Songezo Mabece

Goodbye Sis’ Khwezi – though we continue to fail you

Khwezi has died, and we will learn a lot more of her now, than we would have when she was alive and forced into exile, only to return to oblivion until her death.

I wish to preface my note on the following grounds: (1) I cannot possibly imagine what Sis’ Fezekile might have experienced that fateful day with President Zuma; (2) I have no idea to what extent the damage the rape culture, and other sexual offences, has on women in general, and what Sis Fezekile took from the sexual encounter with President Zuma and (3) I cannot speak for the experience of women at large and their fears around sexual offences against their bodies. I also admit, there was a time where I was rough around the edges where (even without willfully doing so), I could possibly have offended the dignity of women. My exposure to the law and the progressive men and women who, in private and general spaces, have been able to shape my thinking that perhaps my ways might have been very offensive has allowed me to develop. To that end, I am thankful to these shapers, and further commit myself to continuously develop my thinking and response about one very harrowing social ill – the abuse of women, the abuse of children, the elderly and persons with mobility challenges and other physical and mental challenges.

In August this year, on the day the President announced the Municipal Election results, something unprecedented happened: four young women stood before the nation, and world, and protested the President’s sexual encounter with the late Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo (Khwezi). In doing so, they had made make-shift placards bearing signs “I am 1 in 3″, “10 yrs later”, “Khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”. This protest received a wide response, and the thesis of these responses ranged from approval to the other end of that spectrum of disapproval. For what it is worth, I also approved, but did so conditionally. President Zuma’s sexual appetite is well documented in his many misdemeanours before and during his presidency. If is not sleeping or raping (depending on which version you rely) his good friend’s daughter, it is making babies with another prominent soccer boss’ daughter – both of whom are not married to him. Couple that with the fact that he already has four wives, one can make many inferences – many of which are not complimentary to a man in his seventies. For good measure, he did receive much public opprobrium for making news of this kind. This is outside the judicial process as to whether or not he in fact raped Khwezi.

Then there was voice of Julius Malema, and his fellow choristers, who did the rape after the fact. This, in my opinion, was the real tragedy – a critical segment of society (ANC Youth League) that openly endorsed the patriarchy that was on display throughout the ordeal involving President Zuma and Khwezi. The combination of what happened ex-ante and ex-post was enough to see Khwezi’s seeking refuge in the Netherlands: the shame she endured was that unbearable from the democratic nation her father helped to birth, and for which she sacrificed. Admittedly, Malema apologised and paid his fine, but it was not after kicking up a fuss and after the horse had long bolted. Former Minister, Ronnie Kasrils did much to salvage some pride on behalf of the nation that has indeed failed Khwezi, after his foiling the beleaguered Kebby Maphatsoe’s baseless allegations that the former was behind the rape charges preferred against the President – some 10 years after the fact. The pity is that Khwezi has not lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of the fund set up in her honour.

Messrs Malema and Maphatsoe are significant public images: The former leads the EFF in Parliament and the latter holds a seat in the National Executive. The irony, if not hypocrisy, in the placard carriers not to rebuke these persons is expressive. Why is the protest against this social ill selective whereas it should be categorical? The proximity that at least one of those placard protestors enjoys to the EFF leader is the real opportunity for her supposed, but selective, feminism to be expressed, as she holds EFF membership. In a recent post (10 October 2016) on her Facebook wall she lamented how the country failed Khwezi, and robbed her of so much. In my agreeing with the general sentiment of the remark, I ventured to question if whether or not her sentiment did not need the attention of Julius Malema, to which she responded by unfriending me on Facebook. In communicating my displeasure on her Twitter handle, she summarily blocked me.

My gripe with this type of consciousness (if it qualifies as such) has been played out on precisely the grounds that we should all take offence – grandstanding. It is wholly unacceptable that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. In an interview with the ENCA immediately after the placards were blazoned on our television screens, the lead protestor spoke in an indignant voice saying that “we refuse to be silenced…. we refuse not to name and shame rapists” – referring to President Zuma. “How I am going to listen to this man”, she continued to justify her posture. If she was that offended by President Zuma, one would surely expect her to be as offended by those who sponsor the culture of sexual offences against women and promote a general attitude that complaints against such offences are dismissible and mischievous, such is her disingenuity. That she is an EFF member, and that she has – so far – failed to gain the same traction against her political head (or even Kebby Maphatsoe) is significant as it is unfortunate.

The double standards at play are course, crude and crass and feed the notion that that protest was nothing more that cheap politics. I would be tempted to ask “how am I going to listen to this woman” but that question might carry the risk of dismissing her message, which is very credible. Sadly, its carrier is the very antithesis! Whilst Freedom of Speech is a constitutional guarantee, we should bear in mind every right carries a responsibility. Exercising one’s right less this attendant imperative is irresponsible and an abuse of the right itself.

Going back to the real victim, Sis’ Khwezi: Uphumle ngoxolo! Ikhwezi lakho – inene – losoloko likhanya lisibonisa ubugwenxa bethu, obuthe bakufaka engcwhabeni. Nakaloku nje, uxolo!