Khwezi, the woman who accused President Jacob Zuma of rape in 2005, has died. “It is with our deepest sorrow that the Kuzwayo family announces the passing of our daughter Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo,” her family said in a statement released to the media.
She was described as a “loving soul”.
Why was she in the news recently?
After the official announcement of the 2016 municipal election results on 6 August 2016, President Zuma’s address was quickly disrupted by a group of four activists staging a silent protest, holding placards bearing the words “Remember Khwezi”, the well-known pseudonym of the woman who accused Zuma of rape in 2005.
Zuma was charged with rape in December 2005, and found not guilty on 8 May 2006 by the Johannesburg High Court.
Who is Khwezi?
Khwezi, which means Star, is the daughter of an ANC member who was imprisoned on Robben Island with Zuma for ten years. He died in a car accident in 1985.
As a child, Khwezi lived in exile in Zambia and Swaziland, and moved back to South Africa in 1990. After her father’s death she met Jacob Zuma, who was a friend of her father’s, and grew very close to him, regarding him as a father figure.
In 1999 she discovered that she was HIV positive, and thereafter become an Aids activist.
Khwezi, who identifies as a lesbian, faced an incredibly gruelling, invasive and traumatic cross-examination during the trial, as well as a physical examination to determine whether rape had actually occurred.
Zuma infamously said that he had a shower after having sex with Khwezi. Hence Zapiro’s shower head on every cartoon related to Zuma.
Many Zuma supporters were actively threatening to her and she faced slut-shaming, victim-blaming and accusations of dishonesty and sabotage. She was accused of “tempting” Zuma by wearing a traditional Khanga and texting him, and had her HIV status and sexual orientation used against her in the trial.
Khwezi stated that Zuma, who had denied the accusation, had offered to marry her as a reparation, which her mother also knew about.
Raped multiple times
During the trial, a draft copy of a memoir that she had been writing came into possession of the defence lawyer Kemp J Kemp. It was discovered that Khwezi had been raped multiple times by many men within the ANC, the first time at age 5. One of the rapes had caused a pregnancy which she then terminated. Two of the accused rapists had six month’s pay removed by the ANC exile court for raping her as a minor.
Khwezi stated during the trial that she saw Zuma as a father-figure, and that his sexual advances had shocked her which is why she froze during the incident. She also said she would not have allowed for unprotected sex. The judge, Willem van der Merwe, who acquitted Zuma, refused to believe that Khwezi did not want Zuma’s sexual advances, accusing her of a history of false rape accusations. In the end, the encounter was deemed consensual.
After the trial and outcome, a close friend arranged for Khwezi and her mother to move to The Netherlands, where they were granted asylum in 2007 where they lived for some years and where she wrote and performed a poetry piece about rape. The two then moved to Tanzania and finally relocating to KwaZulu-Natal, where she now works and lives in a township.
Khwezi was silenced by South Africa’s justice system
In a country with some of the worst rape statistics in the world, her forced silencing and literal exile left a mark on South Africa’s fight for justice for rape victims and survivors. However, 2016 has been a year of anger, or defiance against this system, of change. The #RUReferenceList protests, #WeBelieveYou campaign and the very public, very real protest right in front of our president is only the beginning. As Pumla Gqola said earlier this week at the university currently known as Rhodes “This is the time of feminist rage. Feminist rage is as legitimate as feminist love.”