An ex­tract from Redi Tl­habi’s book, Khwezi: The Re­mark­able Story of Fezek­ile Nt­sukela Kuzwayo

Per­se­cuted and ex­iled for ac­cus­ing Ja­cob Zuma of rape, the late Fezek­ile Kuzwayo showed enor­mous brav­ery and strength of char­ac­ter, as this ex­cerpt from Redi Tl­habi’s new book re­veals

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SHE made ev­ery­one sit up and lis­ten when she laid a crim­i­nal charge against South Africa’s fu­ture pres­i­dent in 2005. Ja­cob Zuma claimed their sex­ual en­counter in a bed­room of his Jo­han­nes­burg home had been con­sen­sual and that she’d “asked for it”, but his accuser, known only as Khwezi, in­sisted it was rape. Zuma was even­tu­ally ac­quit­ted while the young wo­man, who was HIV- pos­i­tive, was forced to flee the coun­try fear­ing for her life.

And that was the last most peo­ple heard of her un­til a decade later when she passed away, and ac­tivists hold­ing “Re­mem­ber Khwezi” plac­ards staged a si­lent protest in front of Zuma as he gave a speech dur­ing the an­nounce­ment of the 2016 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion re­sults.

But ex­actly who was the brave wo­man who took on the most pow­er­ful man in the land? Hor­ri­fied by the way Khwezi had been vil­i­fied, for­mer talk show host and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Redi Tl­habi was de­ter­mined to find out.

She reached out to the Aids ac­tivist soon af­ter she went into ex­ile and over the years a deep friend­ship bloomed. In this poignant ex­tract from her new book, Khwezi: The Re­mark­able Story of Fezek­ile Nt­sukela Kuzwayo, Redi re­veals the trau­matic ef­fect the trial had on her friend and how it haunted her right up un­til her death last year.

DUR­BAN, 15 Oc­to­ber 2016 I AM stunned. Bro­ken. Here I am, at­tend­ing a fu­neral in­stead of a tri­umphant book launch. We’d imag­ined the scene so many times: the ex­ul­ta­tion we’d feel when she showed her face to the world, told her story and re­claimed her name.

She was adamant – she’d at­tend the launch and I was to in­tro­duce her by her real name. In one of our con­ver­sa­tions, she’d told me with ad­mirable de­fi­ance: “He’s not hid­ing. Why must I? Khwezi has served me well, but now it’s time for her to go.”

I be­lieved her: months be­fore her death, I sent her two books by courier. I asked her to whom I should ad­dress the pack­age. “To me,” she an­swered.

“No, I mean, should I use your pub­lic name – Khwezi – or some­thing else?”

She hadn’t used her real name for more than a decade; I didn’t want to blow her cover. Her re­sponse was em­phatic: “My real names, dear. Fezek­ile Nt­sukela Kuzwayo.”

On 6 De­cem­ber 2005 Fezek­ile laid a charge of rape against Ja­cob Zuma, who was at the time fighting for his po­lit­i­cal life, hav­ing been re­moved from his post as deputy pres­i­dent due to cor­rup­tion charges. She claimed that while stay­ing as a guest at his home in For­est Town,

Jo­han­nes­burg, Zuma – a man more than twice her age and whom she said she re­garded as an un­cle – raped her.

“I didn’t set out to change his­tory,” she later told me. “I just wanted to fight for my­self, at last. It was im­por­tant for me to say to him, you can’t come into my body and just do what you want to do. And soil me like that.”

“But tak­ing ac­tion against such a pow­er­ful . . .”

She in­ter­rupted me be­fore I could com­plete my sen­tence. “I didn’t think about that, his power, his po­si­tion, that I was a no­body and he was some­one pow­er­ful. I didn’t think about those trap­pings. This is what he did to me and I had to fight for my­self. Qha! (That’s all!)”

But im­me­di­ately af­ter lay­ing the char­ge she came un­der enor­mous pres­sure as she found her­self sur­rounded by a lot of peo­ple who tried to per­suade her to drop the charges. Zuma later tes­ti­fied that he’d asked them to con­tact Fezek­ile and her mother, Beauty.

