Remembering Khwezi - the abuse of power and privilege

Recent events around the globe really makes us question the understanding people have of the link between power and the perception of absolute privilege that comes with power.

Playing out on centre stage of the US Presidential campaign is the unfolding story of Donald Trump who was bragging about how he sexually assaults women and can get away with it because he is famous. His exact words were “ when you are a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”  There are also a number of women who have come out in the open and are accusing him of allegedly sexually assaulting them.

Closer to home is the story of four young South African women who staged a silent anti rape protest during a speech by Jacob Zuma after the local elections in August. (Just weeks after the protest, the world heard the sad news of her passing as well as her real identity.) They stood in front of the audience he was addressing and held up placards - each one with a simple yet symbolic statement written on them. The placards read as follows :

Remember Khwezi- which was a pseudonym given to the victim in the Jacob Zuma rape trial. 

1 in 3 - the sexual violence statistics in South Africa.

Khanga-which is a wrap worn by women. 

10 years later- the time since Zuma’s acquittal.

The four young women had been paying tribute to ‘Khwezi'  the name given to Fezikile Ntsukela  Kuzwayo, the woman who had accused a Jacob Zuma of sexually assaulting her in 2006. She was given this name to protect her identity during the circus of a court trial that took place as she had to remain nameless and faceless because of the death threats made against her. She went into exile after the trial.

I am in awe of Fezekile, of the bravery these four women displayed and of all women who speak up and speak out against men in situated in places of power and privilege. The young women’s silent protest brought back the memories of that dark time.

Issues of sexual violence towards women are not taken as seriously as they should be, worse still where a powerful or rich man is concerned. The victimisation of the women concerned is usually perpetuated beyond the sexual attacks and the physical trauma of rape. It includes sometimes long and gruelling court cases.  These types of men are able to afford powerful experienced lawyers, experts and private investigators who are able to manipulate the facts in their own favour. They are also usually well connected to people in higher and more influential positions who will support them and their criminal behaviour.

Munyaradzi Kereke, former MP for Bikita West and former advisor to the Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, was accused of raping his wife’s niece in 2010. He was only imprisoned for this crime 6 years later, with the delay being caused by the Prosecutor General refusing to prosecute him and in addition refusing to issue a certificate for him to be prosecuted privately. Justice was finally served for the victim in July 2016 when Kereke was sentenced to 10 years in jail. This is an example of how the use of power and influence can be used as the connection between Kereke and the Prosecutor General played a part in prolonging and almost jeopardising the case. 

Victims of high profile cases usually face criticism and stigma from those who hold the accused in high esteem and can do no wrong in their eyes. Jacob Zuma’s supporters harassed Khwezi by chanting phrases such as “Burn this bitch” and waving placards written “How much did they pay you nondindwa (b****)?” 

This year Walter Magaya was arrested on allegations of raping a 25-year-old young woman in 2015. Upon hearing this news the discussion already ensuing around it was “what was she doing going to his house in the first place? Why did it take her a long time to report? 

And the most recent and high profile case is that of Jah Prayzah who has been accused of sexually assaulting his former backup singer and dancer. l felt like l was experiencing dejavu as the exact same questions were being asked again in ensuing discussions around this issue on social media. From the moment the accusations came out of these women’s mouths, their credibility was being called into question and very few discussions revolved around the men in question. 

I am all for innocent until proven guilty but we must give these people the benefit of the doubt and remember that they are human at the end of the day and are capable of doing wrong but I feel more empathetic towards the victims.They are going up against men in positions of power and that it in itself is a huge step and a momentous burden.

Let’s just consider our statistics. Similar to South Africa’s 1 in 3 statistics, Zimbabwe’s own are equally shocking. According to the Zimbabwe Republic police 2 251 girls were raped between January and August this year which is very worrying. The statistics of victims are not getting any better , the justice system is still not efficient enough in protecting victims especially of high profile cases and society’s perceptions play a role in the further victimisation of the women. 

A lot more effort and will is needed if we are to defeat this monster called sexual violence.

Tinotenda Chishiri 19/10/2016


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