In a video released on Saturday, four women dressed in all black stood before President Jacob Zuma as he addressed the nation to discuss the 2016 local government elections. These four women enacted a silent protest as he prepared to make his announcements. They sought to address the rape trial against Zuma that transpired before he took office.
Zuma was shocked by the protest that took place on live television. This shock demonstrates the fragility of masculinity and patriarchy, that expects that no woman would ever disrupt the power and control it uses to police their activism and agency.
The protesters demanded that the chief of justice and president remember Khwezi who was raped by Zuma over a decade ago.
These protesters exhibited strength and courage in a country where protesting rape often ends in more violence. This silent South African protest from the anti-rape activists demonstrates a legacy of Black women’s resistance against rape and sexual violence in South Africa.
In her book The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflections of the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma, Mmatshilo Motsei, founder of the Asiganang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training programme and Commissioner of the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, details the public attacks and prolonged violence against women following Khwezi’s plea against Zuma. Her poetic response continues to give us hope for healing in the future and in the event of continued violence.
Motsei writes, “One good thing surrounding Jacob Zuma’s trials is that it gives us an opportunity to stop and reflect as a nation. The trials present us with a crisis that enables us to look beyond the surface and ask searching questions about the meaning of justice, democracy, and power. At stake, in this instance, is the question of political power.” Khwezi and the voices of many other women have sparked new energy around addressing rape in South Africa. Since the evening of their silent protest women have been using the hashtag #1in3 to discuss anti-rape activism.
Motsei makes us all aware of the relationships between spectacles of sexual violence that exploit Black women and political leadership. The rape trial against Jacob Zuma illustrated the ways politics, masculinity, and violence against women exist under the same roof. Motsei argues that a transformative movement not only requires transformed leaders, but a transformed body of people who are radicalized enough to find a leader dedicated to their “constant battle of harmonising the spirit with the heart and head.”
While these women conducted a silent protest, they spoke volumes of the ripple effects of Jacob Zuma’s rape trial and the survivorship of Khwezi.
She writes “The prevailing tendency to blame the oppressed for the consequence of their oppression is commonplace.” Motsei puts forth that silence is not an option in ending war against women and sexual terror of women’s bodies. She calls for a moral and spiritual agenda that is supportive if not indicative of the justice movement. Her call to action requires undoing victim-blaming, undoing patriarchy, and getting at the root of misogyny in South Africa and worldwide.
Black Women are protesting against rape worldwide. Black Women's Blueprint stands with women and communities denouncing rape culture. Black women continue to center themselves, their lives, and their safety when no one else will.