‘It was the right time to protest about rape’

The below article appeared in The Sowetan, 8 August 2016
By Lindile Sifile

One of the four young women who staged the silent protest #RememberKhwezi says it was a spontaneous act that even EFF leaders knew nothing about.

In fact, the quartet are not friends and only met at EFF events.

The longest time they spent together was during the elections at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) results operations centre in Tshwane where they represented the EFF until they were violently thrown out on Saturday night when they protested while President Jacob Zuma was speaking.

The four – Amanda Mavuso, 21, Naledi Chirwa, 23, Simamkele Dlakavu, 25, and Lebogang Shikwambane – are all university students.

They were holding placards written “I am 1 in 3”, “10 yrs later”, “Khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”.

These placards were referring to a rape case opened against Zuma 11 years ago by a woman dubbed Khwezi.

Zuma was acquitted and Khwezi relocated overseas.

Chirwa, the EFF Student Command’s legal and transformation officer, said being fed up triggered their action.

“The culture of rape has been our conversation for a long time. We have been saying that this conversation needs another platform because we have been protesting against rape in universities. But people still don’t want to listen.”

Sonke Gender Justice’s Bafana Khumalo applauded their “bravery”. “We’re disgusted at the way they were violently removed and the fact that [the] IEC issued a statement to apologise for disruption of the president’s speech,” Khumalo said.

Chirwa stressed that their protest was spontaneous.

“Simamkele and Lebogang came up with the idea. The mood was already tense after EFF delegates left and we knew that Zuma was coming.

“The universe was calling for this protest and this conversation. It’s long overdue,” Chirwa said.

“Everybody was as shocked as we were. The time we stood there felt like hours because we were all scared.”

Later, presidential bodyguards came and shoved them into a separate room and blocked media from getting inside.
One of them was heard screaming from the room.

“They were pushing us very badly. I hurt my knee in the process. I cried out of shock. They were literally pushing us to the ground and swearing at us, saying ‘Who do you think you are? We will beat you up’.”

Chirwa said their action was not political and they were not a threat to Zuma or his security.

“Let them say what they want. This is not about them. The biggest humiliation here was not on Zuma, but Khwezi who was being disrespected,” she said.

Ministers angry at breach of security

Cabinet colleagues of Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who reportedly confronted her over a protest during President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the release of election results on Saturday night, were not angry at her or the protesters but at “the serious breach of security”.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokeswoman Joy Peter said she was commenting “not as a duly authorised spokesperson of any party or organisation, but as a concerned citizen”. The Sunday Times reported the cabinet ministers nearly came to blows after the silent protest by EFF activists. Furious ministers Nomvula Mokonyane, Lindiwe Zulu and Bathabile Dlamini were seen confronting Mapisa-Nqakula over what they saw as a serious security breach.

The protesters staged the protest to mark 10 years since Zuma was acquitted on a charge of allegedly raping a woman who became known as Khwezi. The women all had IEC accreditation tags as part of the EFF election team.

Dlamini and Zulu had to be physically restrained by staff from attacking Mapisa-Nqakula, who they claimed was responsible for the embarrassment, as she was present in her capacity as head of cabinet’s security cluster, the Sunday Times report said. It said Mokonyane had shouted: “You sold us out! This can’t be! You sold us out!”

Peter said what transpired at the IEC centre was not only an embarrassment to the IEC but the country as a whole.

“The anger was at no point directed at Minister Mapisa-Nqakula but at the IEC security or lack thereof.” Peter said the question asked was how the protesters had come so close to the president without raising any alarm bells.

“The ministers were not angry at the protesting ladies or Minister Mapisa-Nqakula but at the serious breach of security. They never accused the minister of selling them out.

“They were pleading for her intervention … She made it clear to all parties concerned that the event was an IEC event and she had no authority to usurp its powers.” – TMG Digital