu males of South Africa plus elsewhere who seek to find or/plus restore your manhood that you quietly believe was stolen by colonialists or/plus Apartheid it will be found only by duly confronting those colonialists Nazi or/plus Apartheid Nazi. You comprehend you should not only confront them you need win. You need immediately win a level field opportunities. Anything less is a continuation of acceptance of exploitation by caucasians plus sycophant Buntu who support their exploitation of Buntu. Buntu who are sycophants come in a variety with some being rich, well educated, honored members of community plus your friends but one thing they all have in common is they seek to achieve what is known as rich caucasian desires irregardless of how much it impoverish others. What they fail to comprehend is that in South Africa we are dealing with evolved version of Nazi Germany. You see South Africa plus America in 1930’s were models Nazi Germany pattern itself after exception was Nazi Germany possessed much hate for Jewish. Evolution of Nazi disposition no longer possess hate for Jewish but seek Jewish out as partners. Thereafter Nazi disposition seek to use economy plus some Buntu leaders as its primary weapon in keeping Buntu in extreme poverty, underdevelopment of community plus state in which they are exploited. This evolved version of Nazi need be met head on with little if any tolerance for Buntu politicians including presidents who do not act in whole of Buntu best interest. thet are expendable as in not fit for office. Once Buntu have achieved economic plus social conditions providing upgrade in living with all having modern facilities plus greater upward mobility on a level field of opportunities Buntu males missing manhood will have been restored. Unto plus after such day arrive those men who subject Buntu women to sexual violence plus physical violence need be dealt with In kind. In kind as in they abuse plus exploited Buntu women thus it is fitting to destroy them for commission of such inhumane acts. they are expendable plus should not be among good people. Such people should not be shown mercy allowing them to survive for it is in expectancy of such mercy they committed their heinous acts. First step toward confronting plus overcoming evolved Nazi disposition plus restoring missing manhood is to show Buntu women due partnership of freedom from sexual plus physical violence from Buntu male. second step is Buntu South Africa need stop electing homosexuals to positions of power. They have perverted disposition which lead them to do wrong even when they know what is right. Mere fact they are homosexual is proof of their inclination to do wrong. We should not risk welfare of families on usbeing overly inclusive to degree we will accept those who knowingly do great wrong as leaders. As for consensual sex sex is only consensual where parties agree in speech plus actions. I would love to “hunt would would” interrogate Jacob Zuma on that matter. If he is innocent he will acknowledge so in his own words. Where are Buntu men of South Africa? Did colonialism or/plus Apartheid destroy them all? I wish they would come forth plus provide security from sexual violence plus physical violence that make better partner of Buntu women they so desperately need as a better partner. History show communist tend to deal with women better when it comes to eliminating sexual or/plus physical violence against good women. Why? Very much sincere, Henry Price Jr. aka Obediah BuntuIL-Khan aka Kankan aka Gue.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.