Khwezi, Fierce Advocate of Women’s Rights and the Fight Against Rape in South Africa, Has Died

Khwezi, Fierce Advocate of Women’s Rights and the Fight Against Rape in South Africa, Has Died

We remember Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, known to the public as Khwezi, who in 2005 bravely accused President Jacob Zuma of rape.

A decade ago, one brave woman came forward and accused South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, of rape. In doing so, she ignited a nationwide discussion over rape and rape culture in South Africa that’s continued to this day.

Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, known to the public as Khwezi, died yesterday. Her family confirmed her death in a statement on Sunday. The cause of her death has not been revealed.

“It is with the deepest sorrow that the Kuzwayo family announces the passing of our daughter Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo. In our family she was lovingly known as Fezeka, and in the public domain her supporters called her Khwezi,” the statement read. “A daughter, a sister and an aunt we will forever hold dear in our hearts. We loved her in life, let us never forget her after death.”

In 2006, a then 31-year-old Kuzwayo–who was known to South Africans as Khwezi to protect her identity–made headlines when she alleged that Zuma raped her in 2005 while he was the ANC deputy president. Kuzwayo, an AIDS activist who identified as lesbian and was HIV-positive, was the daughter of an ANC member who had spent ten years on Robben Island with Zuma. The president was a close family friend who she considered to be a father-like figure. (Kuzwayo’s own father died in a car accident in 1985.)

Zuma pleaded not guilty. During the trial, the president infamously said he had taken a shower after having sex with Kuzwayo so as to avoid contracting HIV. The president also testified that Kuzwayo was wearing a kanga (a traditional cloth) at the time and that he interpreted the dress as an invitation to have sex with her. Throughout the trial Kuzwayo faced harassment, slut-shaming, victim-blaming and threats from many Zuma supporters.

After months of litigation in the Johannesburg High Court, the president was acquitted, with the court ruling that there was not enough evidence to determine whether the sex was consensual. Kuzwayo and her mother fled South Africa after the trial and were granted humanitarian asylum in the Netherlands.

In April 2008, Kuzwayo published a powerful poem, “I am Khanga,” in the Dutch quarterly ZAM Magazine. She performed the poem, dressed in a khanga, that same year at the opening of the "Identity, Power and Connection" exhibition in Holland.

I am Khanga

I wrap myself around the curvaceous bodies of women all over Africa

I am the perfect nightdress on those hot African nights

The ideal attire for household chores

I secure babies happily on their mother’s backs

Am the perfect gift for new bride and new mother alike

Armed with proverbs, I am vehicle for communication between women

I exist for the comfort and convenience of a woman

But no no no make no mistake …

I am not here to please a man

And I certainly am not a seductress

Please don’t use me as an excuse to rape

Don’t hide behind me when you choose to abuse

You see

That’s what he said my Malume

The man who called himself my daddy’s best friend

Shared a cell with him on [Robben] Island for ten whole years

He said I wanted it

That my khanga said it

That with it I lured him to my bed

That with it I want you is what I said

But what about the NO I uttered with my mouth

Not once but twice

And the please no I said with my body

What about the tear that ran down my face as I lay stiff with shock

In what sick world is that sex

In what sick world is that consent

The same world where the rapist becomes the victim

The same world where I become the bitch that must burn

The same world where I am forced into exile because I spoke out?

This is NOT my world

I reject that world

My world is a world where fathers protect and don’t rape

My world is a world where a woman can speak out

Without fear for her safety

My world is a world where no one , but no one is above the law

My world is a world where sex is pleasurable not painful

August, which also happened to be Women’s Month in South Africa, marked the ten-year anniversary of the State vs Zuma rape acquittal. As Okayafrica contributor Kagure Mugo pointed out, despite predictions that the rape acquittal would have an effect on Zuma’s career, the president still managed to rise to the highest seat in power whilst the nation forgot Khwezi and all that she went through.

One group of young women recently took a bold step to ensure the nation would remember Khwezi. On the weekend of 6 August, four women dressed in black staged a silent protest as Zuma took to the podium to address the nation following the announcement of the 2016 local government elections. They stood defiantly in front of the president and held posters that read “I am 1 in 3,” “10 Years later,” “Khanga,” and “Remember Khwezi.”

Despite attempts to silence the protestors–the women were forcibly removed by Zuma’s bodyguards–#RememberKhwezi trended for days.

Today, the nation mourns the loss of Kuzwayo and remembers her not as "Zuma's rape accuser," but as one of the nation’s fiercest advocates of women’s right and the fight against rape.