Ahmed Kathrada died and was buried this week. Part of the funeral and mourning invoked an open letter Kathrada wrote last year, calling on Comrade President Zuma to resign. With Ahmed Kathrada’s death, that letter turned into a warning from the grave. On Wednesday, Ahmed Kathrada was laid to rest. On Thursday, in the middle of the night, President Zuma did what he does. He went for his machine gun and “reshuffled” the cabinet, in particular Pravin Gordhan. Once again, the President has thrown South Africa into uproar and disarray. Once again. In October 2016, Fezekile Kuzwayo was laid to rest. Fezekile Kuzwayo was better known, to the public at least, as Khwezi. Remember the One in Nine Campaign, the purple shirts, the women? Remember the four young Black women, dressed in black, last August, who stood, in silent protest, before President Zuma, and held up five placards: “I am 1 in 3”, “#”, “10 years later”, “Khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”? Remember Khwezi? We should, today more than ever. Today, more than ever, #RememberKhwezi.
Remember how Jacob Zuma responded to Khwezi? He sang umshini wam, Bring My Machine Gun. As Pumla Dineo Gqola has written, “When Jacob Zuma sang the hugely popular struggle toyi-toyi song `umshini wam’ when he was charged with rape, he understood the power of heroic masculinity, having previously embodied it himself and know how to reference it to shame Khwezi … Khwezi becomes the enemy and safe to treat in any way because she is an enemy that has been marked with associations that come from apartheid. All righteous, freedom-loving people are reminded of the wound of apartheid, incited to anger, always ready because the apartheid memory is too fresh in all of us, so that Khwezi becomes possible to burn. It is therefore not a huge leap from seeing her as a political enemy … to chanting `burn the bitch.”
And that strategy worked … up to a point. It didn’t work with Khwezi herself, who remained steadfast and revolutionary to the very end. It didn’t work with the courageous women of the One in Nine campaign. But it did work. Jacob Zuma walked free, while Khwezi and her sister comrades had to look over their shoulders more than once. Zuma has gone on to govern with his machine gun, or at least his love song to the machine gun, always already at the beck and call.
So, today’s tumult has everything to do with Pravin Gordhan, nuclear deals, state capture, and much more. Today’s tumult reminds us we should re-read Ahmed Kathrada’s letter from last year, and we should study it, discuss it, and share it, and make it part of a popular education campaign. And even more, we should remember the four young Black women who last year dared us to remember Khwezi, and we should remember the courageous women of the One In Nine Campaign, who dared to break the silence and challenged us to stand with and listen to the women who refused to shut up. And today, more than ever, we should remember the revolutionary Khwezi. #RememberKhwezi
(Photo Credit: Simphiwe Nkwali / Sunday Times)