02nd Oct2017

Call Her By Her Name

by admin

Khwezi

Redi Tlhabi begins her new book with the poignant statement, “I wanted her to know that I was writing, unapologetically, as a feminist who believed her”. The “her” in question is the late Fezekile Kuzwayo who is the subject of Tlhabi latest offering Khwezi: The Remarkable Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.

Who is Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo? Up until her recent passing, Fezekile was publically known by the moniker Khwezi. This was the name that she had to adopt during one of the most shameful incidences in recent memory: the Jacob Zuma rape trial. Vilified, she had to adopt an alias and veil her face as she entered and exited the Johannesburg High Court. We did not know all that much about who she was other than the fact that  1) she was HIV-positive, 2) she was a self-identified queer womxn, and 3)  Jacob Zuma thought that she wanted to have sex with him on the basis of her wearing only a kanga in his presence. Fezekile’s treatment as Khwezi led one to sometimes wonder as to whether her detractors forgot that she was a human being who was being subjected to people’s sneers, victim-shaming and threats. Following the trial, she left South Africa for her own safety. Her mother’s house was burnt down shortly after the trial concluded. Jacob Zuma was acquitted of rape and yet his daughter, Duduzile Zuma, felt compelled to do interviews that vindicated her father by vilifying Khwezi. Soon enough, the trial became a distant memory for most South Africans. Jacob Zuma became President of South Africa and increasingly came to regard the state coffers as his personal bank account. In the midst of all of the calls for #ZumaMustFall and #PayBacktheMoney, we conveniently forgot that our President is a man who was convicted (although acquitted) of rape. Our President is a man who admitted, on Court stands, to taking a shower to decrease his chances of contracting HIV after having unprotected sex with the daughter of his late comrade. By all intents and purposes, if the judgement had been different, we would be reckoning with the strong possibility of our President being a corrective rapist.

Fezekile Kuzwayo did intend on using Redi’s book as a means for re-entering public life. She was going to attend all of the book launches and show her face to the world. After 12 years of being branded as “Khwezi, Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser”, she was finally going to get the opportunity to reclaim her name and her dignity. There is no doubt that the rape trial did derail her for a few years following the 8 May 2006- show me anyone who would not have been derailed by that experience. However, the fact that she wanted to use literature as a means of re-branding displays strength of character that very few people can attest to having. Tlhabi writes that, for the rest of her life, Kuzwayo feared being followed or watched. She worried about her name becoming public knowledge- the fact that she took the steps to overcome that fear speaks volumes about her constant willingness to speak truth to power. In Tlhabi’s book, Kuzwayo gets a fitting public re-emergence that restores her dignity, her voice, and her name. Lala ngoxolo sis’ Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.

One Response to “Call Her By Her Name”

  • Jabulile Mbatha

    Beautiful piece, I cannot wait to get my hands on the book. This is a story that had to be told.

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