In 2007, scarcely a year after the man who went ahead to end up now as South Africa’s leader, Jacob Zuma, was vindicated after an assault trial including a young lady called “Khwezi” (the name given to Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo amid her assault trial), sexual orientation activist Mmatshilo Motsei published “The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court”.
The book was an unsparing record of a general public that enabled a noticeable man to escape with demonstrations of brutality, of a criminal and equity framework that was broken for by far most of the individuals who were sexually mishandled, assaulted and tormented, and of a political framework that had lost its compass.
Motsei was eminently qualified to write the book, as a survivor herself and as one of the pathbreaking group of activists who had begun the movement to end violence against women. Few read her book. Those that did were feminist activists and scholars who felt that she had given voice to their concerns, that she had released a collective howl from the gut.
Hardcore Zuma loyalists almost certainly did not read the book. Nevertheless they opened a new battlefront against Motsei, attacking her both publicly and privately.
Ten years later, broadcaster Redi Tlhabi has resurrected the story with her new book “Khwezi: The Remarkable Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo”. This time the public response has been very different. Record-breaking audiences have attended book launches. And radio conversations reveal a rapt public entirely consumed with the injustice done to Khwezi.
The book sold out within weeks and is in reprint.
It was also told by Motsei and numerous academics analysing the violent condition of life for women and queer people in South Africa.
These accounts zeroed in on the shortcomings of the trial that allowed evidence that should not have been permissible, the social norms that denied women sexual desire and that demanded of women compliance with a patriarchal rendering of what constituted a rape-able person – certainly the child Khwezi, raped by at least one man in her community, was deemed to be consenting.
They exposed the almost complete inability of progressive organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC) and its tripartite allies, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and trade union federation Cosatu, to treat women and queer people as right-bearing members. All of these stories have been told, many times.