“I was gen­uinely taken aback. I just didn’t think it would play out like that, with peo­ple I trusted just barg­ing into my space and bom­bard­ing me. I mean, their greater con­cern was the ANC and not me, their child.”

By the time Fezek­ile took the stand she was de­mor­alised and fright­ened. She told me she ex­pected a bul­let to land on her body from any di­rec­tion; she had no doubt there were plans to harm her. The trial was a ma­jor hur­dle for Zuma to over­come. Af­ter he was ac­quit­ted his vic­tory re­ver­ber­ated through­out the coun­try as he rode the wave.

SINCE the trial I’ve thought of Khwezi all the time – fol­lowed her ev­ery­where and kept abreast of her ac­tiv­i­ties. The ha­tred to­wards her was so in­tense she was forced to leave South Africa. I won­dered how I could be part of a so­ci­ety that al­lowed the era­sure of a young wo­man’s ex­is­tence. Life sim­ply went on and the man at the cen­tre of the storm be­came the pres­i­dent. It is sur­real.

The day af­ter the trial con­cluded, Fezek­ile and her mother went into ex­ile. Their coun­try, their home, had spat them out. Sim­ply put, they’d been hounded out. Dur­ing the trial their house in Kwa-Mashu – a town­ship in Kwa Zulu-Na­tal – was burnt down. It’s sus­pected Zuma sup­port­ers were the per­pe­tra­tors, but no one was ar­rested for this crime. There’s no doubt this crim­i­nal act was meant to scare her into sub­mis­sion. Added to this, her pub­lic near-lynch­ing dur­ing ev­ery day of the trial made liv­ing in South Africa un­ten­able.

Fezek­ile and Beauty moved to the Nether­lands in May 2006. They had a lot of support and soon made friends. A new life be­gan. Beauty be­came ac­tive in a lo­cal church and took up sew­ing to keep her­self busy. With her mag­netic per­son­al­ity and ad­ven­tur­ous spirit, Fezek­ile be­came ac­tive in the cul­tural and NGO scene.

She loved to dance and sing, and spent many af­ter­noons and evenings at­tend­ing lo­cal fes­ti­vals and poetry evenings. In front of a live au­di­ence she per­formed her now-fa­mous poem “I am Khanga”, a ref­er­ence to the gar­ment she was wear­ing in her bed­room at Zuma’s home. The fu­ture pres­i­dent had told the court he’d read the item of cloth­ing as an in­di­ca­tion that Fezek­ile wanted to have sex with him.

“So, tell me about the khanga,” I later asked her. “What about it?”

(Turn over)

‘It was im­por­tant for me to say to him, you can’t come into my body and just do what you want’

‘Well, you wrote a poem about it?” “No, dear. I wrote a poem about it af­ter they’d made the khanga a big deal. Up un­til that mo­ment it was just a piece of cloth.”

She’d never imag­ined the khanga would be a sym­bol of se­duc­tion. “Don’t peo­ple wear lace and satin and G-strings when they want to se­duce some­one?”

We had a great laugh – know­ing, how­ever, that the de­bate about what vic­tims were wear­ing when they were raped is any­thing but friv­o­lous.

Un­til the day she died Fezek­ile could not grasp what the ob­ses­sion with her khanga was. It’s a long piece of cloth that moth­ers use to carry their rest­less ba­bies on their backs, or women wrap around their bod­ies at the beach. It’s long and wide enough to cover the en­tire body, with min­i­mal flesh ex­posed. She didn’t see how a khanga could be con­strued as an in­vi­ta­tion.

In Am­s­ter­dam her life took on a man­age­able rhythm and she con­tin­ued see­ing a ther­a­pist. But, af­ter four-and-ahalf years, Beauty was not cop­ing. She was in her late six­ties and des­per­ate to re­turn to her roots. The weather was harsh. She hated be­ing away from her friends and fam­ily. Fezek­ile couldn’t bear to see her mother un­happy.

