The silent protest by four young women during a televised broadcast of a speech by President Jacob Zuma at the IEC national results centre on Saturday marks a tipping point. It was the moment that young, free South African women turned on their elders, in silence, and screamed “no more, stop the pretence”. It was a moment many feminists have been waiting for and it gives reason, for the first time in at least a decade, proudly to celebrate National Women’s Day. By MARIANNE THAMM
“Because of his strong belief in ancestors, Zuma must have known that the wrath of the spirit of his comrade who died in exile leaving behind a distraught 10-year-old daughter might come to haunt him,” Mmatshilo Motsei – 2007 – The Kanga and The Kangaroo Court: Reflections on The Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma
And then it happened. That night. That precise moment when the ANC of the past met the ANC of the present embodied so fully in President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma as he rose to speak at the end of what turned out to be a bruising local election for the 104-year-old party he has come to lead.
Four young women, all students – Naledi Chirwa, Amanda Mavuso, Simamkele Dlakavu and Lebogang Shikwambane – shuffled to the front of the venue as Zuma mounted the stage. Then they stood there, and as my colleague Richard Poplak called it so eloquently; “it ended. Not with a bang, but with five pieces of paper”. Separate white pieces of A4 with hand-written inscriptions; “One in three”, “#”, “10 Years Later”, “Kanga”, “Remember Khwezi”.
The ancestor spoke.
In the audience Zuma’s henchwomen watched horrified before turning on each other like battery hens. Enraged and suddenly disempowered ministers Lindiwe Zulu, Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini turned on Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. If she had had a cloaca, they would have ripped it apart.
“You sold us out! This can’t be! You sold us out!” they yelled at her.
Almost immediately #RememberKhwezi began to trend on Twitter. Never before has a protest so successfully disrupted a narrative – a seven-year state of denial about exactly what Jacob Zuma represents and has come to symbolise. In this he has been enabled, aided and abetted by a bevy of women including the Stepford Wives of the ANC Women’s League who have suffered for years now from a severe case of political Stockholm Syndrome.
It is not surprising that some young people were unaware of the details of President Zuma’s rape trial and his acquittal in 2006. One of the protesters, Naledi Chirwa, said she was only 13 in October 2005 when Khwezi alleged she had been raped by Zuma at his Forest Town home. Khwezi’s father had been an MK comrade of Zuma’s. The men had served time together on Robben Island before he had died in exile.
Besides, young South Africans who have come of age during President Jacob Zuma’s disastrous term of office have not had a year that has been scandal-free. Khwezi’s story has long been buried under a pile of steaming political fallout – more than 700 charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption, Nkandla, the Guptas, state capture, the violation of his oath of office.
Khwezi was 10 when her father died and had regarded Zuma as an uncle. The trial in 2006 became a spectacle showcasing rural patriarchal power. It was here that Zuma adopted his now trademark theme song Awuleth’ Umshini Wami, which he would sing to his supporters, many of them women, outside the courthouse. It was here that his supporters chanted “burn the bitch”. Khwezi was eventually forced to flee democratic, free South Africa.
Motsei is an activist and founder of Afrika Ikalafe and Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training (Adapt). In 1994 she was appointed in Nelson Mandela’s government as an adviser on women and gender and the following year she was seconded to the Office of the President to oversee gender policy development.
These were the days long before intersectionality, FMF and RMF and a new generation of women – young women (and men) nourished on Black Consciousness, Fanon, Biko. Motsei’s book, The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court – Reflections of The Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma (Jacana) was well received when it was published in 2007 but the time then was not quite right.
South Africans were not yet ready for full-throttled feminism. And besides, back then the ANC Women’s League had captured the national narrative – and feminism is not part of the DNA of its political lexicon. Motsei’s book exposed the systemic cultural, religious and social root of violence against women in South Africa.
Motsei does not spare Zuma. She does not fall for his false victimhood. That he was somehow set up by political rivals. It is an excuse that politicians still use now, 10 years later. Marius Fransman, suspended ANC Western Cape Leader, has also cried political conspiracy.
Of Zuma’s excuse, Motsei writes;
“As a former head of intelligence in the ANC, he must have been trained to be highly suspicious of untoward sexual attention, especially at the time when he was allegedly facing a political conspiracy to oust him from the presidential succession race. Despite all of this, his training and experience in political intelligence, being an elder, a husband, father and a leader purporting to uphold traditional values, Zuma chose to have unprotected sex with the complainant. Political conspiracy or not, his choice to engage in sex was in his hands alone.”
“The choice between 10 minutes of instant gratification and 10 years in the highest office of the land was his and his alone. After all, there is no greater power than the power of choice.”
Zuma, however, she says, cannot be condemned in isolation;
“It is a reflection of the prevailing thoughts, attitudes and perceptions of broader society.”
Ten years later at the IEC, four young women made a choice. It is one that has irrevocably altered and commanded the national narrative, grasped it back from the sycophants blowing idiot winds.
In the slipstream of FMF and RMF, a new generation of feminists has emerged. Women and men who are no longer prepared to allow the endemic culture of rape in this country to continue unchallenged. In April, students at Rhodes University embarked on a controversial campaign to name and shame men who had been accused of rape and abuse. The idea was to make spaces uncomfortable and unsafe for abusers and rapists, and not the women who are their targets.
On Women’s Day, the ANC, which seems to have the political intuition of a squashed peanut, blundered forth after last week’s protest, sending out President Jacob Zuma to deliver a keynote speech at a Women’s Day ceremony at the Union buildings.
Behind the scenes Zuma’s human shield, Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, as well as the rest of the security cluster must have had a tough time identifying potential feminist disrupters in the crowd. It’s a job they are going to have to keep at, because we are everywhere and we are men, women, black, white, old and young.
The four young #RememberKhwezi protesters have brought meaning back to Women’s Day and closed the circle of activism that the women of 1956 began to stake out so long ago. These young people are the true heirs of liberation and truth. DM
Photo: Original photo of the sky by Marlee via Flickr.
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Canola oil is named such as to remove the "rape" from its origin as rapeseed oil.