Kh­wezi’s full story told for first time

It was only in death that Fezek­ile Kuzwayo was re­vealed as the young woman with the courage to ac­cuse Ja­cob Zuma of rape. Un­der the as­sumed name of Kh­wezi, she had been trashed and vil­i­fied and forced to flee South Africa in fear of her life. This is an e

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - REDI TL­HABI

It’s the book many have been wait­ing to read. Award-win­ning au­thor Redi Tl­habi re­veals the real Kh­wezi, the woman who dared take on one of the most pow­er­ful men in the coun­try. Fezek­ile Nt­sukela Kuzwayo never ex­pected the vi­cious cam­paign the Zuma camp would launch against her. Read an ex­clu­sive ex­tract from the book that lays bare the truth about Zuma.

She changed the topic and left me a series of voice mes­sages. I have lis­tened to them reg­u­larly since her death. They break my heart every time. It is strange how we in­ter­pret words. When I first lis­tened to the mes­sages, they did not seem like a cry for help — just Fez talk­ing as she usu­ally did about how she felt. Now that she is gone, they have taken on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing, a poignancy. I re­play her words, de­tail­ing how over­come she was by pain, how she could not de­cide what to do with her life but that “that de­ci­sion will take care of it­self”. She was of­ten over­whelmed by life, but would quickly bounce back, say­ing, “Any­way dear, I will take it one fool at a time.” This time, she said, “I will just go with the flow.”

And then she got se­ri­ous, de­scrib­ing her con­di­tion. “I am not feel­ing so hot. It’s just . . . um. I think I am just still go­ing through a rough patch and I must go with it, go with the flow. I don’t know what is go­ing on.”

I ex­pected that, in typ­i­cal Fezek­ile fashion, she would de­scribe, in de­tail, ev­ery­thing that was hap­pen­ing to her, ev­ery­thing she was feel­ing. I as­sumed she was only talk­ing about her emo­tional state. Even though she had been off her ARVs for a while, it did not oc­cur to me that the phys­i­cal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion had started. Apart from a case of shin­gles ear­lier in the year, the first time she had ever suf­fered from an HIV-re­lated ill­ness, she seemed to be in rel­a­tively good health. She was re­li­gious about her ve­gan diet, supplements and med­i­ta­tion, but clearly some­thing was miss­ing. Al­most like a cir­cus She pro­ceeded to in­form me that she had been in bed for more than a week be­cause her left leg was swollen. But that she was try­ing to move her body, be­cause “My dear friend says it is im­por­tant that I el­e­vate my leg but also keep my body mov­ing, and my heart mov­ing. She has given me this ex­er­cise. Some yoga stunt.” Sev­eral times a day, with the help of her mother, she would get off her bed, lie on her back on the floor, el­e­vate her legs and push her feet against the wall.“It is just Ma and I in the house so get­ting off the bed is a chal­lenge. I al­most, al­most fell on her and she is con­fused, doesn’t fol­low in­struc­tions prop­erly, and not too strong and doesn’t quite know what we are do­ing. It was hi­lar­i­ous, ac­tu­ally . . . huuu! Al­most like a cir­cus.”

She was laugh­ing in her voice mes­sage, but her laugh­ter was the sound of the van­quished — as if she has come to terms with the never-end­ing cy­cle of suf­fer­ing that has be­come her life. By this I do not mean that she had come to terms with her death, but just ac­cepted the fre­quency of her chap­ters of drama and sad­ness. She still be­lieved — at that time, at least, a week be­fore she died — that she would get well. She was del­i­cate, an­i­mated and self­dep­re­cat­ing, draw­ing me in so that I could al­most pic­ture her and her mom, wrestling on the floor, try­ing to get Fezek­ile back on her feet.

I asked if she needed any­thing, how I could help. “Oh dear, where do I start? It is what it is.”

I checked on her every day, es­pe­cially af­ter the mes­sage she left me in which she ex­pressed a des­per­a­tion to visit her fa­ther’s grave. All her pass­words In the next mes­sage, she told me she was go­ing to send me all her pass­words. This did not seem strange to me at all, given that I was writ­ing her book; I had be­come used to her in­no­cence and trust­ing na­ture. I fig­ured she was giv­ing me ac­cess to some of her writ­ings and mus­ings.

