Remembering Khwezi: Her life was taken long before she died

Her name was Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.
She was lesbian.
She was HIV positive.
She was an activist.
She accused Jacob Zuma of rape.
She became known as Khwezi.

Before becoming a hashtag, Fezeka, as she was known to her friends, was openly lesbian and an HIV/Aids activist. Fezeka was a force to be reckoned with.

I last saw her in 2004, before she had to endure everything this country, the ANC, and the justice system threw at her. She was smiling as she told me that the Treatment Action Campaign committee elections were to be held that week and I should come along. I eventually didn’t go to the meeting, having been in my final and most gruelling year of study. But that image of her is imprinted in my mind. Fezeka smiling, despite everything she had already been through.

These past two days have seen the media publish all sorts of information about her life, but most of all, they identified her in relation to Jacob Zuma. Not as a person of her own accord.

‘Zuma’s rape accuser dies’, some headlines read. Some used the name ‘Khwezi’ in the headline. Some articles went into detail about the rape case. But not one captured her spirit. That’s because, over the past 10 years, nobody knew her except her closest friends and family.

Other than her links to the ruling party and its repugnant leader, Fezekile Kuzwayo did not exist anymore.

Having been taunted by the Zuma faction of the ANC and his equally repugnant supporters with death threats, insults, victim-blaming, and even further threats of rape over and above what she had already been through, she went into hiding. The misogynist and patriarchal attitudes displayed by the people who now call her ‘brave’ and ‘strong’ (I’m looking at you, ANC Women’s League) was enough to entrench systematic rape culture in the public’s mind as being okay – going against everything Fezeka fought for.

She was a survivor who brought out campaigns such as the 1 in 9 campaign, which supports rape survivors who report the crimes against them. One in nine is a scary statistic, and that shows us just how brave Fezeka was. To be able to stand up against a perpetrator of rape is not easy. So few people report their cases because of the difficulty it entails. Having that perpetrator be the most powerful man in the land was possibly the most difficult thing anyone has had to endure in the public sphere since the fall of apartheid.

But South Africa let her down. Not only Zuma’s supporters and the justice system, which found Zuma not guilty (a laughable verdict in the face of such a heinous crime). But we, as a country, killed her way before she died.

Not only is the man who raped her now the president of this country, we still do not hold rapists accountable. We still hold a culture of victim-blaming and rape culture that hold women responsible for their rapists’ actions. We still do not respect our LGBT+ community enough to recognise their struggles. Despite our sterling constitution, we do not uphold it. We are still raising rapists and teaching men that they are entitled to women’s bodies. We are raising hooligans with no sense of accountability for their actions. And to this day, the Zuma faction of the ANC does not see anything wrong with what they did to a woman whose life as she knew it was ended because of their future political gains.

Basically, we spat in the face of the bravest woman in the country, and let her fire die long before she left us.

Fezeka, wherever you are, I hope that it is a better place than this. I hope you find freedom in death, and that you are finally free of the chains and mask that held you captive since 2005. I hope you have found peace. Rest in power, my friend. As long as I am alive, I will keep your fire burning. We should have done better for you.

Her name was Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo. Let us remember her. And let us remember how we allowed a human being to die for someone else’s crime.