Betraying Khwezi and then ourselves
FEZEKILE Ntsukela Kuzwayo once attempted to cloak her identity under the name “Khwezi” (Zulu for “bright morning star”).
She alleged Jacob Zuma raped her in 2005. The president, a family friend of the Kuzwayos, was acquitted. He claimed the woman who affectionately called him “malume” (uncle) had agreed to consensual sex; the kanga she wore on the night of the alleged rape signalled a sexual invitation.
Khwezi became the accused. Her detractors claimed she was a “honey trap” in a plot to tarnish Zuma’s image. She and her mother sought sanctuary in the Netherlands.
The life of Kuzwayo, now of blessed memory, bears striking similarities to the story of the unknown concubine in the Book of Judges. In a state of anger the woman had left her Levite husband and returned to her father’s house.
Four months later the Levite arrived at his father-in-law’s home where he approached his wife “to speak friendly unto her”.
The couple reconciled and after a few days set out on their return journey. They arrived at the city of Gibeah as the sun was setting. An old man invited them to his house where “they washed their feet, and ate and drank”.
On the surface we witness an outpouring of eastern hospitality but what happens later that evening reveals the qualified nature of the old man’s open-hearted generosity. During the night a group of men surrounded the house and demanded: “Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.”
The old man, affronted by these demands reminds his fellow Gibeahians that the Levite is his guest. (The concubine is not included in what is ultimately a misogynistic embrace). He cautions them against doing “this vile thing”.
Instead he says: “Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them.”
During the ensuing disagreement the Levite grabs his concubine and evicts her from their fragile sanctuary. She is raped throughout the night.
In the morning the Levite dismembers her corpse: He cuts it into twelve pieces and despatches it to the twelve tribes of Israel. Even in death her body serves the purpose of another: a call to avenge the humiliation inflicted, not on the person of the concubine, but on the dignity of the tribe.
Khwezi, a star ever-constant over all homelands of truth, your moment in measured time secured.
Quietly you embraced the immensity – infinitely beyond the Large Magellanic Cloud – of eternity after you came home from Amsterdam as from Mbabane, as from homesteads deep in the valleys of your unfathomable sorrow.
You spoke to us even when we would not listen: “I may never be free from the agony of your treachery but will forever cherish the freedom to speak that my father got murdered fighting for.”
Your testimony shamed us for entrusting the shield of the nation to the premeditating violator of your trust and of truth.
The spear of your poem, I am Khanga, held high in the clenched hope of your warrior-spirit, sang of your unpretentious wisdom, treasuring the textured essence of our shared memories of Africa.
The kanga adorns the bodies of women bent over tea plants green and fragrant in Kenya’s Limuru highlands on the eastern rim of the Great Rift Valley.
A bright wrap of love binding mothers and babies resting in the shade of awnings in Stone Town in Zanzibar.
“The perfect gift,” you wrote, “for new bride and new mother alike.” The seed of proverbs and poetry. A marker of history. A celebratory testament to the imagination.
This egalitarian fabric, your nightdress, when that night of silence and lies led you back along the sad lanes of your unending exile.
Khwezi, ever-constant over all homelands of truth your tender moment in our lives and measured time is secured on the horns of our gratitude for releasing us from the silence which betrayed you and ourselves.