I did not have a chance to ac­knowl­edge this mes­sage be­fore she sent an­other one im­me­di­ately: “To­day I miss my fa­ther Diza. Isn’t that strange? It feels like he never left. I see him ev­ery­where. Yet I miss him ter­ri­bly. Am I weird?”

“Not at all,” I mes­saged back. “I have been there. I think about my fa­ther of­ten. But my heart no longer aches. The world was dark when he left it, though . . . but I am liv­ing.”

“Oh. All sounds so fa­mil­iar. It just flipped over. But when I am asked how I cope with life, I say it is those foun­da­tion years. It al­ways hurts, though. Some­times at the

‘Have you ever won­dered how a man be­comes a rapist? Do you think they wake up and de­cide, to­day, I am go­ing to be an ar­se­hole to a woman?’

most in­op­por­tune time. Even now.”

“What is hurt­ing you the most, when you think about him?”

“I feel robbed dear. Just robbed. I look at the com­rades and how they live, and I feel robbed. Diza would not recog­nise so many of them.” “Which ones in par­tic­u­lar?” “Ah, the loot­ers, the cor­rupt, the ar­ro­gant, the rapists.”

That’s been on my mind

We don’t speak for a cou­ple of hours; then, in the evening, she asks me, “Have you ever won­dered how a man be­comes a rapist? Do you think they wake up and de­cide, to­day, I am go­ing to be an ar­se­hole to a woman? I mean, are they born rapists, do they be­come rapists, do they think about it or, you know, spur of the mo­ment? That’s been on my mind. What do you think, dear?”

On 2 Oc­to­ber, she left me a voice mes­sage that she was com­ing to Jo­han­nes­burg on the fifth.

She was breath­ing heav­ily, her pauses just too long be­tween each word. “I am just sick and tired and I do not know what is next. Any­way there is some­thing in Joburg, on the fifth, sixth, sev­enth, eighth and ninth, this holis­tic heal­ing thing. Ummm, any­way dear, I don’t know how I am go­ing to get on an aero­plane.”

She had told me that her leg was swollen “from [her] bum to [her] toe”. She took a deep breath. “But it is im­por­tant that I go. And Aun­tie Bu­nie be­lieves that I, I’ll be bet­ter when I get there. So, let’s see, it is in two parts. The spir­i­tual and the phys­i­cal.” “What do you need?” “I have tried ev­ery­thing, med­i­ta­tion, acupunc­ture, so let’s see how this will work.”

Some­how, with her swollen leg — a sus­pected throm­bo­sis — she ar­rived in Jo­han­nes­burg. By this time, she was no longer an­swer­ing her phone or re­ply­ing to mes­sages.

The last mes­sage I sent her was on the fifth, the day she said she was start­ing her heal­ing course. I told her that I had fi­nally fin­ished read­ing the tran­script of the trial, and that I was proud of her: “A bit bro­ken, but I break many times over this sub­ject. The sys­tem is en­trenched. The point of my writ­ing is ex­actly how the ques­tions posed to you fur­ther en­trench pa­tri­ar­chal and sex­ist views.”

The mes­sage re­mained un­read; she de­te­ri­o­rated fur­ther. Af­ter all the bat­tles she had fought and won — and fought and lost — she would not sur­vive this one. When death came knock­ing at her door, I imag­ine her an­swer­ing the door with her sig­na­ture, “One fool at a time, please.” I was deeply sad­dened, es­pe­cially since her last mes­sages were still full of hope.

‘Kh­wezi: The Re­mark­able Story of Fezek­ile Nt­sukela Kuzwayo’ by Redi Tl­habi, Jonathan Ball Pub­lish­ers, R270

Fezek­ile Nt­sukela Kuzwayo

Pic­ture: Alon Skuy

UN­DER PRO­TEC­TION Her head cov­ered, Fezek­ile Kuzwayo is es­corted into the High Court in Jo­han­nes­burg on the first day of Ja­cob Zuma’s rape trial.

Pic­tures: Muntu Vi­lakazi

STREET JUS­TICE Dur­ing the rape trial large crowds of sup­port­ers, left, cheered out­side court for Ja­cob Zuma, who ar­rived ready for a fight, right.

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