It started off a quiet evening running pretty smoothly and overall as planned.
Things then took a sudden and totally unexpected twist right in the middle of President Jacob Zuma’s address.
This is was tonight, Saturday, at the official closing ceremony of the country’s just ended Local Government Elections.
Four young women stepped up just below the podium and staged a silent protest facing a full house consisting of the country’s top political leaders, diplomats and executives.
Their demo was over continued violation of women’s rights in South Africa with a particular focus on sexual violence and rape.
The women called out the President right in front of the respected audience over a long forgotten scandalous and damaging 10 year old rape case in which the President was acquitted by the courts.
Dressed in back and holding up A4 placards written “Remember Khwezi” and “10 years later” among others, the women caught their moment of glory which soon after went viral despite pleas from the host – Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) – for the media to keep it cool and let it pass.
The President himself, unaware of what was happening, had continued with his speech to the end.
Who is Khwezi? Khwezi is a media name for a woman – Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo- whom Jacob Zuma allegedly raped and stood trial back in 2006 in which he subsequently walked free.
Zuma admitted to having intercourse with her in a consensual context and he also said he took a shower afterwards to try and reduce risk of infection. Khwezi was HIV positive.
South African women activists seem to have never accepted the court’s verdict nor forgiven Zuma hence tonight’s major embarrassment to the scandal prone President.
It would have been bearable if the President’s address was in the context of electoral good news.
President Zuma’s party, the National African Congress (ANC), is reeling from the worst performance ever in South Africa’s Local Government Elections.
So what the young women did tonight didn’t make the President’s job nor reputation any better.
Interviewed latter, one of the now christened #RememberKhwezi protesters who were roughly handled out of the venue, after the fact, by presidential security said
Many women, rape survivors and victims in this country are raped daily and their cases are either not taken forward, they are told that they are lying and the rapists get off scot-free every single day. So an acquittal doesn’t mean rape didn’t happen and I believe Khwezi and I believe that she wouldn’t have gone through all of that [to lie]
Some estimates say there are as many as 48 000 sexual violations per year in South Africa.
Tonight’s #RememberKhwezi silent protest not only completely overshadowed President Zuma’s speech, but also the significance of the closing ceremony itself.
It also reignited debate around Zuma’s cumulative cost to the ANC and his continued unsuitability to lead the party and country.