Marc Wegerif and his wife Teresa Yates, an Amer­i­can-born lawyer, opened their home to them in Dar es Salaam, Tan­za­nia, in early 2010. Fezek­ile and her mother stayed with the cou­ple and their two daugh­ters for more than a year.

But in 2011 Beauty wanted to re­turn to South Africa. Fezek­ile called Ivan Pil­lay, the deputy com­mis­sioner of the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice, and told him of their un­hap­pi­ness. Ivan promised to as­sist and called Moe Shaik, who’d been one of her fa­ther’s com­rades dur­ing the strug­gle and was then head of the South African Se­cret Ser­vice.

Moe promised to speak to Zuma, who’d be­come pres­i­dent, and guar­an­tee their safe re­turn to SA. This is ab­surd. Even though there was no law for­bid­ding her from en­ter­ing SA Fezek­ile couldn’t just re­turn to her demo­cratic homeland for which her fa­ther, Jud­son Kuzwayo – a se­nior Umkhonto we Sizwe leader and a comrade of Zuma’s dur­ing the apartheid strug­gle – had sac­ri­ficed so much.

Moe re­turned a mes­sage to Ivan, pre­sum­ably from Zuma, in­form­ing him that Beauty and Fezek­ile could re­turn to SA and noth­ing would hap­pen to them.

And yet some of her friends, not en­tirely con­vinced the risks had dis­si­pated, ad­vised Fezek­ile against the move. But she wanted to make her mother happy – she told me she felt guilty about up­root­ing Beauty. So for the first time in five years they touched down on South African soil.

But she found it hard – she felt South Africa would never wel­come her back. A short time later she packed her bags and re­turned to Dar es Salaam where she found a teach­ing post, stay­ing with Teresa and her fam­ily once again.

Teresa says this was quite a happy time for Fezek­ile. But then a clas­sic pat­tern emerged again. As soon as things started to go well, Fezek­ile wanted to leave.

She even­tu­ally re­turned to SA where she found a job as a teacher at a pri­mary school in Mus­grave, Dur­ban. But when Teresa saw her to­wards the end of 2016 she was clearly not do­ing well.

De­spite hav­ing taken her ARVs re­li­giously for many years, she’d stopped at some point, much to the dis­ap­proval of her many friends. She’d cho­sen to fo­cus

on what she de­scribed to me as holis­tic heal­ing. The op­por­tunis­tic ill­nesses, com­bined with de­pres­sion, made a toxic mix.

She’d also started feel­ing that her life was not her own. “What do you mean?” I’d asked her some weeks back. “I don’t know how to ex­plain it. I’m feel­ing a bit stran­gled, suf­fo­cated . . .” I asked her whether she was happy. Her an­swer was re­veal­ing. “Well, I’m happy when I see Ma smile,” she said, “but gen­er­ally, I think hap­pi­ness has a short life span.”

But no­body is re­ally sure what was go­ing on with her to­wards the end. In the week be­fore her death she left me a se­ries of voice mes­sages. I’ve lis­tened to them reg­u­larly and they break my heart ev­ery time. It’s strange how we in­ter­pret words. When I first lis­tened to the mes­sages, they didn’t seem like a cry for help – just Fez talk­ing as she usu­ally did about how she felt. Now that she’s gone, they’ve taken on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing, poignancy.

I re­play her words, de­tail­ing how over­come she was by pain. She was of­ten over­whelmed by life, but would quickly bounce back, say­ing, “Any­way, dear, I’ll take it one fool at a time.” This time, she said, “I’ll just go with the flow.” And then she got se­ri­ous, de­scrib­ing her con­di­tion. “I’m not feel­ing so hot. It’s just . . . um. I think I’m just still go­ing through a rough patch and I must go with it, go with the flow. I don’t know what’s go­ing on.”

