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Fezeka Kuzwayo: a feminist warrior we will never forget

In August 2016, at a speech by Jacob Zuma, four women staged a powerful and moving silent protest, exhorting us all to remember the woman he had been accused of raping. That woman died only two months after the #RememberKhwezi protest. Simamkele Dlakavu, one of the four protestors, pays tribute to a voice that will never be silenced.

Before working with and becoming friends with Kwezilomso Mbandazayo, the woman who gave Fezeka Kuzwayo the name that would protect her identity; before meeting and mobilising with black feminists at the One in Nine collective; and before being raped in my first year of university, I remember, as a 14-year-old girl, seeing glimpses of Fezeka’s rape trial. Unable to fully articulate the injustices of the trial at that age, I remember feeling intense sadness for the woman whose face had to be covered when she walked into court; the woman who thousands called “a bitch” and “a witch” who “deserved to burn and die”.

Patriarchal violence in South Africa has many moving parts. By reporting her rape and demanding justice, Fezeka felt its wrath from multiple directions simultaneously – from being in a court that further persecuted her by questioning her sexual history, her sexuality and her choice of dress to having her home burned down. When Fezeka died, she was living in the shadows of society.

A transcendant funeral

At her funeral this past Saturday in Durban, Fezeka became so much more than her rape to those who were not fortunate enough to have known her intimately. She became more than a fierce feminist and HIV/AIDS activist. Going into the house where she lived with her mother, you saw her African literature-filled bookshelf. You heard about her love for mismatching big and colourful earrings and her curious and adventurous spirit, which manifested in her love of travel, especially by bus. You witnessed her sister-friends reminiscing about her love of music and dance, which resulted in her becoming a gumboot-dance teacher during her second exile in Dar es Salaam. You learn that she had been singing in two choirs in Durban. All of these facts about her life humanised Fezeka, the icon.

Fezeka represented the many black women who have dared to challenge the patriarchal violence experienced at the hands of powerful men. Photo: Daily Maverick
Fezeka represented the many black women who have dared to challenge the patriarchal violence experienced at the hands of powerful men. Photo: Daily Maverick

As the news of her death spread, South African media carried articles featuring photographs of the silent protest that Amanda Mavuso, Naledi Chirwa, Tinyiko Shikwambana and I staged on 6 August 2016 at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) while Jacob Zuma was giving his address. Interview requests started pouring in. The media did not opt for using images from the One in Nine Campaign, which was launched in February 2006, at the start of Jacob Zuma’s rape trial, to ensure the expression of solidarity with the woman in that trial (known in the media then only as Khwezi), as well as with other women who speak out about rape and sexual violence. In doing so, the media further erased 10 years of activism and solidarity with Fezeka and the millions of women who are survivors and victims of rape in South Africa by the One in Nine collective. Over the last 10 years, Fezeka was not alone. She was part of a community of black feminists who supported her and affirmed her dignity and aspirations.

The One in Nine Campaign was launched in February 2006, at the start of Jacob Zuma’s rape trial, to ensure the expression of solidarity with the woman in that trial (known in the media then only as Khwezi), and with other women who speak out about rape and sexual violence.

Calling hypocrisy by its name

Fezeka represented the many black women who have dared to challenge the patriarchal violence experienced at the hands of powerful men and she paid a painful price for speaking out. However, she is on record as saying, “If I did not bring this case before a judge, I could not have lived with myself.”

Responding to the hypocrisy of the many, such as the ANC Women’s League, who expressed condolences to Fezeka’s family yet supported Jacob Zuma throughout the trail and criticised the #RememberKhwezi protest, a close friend of Fezeka, the feminist Dawn Cavanagh, passionately stated at the funeral: “If you said nothing in the last 10 years, do not speak now. Do not speak of justice, because you should have spoken in the last 10 years. You should have spoken up. Don’t apologise, it’s too late. She cannot hear you.”

Two months ago, when we engaged in the protest at Jacob Zuma’s speech at the IEC, we could not have imagined that we would soon be laying Fezeka to rest. For the four of us, we are so grateful that we spoke out in support of and solidarity with Fezeka before her passing; that we reaffirmed to her that many black feminists still believe in and remember her. We felt a deep sadness when we heard of her passing. We cried as if we knew her. Being told by her family that Fezeka expressed “pride and excitement” by the protest brought gratitude to our hearts.

For the four of us, we are so grateful that we spoke out in support of and solidarity with Fezeka before her passing; that we reaffirmed to her that many still believe in and remember her.

As her coffin was being lowered, black feminists sang, “Siyaziqhenya ngalo Fezeka wethu, Asoze saphela amandla”, which means that we are proud of our Fezeka and will never give up the fight. The spirit of Fezeka Kuzwayo lives on.

 

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