Today, the Human Rights Committee of the Parliament has presented a report on the allegations of sexual offences committed by Kirumira Brian aka Brian White. Brian White is one fishy guy who publicly displayed US dollars and the source of income could not be told. Now Parliament investigated the matter after a story ran on a local television with some girls ( under age) claiming that Brian had sexually assaulted them and forced them to have abortions, now Such allegations of this nature cannot be handled lightly. In such cases, people are likely to take sides and accuse the victims of tarnishing the image of Brian White which is basically victim blaming. Social media lynched the young girls and said that they had consented to the sex and wanted to spoil the name of Brian White.
My mind ran to the book Khwezi and these are the reflections. Now one may think that I am South African but I am not. I’m Africanised by love for books, Reading is liberating and has made me Zimbabwean and now let me South African.
“Khwezi: The Remarkable Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo” by Redi Tlhabi. This is not a formal review, just some reflections.
I was 17years old in 2006 when Jacob Zuma went on trial for the rape of Fezekile, so my memory of it is very vague. But reading this book made me relive what is undoubtedly one of the most shameful moments of South Africa.Redi shares some transcripts from the trial, specifically the shameful cross-examination of Fezekile by Advocate Kemp J Kemp, in which Fezekile was presented as a promiscuous woman with loose morals. The evidence? She had been raped repeatedly in exile, by older men who should have known better. According to Advocate Kemp, she was not raped, but had consented and was in fact having romantic relationships with her rapists. Fezekile was only 5, 12 and 13 at the time. That such a young person cannot consent to sex was ignored, and a narrative was painted of a Fezekile who seduced old men, and who seduced Zuma, her father’s bestfriend, a man she regarded as her own father.
Fezekile is not the only woman who accused Zuma of sexual violence. In Chapter 7, “Back to Exile”, a prominent journalist who had worked closely with Zuma and was on his side through the trial, believing that Fezekile was lying, reveals to Tlhabi that she too was violated by him. In her account (pages 194 – 197), she was invited to Forest Town, Zuma’s residence, to discuss sensitive political matters, in the presence of Zuma’s aide. But once she got there, the aide was dismissed and Zuma led the journalist to his bedroom, where he put his arm around her, pressed himself against her body and kissed her. He would have continued had the frozen, stunned journalist not lied about being on her periods as a way of negotiating herself out of the situation. The journalist did not report this incident – and looking at the public lynching that Fezekile was subjected to at the trial, one can understand why. (It must also be noted that Redi Tlhabi herself stopped meeting Zuma on her own after he suggested that next time she came to his residence, it must not be just for tea, but for dinner and breakfast).
The question of masculine power, of patriarchy, is at the heart of Tlhabi’s book. She traces rape and violence against women from ANC camps in exile, where women such as Rita Mazibuko were gang-raped and tortured due to suspicion that they were traitors. Some prominent ANC leaders such as Thenjiwe Mthintso, Thandi Modise, Gertrude Shorpe and MK veteran Samuel Mngqibisa are interviewed by Tlhabi and confirm that the military camps were sites of the harassment and violation of women. The culture of jackrolling that became prominent at the height of the ANC/Inkatha wars is also analysed, and used as a lens from which war on the streets and war on women’s bodies are linked. Tlhabi correctly problematises the fact that the TRC did not adequately deal with rape and sexual crimes, even as former president Thabo Mbeki acknowledged at the time that there were gender specific crimes that occurred during the apartheid era.
Tlhabi’s book humanises Fezekile in ways that the media and supporters of Zuma did not. It tells her story, not as “Zuma’s accuser”, but as a woman who loved life, who was a fighter in every sense of the word. Fezekile fought not only for herself, but for millions of South African women who daily, are confronted with violence in a heteronormative society that places the burden of morality on women, while men like Zuma do not have to account for anything, and are protected by patriarchal organisations, institutions, cultures and laws.
This books must be read, for many reasons, not least of all because it demands of us to hold up a mirror to ourselves and confront so much that we have come to accept, to excuse, to justify. It must be read so that we do not forget the many who publicly vilified Fezekile; the men and women who participated in her dehumanising ,lynching and those who tried to persuade her to drop the charges. We must remember them, if only to remind ourselves what we must never again become.
The presentation of this report epitomizes what is wrong with our country, men get away with sexual offences and the victims are blamed. One wonders how the nation is keen on keeping NUP supporters in kitalya, has the resources to teargas them but when it comes to sexual offences,we look away. Ours was once a nation.