On Saturday, 6 August 2016, during the announcement of the results of the local government election, four women turned the spotlight back on to South Africa’s rape crises, the right to protest and President Jacob Zuma’s past. This was done by means of a silent anti-rape protest. The protest of these women reminds one of a similar protest 60 years ago – that of the women who protested against the anti-pass laws on 9 August 1956, by marching to the Union Buildings and maintaining silence for half an hour.
Who is Khwezi and why were these women protesting?
In 2005 a woman the media referred to as Khwezi (to protect her true identity) laid charges against the president, accusing him of rape. Zuma denied the claims and said he had consensual sex with the HIV-positive woman at his home in Johannesburg. In 2006 he was acquitted of the charges.
It was during this trial that we became aware of Zuma’s views on Aids as well as on women.
On Saturday evening, the four women held up five signs: The first woman held up two signs, the first reading: “I am 1 in 3”, and the second: “#”. The next sign read: “10 yrs later.” The fourth sign: “Khanga”. The final sign read: “Remember Khwezi”.
The signs referred to the following:” Khwezi”- the name given to the woman involved in the infamous rape trial. “Khanga” – a traditional African garment she reportedly wore at the time of the assault. “10 yrs later” – the duration of time since the trial. “I am 1 in 3” – the number of women raped in this country.
The right to protest, freedom of expression
To protest is a right enshrined in the Constitution, be it against the president or someone else. No unlawful act was committed when the four women silently protested on Saturday evening.
Section 16 (1) of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
Section 17 of the Constitution affords everyone the right to protests, as long as it is done in a peaceful manner. “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.”
Some have questioned the protesters’ motives but, as we pay homage to the 60th anniversary of the women’s march on 9 August, our focus should be on the message of rape and violence against women, as well as the president’s own ambiguity on women’s rights issues.
What people are saying about the protest
The protestors were heavily criticised by prominent female ministers, who in turn, did everything to defend Zuma. Bathabile Dlamini, minister of social development and president of the ANC Women’s League condemned the four women in defence of the president. It is quite ironic, seeing that the Women’s League’s mandate is that of protection of women and their rights. Dlamini also said that the women “were used by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to embarrass him (the President)”.
South Africans have taken to social media in support of the four protesters. Twitter revealed angry and disgusted comments about the manner in which security staff handled the four women, the way rape cases are handled in the country and the defence by the African National Congress of the president.
What the protest means for us
These women raised their voices without saying a word. Their silence spoke loudly and showed that injustice will no longer be tolerated. They were brave, fierce and unashamed. More so – the five pieces of paper reflected a symbol of change – not only for women, but also for our country. Zuma has been disfigured by scandal the past few years – Khwezi, Nkandla, to name two. But it is clear. The people have spoken, without saying a word – by casting a vote and by holding up five pieces of paper. Enough is enough. 2016 has been a year of anger, or defiance against this system, of change. The #RUReferenceList protest, #Webelieveyou campaign and this very public protest right in front of our own president is only the start.