BOOK REVIEW: Khwezi book reveals how rape accuser was violated by the law
Zuma benefited from patriarchal court system and cultural discomfort, writes Sue Grant-Marshall
KHWEZI: The Remarkable Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo
Redi Tlhabi’s book on Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo — best known until now as Khwezi, President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser — not only returns her identity, but questions society’s attitudes and aspects of the judicial system.
Tlhabi effectively puts SA on trial for what it thinks and what it does not bother to think deeply about — the scourge of rape.
Through the voices of female struggle comrades, the book explores the sexual exploitation they endured in ANC camps in exile. Women’s bodies were battlefields; they were "taken as pieces of meat", she writes.
In a sense, Kuzwayo was a child soldier. She was raped when she was five, 12 and 13 years old.
Tlhabi — the 2013 winner of the Alan Paton Award and a former radio talk show host — believes the outcome of the Zuma rape trial was "a triumph of law over justice".
She says: "Don’t misunderstand me. I am not criticising our courts and I think that our Constitution is still the best [guarantor] of our rights," she says.
At her Johannesburg book launch, an unprecedented 600 people queued for hours for Tlhabi to sign a book that sold more than 10,000 copies in its first two weeks. It is already in its third print run.
Tlhabi has focused her formidable mind (she has degrees in political economy and English literature) on the minute details of the Zuma rape trial court records.
She points out in the book that "Fezekile was expected to remember granular details of things that happened decades ago, when she was a little girl".
Her past sexual history, normally disallowed in a rape case, "was used to slut-shame her. The defence made a special application for it to be heard. But they were meant to deal only with specific cases, where she had allegedly falsely accused men of rape.
"Instead, they dealt with all of them, even the ones to which she said she’d consented."
Past sexual conduct
Defence advocate Kemp J Kemp created the impression — in a conservative, Afrikaner, white male-dominated courtroom — that Kuzwayo slept with men she didn’t know well.
Tlhabi writes that past sexual conduct does not give men permission to rape women.
She describes the close friendship between Kuzwayo’s father, Judson Kuzwayo, and Zuma. The president agreed in court that their relationship was strong, yet that made no difference to him having "consensual" sex with his daughter.
Kuzwayo’s father died when she was 10 years old. She came to regard Zuma as a father figure and called him "uncle" — as did some other comrades her age.
"It was, and is, part of black culture to do so. Yet the court wanted Fezeka to prove exactly when she, and her friends, began to regard Zuma as an uncle and a father," Tlhabi says.
Kuzwayo laid the rape charge against Zuma in November 2005 despite strenuous efforts by government officials, friends and relatives to change her mind. She had endured enough abuse of her body.
Tlhabi describes the alleged rape from Kuzwayo’s perspective without going into salacious detail. She writes about the khanga she was wearing and declares that a woman’s clothing — as has been documented worldwide for decades — is irrelevant in rape.
"But the court allowed that line of questioning. I would have hoped the judge or the prosecutor would have said it was irrelevant. Zuma was even allowed to make comments on how Fezeka was "‘sitting anyhow, she did not cross her legs’, at his house [in Forest Town]."
She also takes issue with Zuma’s claim in court that in Zulu culture if a woman is aroused, a man has to have sex with her, 'or she can allege that you have raped her'.
Tlhabi says emphatically: 'There is no such tradition. Only he knows of it'
She also takes issue with Zuma’s claim in court that in Zulu culture if a woman is aroused, a man has to have sex with her, "or she can allege that you have raped her".
Tlhabi says emphatically: "There is no such tradition. Only he knows of it."
She believes that "because culture in SA is a sensitive issue, Zuma wasn’t challenged on this. While the court knew the law, they didn’t know Zulu culture … so he could make up some rules, knowing they wouldn’t call him out on it."
Tlhabi quotes former Constitutional Court Judge Zac Yacoob saying in 2014: "I had a serious problem with the Zuma judgment … I may have found differently because I would not have criticised the witness for not reporting the rape sooner and for her sexual history."
She believes justice can be denied "because of your delivery as a witness. If you are overwhelmed in strange courtroom surroundings, in front of a judge and formidable advocates asking you hostile, combative questions … I suspect your account may be compromised. The law doesn’t make room for confusion or memory lapses."
Tlhabi writes compassionately, intuitively and with insight about Kuzwayo’s experiences during and after the trial, when she and her mother were hounded out of SA after their home was burned down following calls to "burn the bitch".
Tlhabi had known for some time where Kuzwayo was living in exile and approached several people to reach her "through friends she trusted such as Kay Sexwale. I held back to build up trust between us."
Tlhabi may not have undertaken writing the book if she had known what was in store — she fell pregnant while working on it and Kuzwayo died of an HIV-related illness before it was finished. She was one of eight women pallbearers at the funeral in October 2016.
"That changed the book. I had to speak to many different people to fill in the gaps," she says.
Tlhabi describes Kuzwayo as chatty, almost garrulous, naïve, inclined to agree with people and generous "to a fault". But she had an exasperating side — she would suddenly change her mind, could be capricious and wilful. That she was brave is beyond doubt.
In 2016, Tlhabi flew to Durban, where Kuzwayo lived in KwaMashu, to help lift her out of a depression. Accompanied by her daughters, aged three weeks and three years, and a nanny, she got lost in the dark looking for a hotel. "I was overwhelmed by how dangerous a situation I’d put us all in," she says.
Tlhabi wrote the book "to publicly declare, in text that will live on, that I believe Khwezi. And also to unapologetically rebuke Zuma for his conduct.
"Although he was acquitted of rape, he was guilty of much, including questioning what women wear and of having ‘consensual’ sex with a friend’s child," she says.
Tlhabi believes the rape trial should have ended any presidential ambitions.
"SA’s appetite and willingness to live with all these scandals and not see them as an assault on our soul as a nation is shocking," she concludes.