Justice denied and vilified – the only version of the story Khwezi was allowed to take to her grave


TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, victim blaming

About the book:

In August 2016, following the announcement of the results of South Africa’s heated municipal election, four courageous young women interrupted Jacob Zuma’s victory address, bearing placards asking us to ‘Remember Khwezi’.

Before being dragged away by security guards, their powerful message had hit home and the public was reminded of the tragic events of 2006, when Zuma was on trial for the rape of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, better known as Khwezi.

In the aftermath of the trial, which saw Zuma acquitted, Khwezi was vilified by his many supporters and forced to take refuge outside of South Africa.

Ten years later, just two months after this protest had put Khwezi’s struggle back into the minds and hearts of South Africans, Khwezi passed away... But not before she had slipped back into South Africa and started work with Redi Tlhabi on a book about her life.

How as a young girl living in ANC camps in exile she was raped by the very men who were supposed to protect her; how as an adult she was driven once again into exile, suffering not only at the hands of Zuma’s devotees but under the harsh eye of the media.

In sensitive and considered prose, journalist Redi Tlhabi breathes life into a woman for so long forced to live in the shadows.

In giving agency back to Khwezi, Tlhabi is able to focus a broader lens on the sexual abuse that abounded during the ‘struggle’ years, abuse which continues to plague women and children in South Africa today.

The excerpt below has been published with permission from Jonathan Ball publishers and is available from all leading bookstores.

Even Fezekile’s dress code was subjected to Zuma’s worldview, as Adv de Beer’s cross-examination shows.

‘M’Lord,’ Zuma says, ‘like I said earlier on that she used to come to my place dressed in pants, but on this occasion she came dressed in a skirt. And the way she was sitting in that lounge was not the usual way that I know her to be sitting. That was not usual of her […].’

They then debate the length of the skirt, with Zuma answering that it came ‘up to the knee level’.

Adv de Beer: ‘And then you said something about the way she was sitting in the lounge.’


It appears there is always someone to blame, or some cultural belief – known only to Zuma – to explain his bizarre positions

‘What was peculiar about that?’

‘M’Lord what I mean by that is that under normal circumstances if a woman is dressed in a skirt she would sit properly with her legs together, but she was sitting anyhow, she did not cross her legs, she would not even wonder or mind if the [skirt] was raised or came up.’

From this, Zuma decided ‘that well there is something that she is after …’

It is important to mention that Zuma had also told the court, earlier, that Fezekile was emotional and unsettled when she came to his home.

She was very anxious about her niece’s child, the snakebite victim. So distraught was she that she was willing to travel to Swaziland, late at night, to be with the child.

But in court, in Zuma’s mind, she could switch from that level of distress to seduction and sex.

Later in the cross-examination, we get another insight into Zuma.

His commentary may have made headlines because of its outrageousness, but we are yet to subject it to a thorough analysis as a reflection on the abuse of power and what he was and is willing to do to escape accountability.

It appears there is always someone to blame, or some cultural belief – known only to Zuma – to explain his bizarre positions. Regarding Zuma’s view of Fezekile’s ‘arousal’, Adv de Beer asks,

‘Yes and you have explained that the way you grew up or in the Zulu culture you do not leave a woman in that situation. She will have you arrested and say you are a rapist?’

‘Yes,’ Zuma replied, ‘I was trying to explain that as I was growing up as a young boy in my tradition I was told if you get to that stage with a woman and you do not do anything further whilst she is at that stage, it is said she becomes so infuriated that she can even lay a false charge against you and allege that you have raped her.’

Here, he lived up to his name: Gedleyihlekisa, one who destroys you while laughing at you.

This tradition is known only to Zuma. Only he knows by whom ‘it is said’ that women become ‘so infuriated’ that they would go as far as facing the humiliation and stigmatisation that comes with rape.

Zuma kept returning to the same point – that he understood Fezekile was upset that he had not called her after they’d had intercourse, which is what his emissaries had told him.

It implied that she would accuse him of rape simply because he hadn’t called – because she felt used and neglected.

I never got to speak to Fezekile about this, but Kimmy reacted quite emotionally when I asked her: ‘I mean, how stupid do they think Fez was? She was a grown woman in her early 30s, she’d been in relationships that hadn’t worked out before.’

To me, though, this reveals something else – Zuma’s entitlement and ego.

Even according to his version – that the sex was consensual – he is still exercising noxious power and demonstrating insatiable greed and disregard for her dignity.

After their ‘consensual’ encounter, he had no regard for her well-being, no desire to check whether she had reached work safely the next day, and made no attempt to have one of his drivers take her home.

This is the normal interaction of people who have just been intimate with – and, according to Zuma, enjoyed – each other: a call, perhaps, or a flirtatious message about the night.

He was ready to take what he claims was offered, but nothing stopped him from affording her courtesy and respect afterwards. He simply ejaculated in her, got out of bed to shower, and forgot her.

‘Yes I remember that when I was asked because I said she was upset maybe because I did not contact her to ask her how she fared in her journey,’ Zuma said under cross-examination.

Later, Adv de Beer asks, ‘So was there a duty upon you to phone her to ask her about her journey to work?’

‘No that was not my responsibility.’ Cold and entitled. No regard for a woman who, according to him, was his lover. Here, he lived up to his name: Gedleyihlekisa, one who destroys you while laughing at you.

Zuma may have been acquitted, but Fezekile stood by her version, a version that was presented more emphatically in the last few minutes of Adv de Beer’s cross-examination:

‘I put it to you that you went back to the guest room that night to rape her when she was fast asleep,’ she stated.

‘That is not true,’ Zuma replied.

‘That you approached her already naked from the curtain side.’

‘That is true.’

‘And started to wake her up in a manner that would have raised no alarm bell.’

‘That is not true.’

‘You raped her regardless of her three “No Malumes” and the clear body language that she is not consenting.’

‘No, that is not so.’

‘She froze when she saw your naked body on top of her.’

‘No, that is not true.’

‘You penetrated her without a condom and without her consent.’

‘It was consensual sex although I did not have a condom.’

‘The penetration caused her extreme discomfort because of the friction.’

‘No, that is not true.’

‘You held her hands throughout the rape.’

‘No, that is not true.’

‘And you spoke to her during the rape in an attempt to get her attention as her behaviour and body language bothered and worried you.’

‘That is not so.’

This is the version that Fezekile took to her grave.

WATCH: Hundreds march to reclaim Khwezi's dignity

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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