'Khwezi was the strongest woman I know'

2016-10-11 08:57
Khwezi protest. (Supplied)

Khwezi protest. (Supplied)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Johannesburg - To the public she was known as President Jacob Zuma's rape accuser. She was nameless and faceless and the public's glimpse of her was the picture of her entering court, her face covered with a doek, under heavy protection - on February 13, 2006.

Activists called her Khwezi in an attempt to give her a name and a voice.

Ten years later, South Africans finally know her real name in death: Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.

Those close to her say she died after finally finding the strength to stop "living anonymously" and, after returning to South African, to "pick up the pieces of her shattered life".

Kay Sexwale, a family friend said, "Fezekile was tortured in many ways but she was now ready to live outside the 'Zuma rape survivor tag'.

"The rape changed her whole life. She not only lost trust of someone she considered a father, but she was trying to pick up her life – to say 'My name is not Jacob Zuma's accuser, but my name is Fezekile'."


She had a personal relationship with Zuma. He was friends with her father and shared a cell with him on Robben Island. She knew Zuma as a father figure.

She accused him of raping her in his Forest Town, Johannesburg, home – at the height of his political fight to lead the ANC. His supporters demonised her. They labelled her a liar and part of a plot by political opponents to stop then-deputy president Zuma from ascending to the Union Buildings. Zuma was acquitted of the charges in May 2006.

But those who knew her don't only want to celebrate the "beautiful rose that has fallen".  

Anger and guilt consumes them.

Bhekisisa Mncube knew her from their student days at the University of Natal. He describes her as an ordinary girl full of life and laughter. But remembering her bubbly personality is bitter sweet.

"I feel a sense of guilt that in the free South Africa at some stage she was stateless and died living incognito in her mother land," Mncube told News 24.

Reporting rape 'a tough thing to do'

Their anger is directed at those they say chose political expediency and told the then-31-year-old woman to flee her country, which she did, fearing for her life. 

After the trial, she applied for asylum in the Netherlands with her mother.

Sexwale is still haunted by the "angry and fierce looking men, holding knobkieries outside the court "protesting against Fez, as they affectionately called her. 

"We know for anyone to report rape is a tough thing to do. For anyone to report rape against someone as powerful and still persevere...

"She is the strongest woman I know. And people say she is lying. Don't you think she would at some point have said ‘I lied’ so that she can stop hiding? That was not an option because she was not lying."

She became an accidental activist – using her "tragedies" to raise awareness. Others have used her experiences to speak out against the country's startling rape culture. Others highlight how rape survivors find themselves on trial. Their sexual history, and not the perpetrators’, is interrogated.

Detractors silenced by death

In August, four women held a silent protest while Zuma gave a speech at the IEC's results centre in Pretoria following the local government elections.

They held up placards that read "10 years later", "Remember Khwezi", "I am one in 3" and "Khanga", in reference to the trial.

"She was open about her HIV status. She talked a lot about sex and sexuality. She used to teach and raise awareness," Mncube said.

Those that led the chorus against her, especially within the ANC, appear silenced by her death. 

At the time, Julius Malema, who was still ANC Youth League leader and a Zuma supporter, claimed she enjoyed the sex with Zuma because she stayed the night and then asked for taxi money in the morning.

On August 23, Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Association president Kebby Maphatsoe apologised and paid former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils R500 000 in damages. Kasrils sued Maphatsoe after he accused him of instigating the laying of the rape charges.

A lesson to the nation

The ANC Women's League described Kuzwayo as a brave woman who stood up and told her side of the story. One of the lessons learnt was that women should unite and support victims.

"She highlighted that we are not free as women yet. We still have so many challenges. She definitely stood her ground, even though at the end she lost her case. But the important thing is that she was brave and fearless," ANCWL secretary general Meokgo Matuba said.

Sexwale said unless the ANCWL was ready to apologise for attacking Kuzwayo at the time of Zuma’s rape trial, it should rather stay silent.

"I am not casting aspersions on individuals, but if the ANCWL is not ready to issue a formal apology, they must just keep quiet," Sexwale said.

Kuzwayo’s friends said it was sad that South Africa and the world never get to know who she was – the aspirant writer who loved children and was starting a teaching career.

Kuzwayo gave the nation a lesson about the effects our words and actions can have on those without power, Sexwale said.

"We should listen without prejudice. We should know words hurt."


Read more on:    khwezi  |  jacob zuma  |  rape

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.