[intro]In 2005, a courageous young woman, Fezikile Kuzwayo, accused Jacob Zuma one of the most powerful men in South Africa, with rape. To the courts and the public, she was known as Khwezi. Gertrude Fester celebrates her valour while begging the question: why is the notion of a ‘good African woman’ so dangerous?[/intro]
Rape is the one of the crude ways in which men use their power over women; and in South Africa, we hear about the violent attack on women on a daily basis. Fezikile Kuzwayo was a feminist lesbian and woman’s activist, designated a ‘bad woman’ by Zuma’s supporters during the rape trial in 2005, of which he was acquitted in 2006.
‘Burn the bitch … Kill the witch’
I am confronted with the core issue of women’s subjectivities, concommitant power and lack of power. And what emerges are the constructions and notions of identity: What is understood as a ‘good African woman’ or a ‘good Zulu woman’ and how do the women who were castigating Khwezi see themselves?
Khwezi was on trial not only because she dared to accuse a national hero, chief senior statesman, a struggle icon and the workers’ hero. Her cardinal transgression is that she dared to accuse the chief. Hence she was tried by the crowd, with women at the forefront, outside the court with slogans like . ‘Burn the Bitch … Kill the witch’
What makes a ‘good African woman’
In an editorial for the African Gender Institute, Desiree Lewis argues that the ‘figure of the African woman as mother has been a particularly prominent and confining one in patriarchal nationalism.’
Like in so many rape trials, the ‘victim’ is the one who is ‘raped’ again by the system. Khwezi underwent severe abuse and trauma by the system, which not only undermined her experience but validated and normalised dangerous religious and cultural systems that oppress and abuse women.
Khwezi identified as a lesbian, (also considered ‘un-African’). She is also a feminist – and feminists, increasingly challenge nationalist agendas that defy the leadership and ideologies of elite men like Zuma. In this public court drama, Khwezi therefore emerged as a ‘bad African woman’ and is degraded by other ‘good Zulu women.’
Many cultural nuances evolved during this rape trial. Throughout the trial Zuma spoke a ‘deep’ Zulu and argued that he ‘had to satisfy Khwezi’, insisting that it is a cultural imperative that an aroused woman has to be sexually satisfied. According to him, the signs were obvious that she wanted to have sex.
But the bible says
But it was not only culture that condemned Khwezi. Zuma’s defence team brought in three pastors to further undermine her credibility. One was Khwezi’s parish priest, and the two others she had met while a student gave testimony that she had falsely accused other men of rape in the past. Women who supported Zuma outside the court building could be seen holding bibles.
Furthermore, Zuma’s favourite freedom song during this period was Awu leth’ umshini wami (Bring me my machine gun). The connection between the AK-47 and the ‘invasive penis’ has been raised by many writers, including Njabulo Ndebele. He wrote a piece for the Sunday Times titled ‘Why Zuma’s bravado is brutalising the public’ and makes a historical connection between penis and weapons.
I must agree that this meaning was not lost during this trial. Masculinity is equated with uncontrollable insatiable sexual appetites. If men’s needs and desires are not met they will coerce it with their weapons. Maybe what Zuma was doing according to the ‘good Zulu women’ is just promoting what a ‘good Zulu man’ should be doing. We see this with the very boys we raise- many of the young men outside the court wore t-shirts with ‘100% Zulu boy’ inscribed on them.
In the year where we remember female activists and heroes, we celebrate Khwezi, and remember the abuse she was forced to endure as well as the public shaming. Through it all she encourages us to interrogate and challenge the discourse, and to commit ourselves to social justice. We pledge to work tirelessly to eradicate patriarchy and its evils so that other girls and women will not experience what Khwezi had to endure.
Illustration courtesy of @nannavente