Khwezi finds a name
Redi Tlhabi’s book on Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo reveals the horror of gender violence in SA, writes Molebatsi Masedi
TO SPARE herself from being persecuted and lynched the young woman who laid a rape charge against President Jacob Zuma over a decade, came to be known as Khwezi. The ugly and acrimonious trial that was supposed to dash Zuma’s presidential prospects ran its due course. He was acquitted and went to become president of both party and government, twin positions she continues to hold to this day.
After the trial Khwezi and her mother went to exile in the Netherland and later Tanzania. It was no longer safe for her at home in Kwa-Mashu where the family house was torched.
Out of the public eye, she receded to the furthest corners of the nation’s collective memory. Life went on as normal in the country.
A decade later, radio personality and author Redi Tlhabi brought it all back with her new book Khwezi, The remarkable life of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo. It has been greeted by rave reviews and as ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu would put it, massive audiences. The book has become an indictment against a nation that is doing secure its women and children.
For the first time we get to know who Khwezi was, including her life in exile, firstly in Netherland and later Tanzania. Followed by her quite return to South Africa. Her full names are Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.
It was upon her return home from her second exile that she collaborated with Tlhabi on a book about her life. The book traces Fezeka’s life in exile and the sexual abuses she suffered from those who were supposed to parent and protect her. They were called uncles, because they were supposed to be father figures to all the children in the exile community.
Her abuses, which came out in the rape trial in 2006 are revealed in detail in the book.
The book goes covers in detail the trauma of Fezeka’s life in exile. We learn that she was daughter of Judson and Beauty. Her father Judson, was the leading light in the ANC who did time in Robben Island and later went into exile where she was born. He died in a car accident in Zimbabwe where he was the party’s chief representative.
She was still young, almost ten years old according to the book, at the time of her father’s death.
Tlhabi further sheds light on the sexual abuses that women were generally subjected to during the struggle for liberation, and which continue to haunt the nation today. A case in point was when she was five years old and the family was living in Swaziland where her youthful innocence was shattered by an uncle who raped her. It happened again seven years later, she was twelve years old at the time.
She received no justice for her sexual abuses, she suffered in silence until the time of her death in 2016.
The book decries the omission in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brief to investigate and interrogate apartheid era and liberation era sexual abuses. It only interrogated political excesses to the exclusion of others, including sexual abuses inflicted on women by the conflicting parties.
Women are said to have been sexually abused in the military camps of the liberation movements in exile. The excesses of the liberation movement against women are captured in Flame, a controversial Zimbabwean war film. The film pays tribute to the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army’s many female guerrillas.
“South Africa’s Truth Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) did not have a category for gender violence against women,”Tlhabi’s book argues.
Since the publication of Khwezi there has been a serious national awakening and dialogue on women and children abuse. The country has become more open and robust about this social scourge that is eating away its moral fabric.
The publication of the book was going to be a great moment for Fezeka. Not only would it tell the story of her life, it would also for the first time just after a decade reveal her true identity. South Africa and the world would know her true identity, that she was Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.
The mask she had been hiding behind for her safety and security would be removed, revealing her true identity.
She didn’t live to see her life immortalised in the book, she died a year before the completion and publication of the book. She was going to be part of the launches where she would come forward in public to reclaim her name and share her life ordeals. These would hopefully rid her the traumatic experiences of her life.
“But today, in these pages, she is here to reclaim her own name,”Tlhabi writes in the introduction to the book.
Khwezi is not a nice book, just like the reality the gender violence running rampant in the country. It makes for painful reading. A tear would fall as I turned the page. This is a book all South Africans must read and read.