WE WALK steadily to­wards the al­tar. It was de­cided that all the pall­bear­ers would be women to mark Fezek­ile’s com­mit­ment to wom­ en’s rights. I’ve never been to a fu­neral where women have used their col­lec­tive strength to carry one of their own. With my hand on that brown cas­ket, it feels as if I’m fighting for Fezek­ile, pick­ing her up af­ter a nasty fall, that we’re all say­ing, “So many have let you down, but we’ll pick you up and carry you to a place of glory.”

We carry the cas­ket up three flights of stairs and through a nar­row en­trance to the Methodist church. Many of us have tears run­ning down our faces but we have deter­mi­na­tion, strength in our num­bers and a rag­ing fire burn­ing in our hearts.

But it all seems so wrong, still. Fezek­ile took her last breath, it’s re­ported, on her way to a Jo­han­nes­burg hos­pi­tal. Some of those close to her were sur­prised she’d died, say­ing she’d never been sick; oth­ers said she’d been ill on and off for the bet­ter part of the year.

The un­fair­ness of it hits me like a tidal wave. Ev­ery time Fezek­ile had come close to feel­ing her feet on the ground, it seemed to shift from be­neath her. My mind trav­els to a con­ver­sa­tion we’d had. She’d been elated that the psy­chol­o­gist who was see­ing her mother was pleased with her progress. She sent me a video of her mother ex­er­cis­ing and seemed amused by it. “I haven’t seen this in a long time. The old girl still has her magic,” she said. And, “Maybe life will work out af­ter all, sweets.”

Her sis­ter Zin­tle be­lieves she died of de­pres­sion: “It killed her. There was just too much hap­pen­ing in her life. It killed her. No­body can sur­vive that kind of life.”

De­pres­sion may not have been the di­rect cause of death, but it could in­deed have led to ma­jor health prob­lems such

as high blood pres­sure and a com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tem.

This isn’t how Fezek­ile, or Fezeka, as some called her, was sup­posed to be buried, with ap­peals for a venue and funds for the burial and se­cu­rity. It was from the run-down house in Kwa­Mashu that her cas­ket had made its way to the church.

As if to com­fort her, the con­gre­ga­tion

sing, over and over, “Fezeka we, thula mt­wana mtanam, sil­wela amalun­gelo,

Fezeka we (Dear Fezeka, don’t cry, be still my child, we will fight for these rights).”

As the cas­ket con­tain­ing her mor­tal re­mains de­scends, I feel an over­whelm­ing sad­ness. Fezek­ile died so many deaths in the 41 years she was alive yet al­ways ma­naged to res­ur­rect her­self.

When I once asked her where she found the courage to lay a charge against such a pow­er­ful per­son, she an­swered, “I had to fight back. I’ve never fought for my­self. If I don’t fight back, this would keep hap­pen­ing to me. Even when it was clear that I would lose the case, I never once re­gret­ted fighting for my­self.”

She may have lost, in the eyes of her crit­ics, but not be­fore in­flict­ing a bruis­ing wound. Not be­fore demon­strat­ing to the vul­ner­a­ble that there’s no shame in speak­ing out, even against the most po­wer­ful mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

Khwezi’s was a moral vic­tory. Now, she rests.

‘With my hand on the cas­ket, it feels as if I’m fighting for Fezek­ile, pick­ing her up af­ter a nasty fall’

ABOVE and BE­LOW: These pic­tures were taken in 2008 while Fezek­ile was in hid­ing in Am­s­ter­dam. ABOVE RIGHT: She felt guilty that her mother, Beauty, was also forced into ex­ile be­cause of the Zuma rape trial.

MAIN PIC­TURE and BE­LOW: Fezek­ile Kuzwayo look­ing happy and care­free while in ex­ile in Tan­za­nia. LEFT: Ac­tivists sur­prised Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma by stag­ing a si­lent protest in her mem­ory as he spoke in Pre­to­ria last year. ABOVE: Fezek­ile’s grave in Dur­ban.

ABOVE LEFT: Mourn­ers at Fezek­ile’s grave. ABOVE: Ac­tivists sur­round her cas­ket.


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