In his latest review, Mphuthumi Ntabeni looks at the story of Fezekile Kuzwayo, known as Khwezi, as written by broadcast journalist Redi Tlhabi. A victim of sexual abuse and slander, Khwezi's is a tragic tale that resulted in her fleeing from the country, while the accused went on to become one of the most controversial presidents this country has seen.
Khwezi, by Redi Tlhabi: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2017, ISBN 9781868427260
Schadenfreude is finishing a read of Redi Tlhabi’s book, Khwezi, during the week Jacob Zuma’s political humiliation was being harvested. The book, mostly about moral interpretation of the legal case against Zuma’s rape case is an infuriating read. Zuma was accused of rape by Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, otherwise known as Khwezi, a daughter of his late friend and struggle stalwart, Mandla Judson Kuzwayo. Kuzwayo was known to most of us during the exile of epoch in Swaziland and Tanzania as MJK.
MJK was a commander of Mkhonto we Sizwe (MK) under which the likes of Ivan Pillay served in Dar es Salaam. He had close relationship with Zuma, then a commander of iMbokotho – an internal police within the MK that became responsible for the detaining and killing some MK members on suspicion of spying on party prisons like Quattro in Lusaka. As such, Fezekile called Zuma malume (uncle).
During a time of need, shocked and confused, seeking assurance and companion of a familiar father figure, Fezekile called Zuma who offered her an overnight bed in his own house. It was here that he allegedly sexually forced himself on her. Zuma claimed in court that the intercourse was mutual.
If there’s anything I regret about this well written book, it is the huge space it grants the Zuma rape case. Tlhabi made it clear from the start of the book that she wanted to argue what she terms a “triumph of legality over justice”. As a Catholic I feel I have a better guide in St Thomas on this topic; Tlhabi's argument on this issue was not very edifying to me.
I am not part of the gynocentric movement that believes laws of presumption of innocence until proven guilty should be relaxed on rape cases. I think that attitude will insert us on a rabbit hole of legal abuse for unproven vendettas and scores of vengeance. But I am a feminist. I believe that most institutions operate with a patriarchal bias, and that those who head them – including judges – are usually part of the greater patriarchal problem. So, as much as I don’t care to delve into the legalities of the case, I judge it on moral imperatives and so find Zuma reprehensible, even if, he argues, the sexual intercourse was based on mutual agreements.
I think the public opinion regarding the moral guilt of Zuma on the rape case against Khwezi is not misplaced. That his lack of shame saw him take the reins of national leadership is something also that has already been commented on ad nauseam. Say nothing of the moral bankruptcy of the ANC who saw it fit to provide us with such depraved personality, only acting when he was a sitting duck president to remove. The party has hutzpah now and is trying to fill its credibility deficit, acting all triumphant – eight years too late. There’s at least small consolation from the fact that Zuma's fraud and racketeering charges have been reinstated.
It is time that we make an example that an era of big man of African leadership is over and that no one is above the law. This will ultimately help us form accountability to our governments.
That Fezekile had to spend her last years in exile, fleeing prosecution from Zuma and his supporters who once burned her house and threatened even further damage, is an indictment on our national psyche. Tlhabi attempts to interrogate the rape culture and our national psyche from historical basis of the culture of what used to be termed Jackrolling – raping girls as means to show power among gangsters. Sadly, I felt, she could have delved deeper into this and been more comprehensive in her thinking. In fact, it feels as though she abandoned that part of the book before she came to answer some serious questions. I suspect what threw her off was the sudden death of Fezekile, which made her feel she needed to release the book quickly to her memory. Whatever the case, we are poorer of it.
The most poignant parts of the book is how in all her tumorous life Fezekile had to look after her ailing mother, Beauty. She fled with her mother to the Netherlands, but felt she had abandoned her when Fezekile had to go to Dar alone. The frustration and worry necessitated her final decision to come back for her mother (who had finally refused to live her life on the run and so didn’t go with Fezekile to Tanzania) regardless of the dangers to her own life.
This is a tragic story that is told with an empathy that does not white wash even Fezekile’s fault lines. I wish it had dwelt more on her life journey and biographical facts than the Zuma rape case. As such it feels more like it was aimed as a final nail on the coffin of the character of one Jacob Zuma, once a liberation movement hero turned a corruptible president who dragged the country’s reputation into the doldrums. Such men as he belong to the dustbins of history; how I wish it were already accomplished.Republish