South Africa


Zizi Kodwa accusation could be the start of an all-out war

Zizi Kodwa gives a speech during his birthday party at the Radisson Blu hotel on January 20, 2018 in Sandton, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / John Liebenberg)

At the weekend the deputy secretary-general of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, confirmed in a televised press conference that the party’s head of Presidency and acting national spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, had been accused of rape. The immediate reaction was one of shock. Then came questions around the possibility of political machinations. Again, right in time for the 2019 elections.

From his side, Zizi Kodwa has issued a statement strongly denying the claim, and saying that it is all about politics. This, the newest episode, certainly arrives in the space where claims of sexual assaults could be weaponised and used as a political tool. It may also suggest that the ANC is actually even more deeply divided than was previously thought, and that the various groups and factions are not going to pause their in-fighting for the elections, not this time. It appears that the 2019 elections could be the dirtiest so far in democratic South Africa.

On Saturday evening, the ANC called a press conference to address issues around developments in its North West province. Deputy secretary-general of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, confirmed that a decision had been taken to merge the provincial executive committee led by former North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, and that a task team had been created to run the province by Luthuli House. Several national executive committee members (including Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Malusi Gigaba) have been drafted on to that group as well.

But then the press conference took what, for most, was an unexpected turn. A reporter asked if the ANC was aware of a claim of rape that had been made against its acting national spokesman, Zizi Kodwa. Duarte confirmed that the party had been made aware of the claim, and had advised the person making it to report it to the police.

More was to come.

On Twitter and various WhatsApp groups, documents started making the rounds. They included a letter addressed to Kodwa from the woman making the accusation. They suggested that there was more than one man involved, and that a “date-rape” drug may have been used. There are also other screengrabs of conversations around a possible settlement to close the matter. It also appears, from the information available, that this incident happened quite some time ago.

All of this poses several difficult problems for the media. First, naming a person accused of rape is legally difficult. But the Press Code actually changed its guidelines on this in 2018, to say that someone of a high profile could be named if it was in the public interest. At the same time, Duarte’s comments had been made in a press conference which was taken live by the SABC. The proverbial toothpaste was out of the tube, and it would be nonsensical not to mention Kodwa’s name now, no matter how unfairly he believes this may be. And everyone involved in this should know that it is entirely possible that any of the versions that we have so far, and any of the versions that we may be told in the future are true. It could be that there was an attack, and that Kodwa was responsible. It could be that there was no attack at all and this is politically motivated. And it could be that anything between those versions, is true.

Then there is Kodwa’s denial itself. It is strong and adamant. He says that “after days of what appears to be the height of a dirty tricks campaign, I wish to expose its details. On February 14, 2019, I was alerted by the secretary-general of the ANC that he had received a letter from a woman claiming I view as the most grotesque attack on me and my reputation. In a letter replete with false accusations, I am accused of rape, sexual assault and even drugging two women.” He also says that he will not give in to extortion.

There is another issue that will muddy the reporting on this. When the ANC’s official spokesperson, Pule Mabe, was accused of sexual harassment, the tone of some of the commercial media suggested a strong belief that he may have been guilty. With Kodwa, it is possible to detect a different tone, that some almost want to believe that he is innocent. This may well be to do both with the public profiles of the two men, and with the very accusations themselves.

Legally speaking, rape is seen as a much worse crime than harassment. It certainly receives a stronger sanction. Harassment usually leads to someone losing their job, rape leads to jail time. At the same time, the person who made the accusation against Mabe has done interviews about the issue, and made her claims repeatedly in the public domain. That is not, or not yet, the case with Kodwa’s case.

The documents that have been produced on Twitter and WhatsApp also raise two other problems. The first is that they speak of a settlement. This raises questions about why someone who was raped would ask for money rather than report it to the police. (While there is a presumption that someone who is raped should “just go to the police”, there may be a much more difficult conversation to have. It is well known that the police often treat victims and survivors of rape poorly, someone who has been violated may well believe it rational to actually try to receive restitution in some other way than to go to the police. Others may also find that problematic in other ways.)

Then there is the second problem. So complicated and devious is the politics of the ANC at the moment, that many people simply don’t believe a claim like this when it is made against a person who has been as politically important as Kodwa, and particularly if they are important to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

It has become accepted almost across the board that Ramaphosa has people in the ANC who are trying to sabotage him. Kodwa has been one of the most effective public faces of the “New Dawn ANC”, speaking at the Zondo Commission, and generally reflecting Ramaphosa’s view on matters. Mabe has sometimes been seen as the face of the other faction.

This means that on this version, it is possible to believe that all of these documents and screengrabs are fake. This would not be difficult to do; in fact, it may actually be pretty easy to make this sort of thing up. Certainly, anyone with access to former State Security agents would find this the work of a few hours.

Then there is the immediate context to this. Last week a series of events occurred that was incredibly odd, even for the ANC of 2019. An official ANC statement was issued condemning ANC organisational head Senzo Mchunu and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan for supposedly attacking black professionals. Gordhan issued a public statement on his ministerial letterhead demanding an apology. Literally minutes later, an apology was published. Then, reports came from a media organisation that has occasionally appeared aligned to what can be loosely called the “Zuma/Magashule faction”, suggesting secretary-general Ace Magashule had not signed off on the apology (under the ANC’s constitution, the secretary-general has final authority on communication for the party). Then came the claim against Kodwa.

This will lead some to believe that in fact the claim against Kodwa has been manufactured, they will believe his denial. It may also be because Kodwa generally has a reputation of being professional with the media, even the media were highly critical of the ANC (of course, all journalists will have different views on a spokesperson like Kodwa). Kodwa has also found himself unable to lie when it would have been the obvious way out of a problem; as early as May 2016 he could not say on the radio that he was proud to be led by then-President Jacob Zuma

While Mabe has tried to spin for the party, those with long memories will remember how he would try to bully the media while he was a part of Julius Malema’s leadership collective at the ANC Youth League. He also simply does not have the kind of relationship with journalists that Kodwa has.

For some, the great fear may well be that this is the start of something much worse for the ANC. They may well see this as the beginning of an era in which different factions try to take out their opponents by all means, both fair and foul. These kinds of claims could soon become so common that it would become increasingly difficult to work out the truth from fake news.

If that becomes a full-blown reality, those who should be campaigning for the party during an election will be spending too much time fighting each other, a disaster for anyone trying to woo voters.

The possibility of that, of course, is that voters may find it harder to vote for the ANC – only few would care to give their vote to a party consumed by in-fighting, particularly by those who are supposed to represent it in public. This latest claim could actually be a pivotal moment, the one marking the start of in-fighting worse than we have seen so far, that may reach a climax at its next scheduled national general council in 2020.

It is difficult to predict what will happen from here. Kodwa has given every indication that he will fight these claims with everything at his disposal. He will fight hard. The police will find themselves in a difficult position too, to prove a rape occurred months after the event means they may have to rely on witness testimony rather than physical evidence. That testimony could be contradictory. And there will be intense pressure on the person who has first made the complaint, which could lead to victim-blaming, victim-shaming, and the worst kind of situation you can imagine.

The worst part is that this may be only the first incident of this kind. DM


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