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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

“Deeply disturbing, but necessary” – Independent Online reviews Redi Tlhabi’s Khwezi

In August 2016, following the announcement of the results of South Africa’s heated municipal election, four courageous young women interrupted Jacob Zuma’s victory address, bearing placards asking us to ‘Remember Khwezi’.

Before being dragged away by security guards, their powerful message had hit home and the public was reminded of the tragic events of 2006, when Zuma was on trial for the rape of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, better known as Khwezi. In the aftermath of the trial, which saw Zuma acquitted, Khwezi was vilified by his many supporters and forced to take refuge outside of South Africa.

Ten years later, just two months after this protest had put Khwezi’s struggle back into the minds and hearts of South Africans, Khwezi passed away … But not before she had slipped back into South Africa and started work with Redi Tlhabi on a book about her life.

How as a young girl living in ANC camps in exile she was raped by the very men who were supposed to protect her; how as an adult she was driven once again into exile, suffering not only at the hands of Zuma’s devotees but under the harsh eye of the media.
In sensitive and considered prose, journalist Redi Tlhabi breathes life into a woman for so long forced to live in the shadows. In giving agency back to Khwezi, Tlhabi is able to focus a broader lens on the sexual abuse that abounded during the ‘struggle’ years, abuse which continues to plague women and children in South Africa today.

Redi Tlhabi is a Johannesburg talk show radio host, broadcast journalist, and author. Tlhabi was born in 1978. She graduated from college with degrees in Political Economy and English Literature. When she’s not studying, presenting radio or TV shows, she reads extensively and runs marathons. Tlhabi won the prestigious Sunday Times Alan Paton Award in 2013.

Orielle Berry reviewed Tlhabi’s powerful book for IOL shortly after it was published. A must-read:

It’s small wonder that copies of Khwezi sold out just days after its simultaneous launch in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Aside from being long overdue, the book about Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser raises uncomfortable questions not only about attitudes towards sexual consent but points a finger at how the law system won but how justice was failed.

Khwezi is a long-overdue book because, for more than a decade, many did not know much about Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, the woman who laid rape charges against Zuma. Following the much-publicised trial, Zuma, then deputy president, was acquitted.

For more than a decade, Khwezi disappeared off the radar, hounded out of the country in the trial’s aftermath, living in Amsterdam and Dar es Salaam before returning to the land of her birth.

Author Redi Tlhabi met Khwezi, who used the name to protect her identity during the court case, when she started working with her on a book about her; and, as she writes, given the type of person Khwezi was, it was difficult not to be drawn in personally to her story.

Sadly, after living with HIV for years, she died last year, succumbing not only to the illness but to depression and a lack of direction following her rape and the acquittal.

The book thus, by default, has become not only a memoir but also a tribute to a woman marked by her bravery and also “otherness” in the life she lived. The book is many things. It is emotionally rendered; it is incisive and causes a great deal of discomfort. It also creates a sense of shock and deep anger and even doubt. Possibly this is all for the good – because it creates a much-needed conversation.

Continue reading Berry’s review here.

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