Fezekile Kuzwayo - the woman who dared take on one of the most powerful men in the country

It was only in death that Fezekile Kuzwayo was revealed as the young woman with the courage to accuse Jacob Zuma of rape. Under the assumed name of Khwezi, she had been trashed and vilified and forced to flee South Africa in fear of her life. This is an extract from the book Khwezi, which examines her brave and tragic life

17 September 2017 - 00:00 By REDI TLHABI

She changed the topic and left me a series of voice messages. I have listened to them regularly since her death. They break my heart every time. It is strange how we interpret words. When I first listened to the messages, they did not seem like a cry for help - just Fez talking as she usually did about how she felt.
Now that she is gone, they have taken on a different meaning, a poignancy. I replay her words, detailing how overcome she was by pain, how she could not decide what to do with her life but that "that decision will take care of itself". She was often overwhelmed by life, but would quickly bounce back, saying, "Anyway dear, I will take it one fool at a time." This time, she said, "I will just go with the flow."
And then she got serious, describing her condition. "I am not feeling so hot. It's just ... um. I think I am just still going through a rough patch and I must go with it, go with the flow. I don't know what is going on."
I expected that, in typical Fezekile fashion, she would describe, in detail, everything that was happening to her, everything she was feeling. I assumed she was only talking about her emotional state. Even though she had been off her ARVs for a while, it did not occur to me that the physical deterioration had started. Apart from a case of shingles earlier in the year, the first time she had ever suffered from an HIV-related illness, she seemed to be in relatively good health. She was religious about her vegan diet, supplements and meditation, but clearly something was missing.Almost like a circus
She proceeded to inform me that she had been in bed for more than a week because her left leg was swollen. But that she was trying to move her body, because "My dear friend says it is important that I elevate my leg but also keep my body moving, and my heart moving. She has given me this exercise. Some yoga stunt."
Several times a day, with the help of her mother, she would get off her bed, lie on her back on the floor, elevate her legs and push her feet against the wall."It is just Ma and I in the house so getting off the bed is a challenge. I almost, almost fell on her and she is confused, doesn't follow instructions properly, and not too strong and doesn't quite know what we are doing. It was hilarious, actually ... huuu! Almost like a circus."She was laughing in her voice message, but her laughter was the sound of the vanquished - as if she has come to terms with the never-ending cycle of suffering that has become her life. By this I do not mean that she had come to terms with her death, but just accepted the frequency of her chapters of drama and sadness. She still believed - at that time, at least, a week before she died - that she would get well. She was delicate, animated and self-deprecating, drawing me in so that I could almost picture her and her mom, wrestling on the floor, trying to get Fezekile back on her feet.
I asked if she needed anything, how I could help. "Oh dear, where do I start? It is what it is."
I checked on her every day, especially after the message she left me in which she expressed a desperation to visit her father's grave."Oh. All sounds so familiar. It just flipped over. But when I am asked how I cope with life, I say it is those foundation years. It always hurts, though. Sometimes at the most inopportune time. Even now."
"What is hurting you the most, when you think about him?"
"I feel robbed dear. Just robbed. I look at the comrades and how they live, and I feel robbed. Diza would not recognise so many of them."
"Which ones in particular?"
"Ah, the looters, the corrupt, the arrogant, the rapists."
That's been on my mind
We don't speak for a couple of hours; then, in the evening, she asks me, "Have you ever wondered how a man becomes a rapist? Do you think they wake up and decide, today, I am going to be an arsehole to a woman? I mean, are they born rapists, do they become rapists, do they think about it or, you know, spur of the moment? That's been on my mind. What do you think, dear?"
On 2 October, she left me a voice message that she was coming to Johannesburg on the fifth.
She was breathing heavily, her pauses just too long between each word. "I am just sick and tired and I do not know what is next. Anyway there is something in Joburg, on the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, this holistic healing thing. Ummm, anyway dear, I don't know how I am going to get on an aeroplane."She had told me that her leg was swollen "from [her] bum to [her] toe". She took a deep breath. "But it is important that I go. And Auntie Bunie believes that I, I'll be better when I get there. So, let's see, it is in two parts. The spiritual and the physical."
"What do you need?"
"I have tried everything, meditation, acupuncture, so let's see how this will work."
Somehow, with her swollen leg - a suspected thrombosis - she arrived in Johannesburg. By this time, she was no longer answering her phone or replying to messages.
The last message I sent her was on the fifth, the day she said she was starting her healing course. I told her that I had finally finished reading the transcript of the trial, and that I was proud of her: "A bit broken, but I break many times over this subject. The system is entrenched. The point of my writing is exactly how the questions posed to you further entrench patriarchal and sexist views."
The message remained unread; she deteriorated further. After all the battles she had fought and won - and fought and lost - she would not survive this one. When death came knocking at her door, I imagine her answering the door with her signature, "One fool at a time, please." I was deeply saddened, especially since her last messages were still full of hope.A life of exile, abuse and tragedy
A family friend
In 2005 Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, known then as Khwezi to protect her identity, alleged that Jacob Zuma had raped her at his Forest Town home.
She was the daughter of an ANC member who had spent 10 years on Robben Island with Zuma, who had become a close family friend.
Youth in exile
Kuzwayo was only 10 when her father, Judson Kuzwayo, an ANC stalwart, died in 1985 in a car crash.
While she was in exile Kuzwayo was abused, and raped several times.
She returned with her mother to South Africa from Zambia in 1990 shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela.A shower
At the time Kuzwayo charged Zuma of the rape she was 31. Zuma was 63.
Kuzwayo was an Aids activist who was HIV-positive. Zuma, who knew her status, famously said he had a shower after intercourse to prevent getting infected.
Zuma was acquitted of rape in 2006, after his claim that the sex had been consensual was accepted by the court.
He claimed Kuzwayo had given him every indication that she wanted to have sex with him - and that, "in Zulu culture", he had no option but to oblige.
He claimed she was "only wearing a kanga" which he said he interpreted as a invitation to have intercourse.

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