The story of the woman known as Khwezi holds immense significance. With the release of a new book by Redi Tlhabi, the nation is once again talking about one of the biggest political scandals in recent history. But for those of us who were too young to know the significance of the story in 2005, Khwezi is a vague newspaper headline from long ago. The woke youth of today would have been anywhere between 12-16 years old at the time. Today our society is more politically conscious than ever, and this time around we’re ready to have a different conversation about the woman who became known as ‘Khwezi’.
Who was Khwezi?
Fezekile Kuzwayo was born into a politically significant family. Her father was the struggle hero Judson Kuzwayo. He, like his daughter, passed away too young, and also before seeing the justice he spent his life fighting for. Fezekile met Jacob Zuma when she was only five years old. She and her family were in exile in Swaziland at that time. Fezekile would eventually, after a few failed career dreams, become involved in Aids awareness and activism.
In November 2005, The Sunday Times reported that a charge had been laid against Zuma by a close family friend of the Zumas. February the following year the trail started. Fezekile kept her identity a secret during the time of the trial. She stated in court that she was already asleep when Zuma entered her room on the night of the rape. After turning down his requests to massage her, he went ahead anyway. She told the court that after a while, she opened her eyes to find him naked. She closed her eyes and froze, as he undressed her and proceeded to rape her.
When the trial was in full swing, it was clear what the true magnitude of Jacob Zuma’s power truly was. The ANC Youth League and other struggle stalwarts rallied behind him. It was then clear that Fezekile wasn’t taking on one man for his crimes, but an entire party and all its heavyweights.
In May 2006, the Johannesburg High Court found Zuma not guilty on charges of rape, finding that the intercourse was consensual. A year after the rape trial Fezekile fled the country and was granted asylum in The Netherlands; later moving to Tanzania, before eventually returning to South Africa. She passed away on 08 October 2016 due to Aids-related complications, almost a year before seeing the impact her story would have in the form of this book by Redi Thlabi.
Why is the story resurfacing now?
Although Fezekile did not see the justice she deserved, she did achieve something few have been able to. Her story exposes the deeply divided structure of the ruling party to to the society it should have served. Her case exposed an ineffective justice system that has changed little in the intervening years. And she opened a discussion about the violence women face in South Africa every day. The powerful response to Tlhabi’s new book is testament to the fact that we are finally ready for a new conversation about rape, power, and the justice system in this country.
Many of us were too young to know the importance of the events in 2006, but we know her story now and it’s our responsibility to restore justice to her, and all the other countless and nameless women who have been betrayed, humiliated and forgotten. With an ever-growing momentum (you need only think about the recent conversations around #MenAreTrash), we as a society are slowly equipping ourselves to fight to dismantle prevailing systems that seek to oppress women.