‘This mama is speaking lies’

The protesters outside court vouching for embattled Jacob Zuma were largely female. Women with his photo emblazoned across their chests. Women honking vuvuzelas in his support. Selling T-shirts to raise funds for his defence. Burning images of the woman who dared lay a rape charge against him.

On the other side were activists holding vigils to support Khwezi, the name they gave the complainant, whose identity must be protected. Activists writing prose alight with anger; articles beseeching mercy on his part and that of his legal team.

The gap between activist, professional and middle-class women on the one side and ordinary, largely working-class women on the other seemed yawning. The Mail & Guardian took to the streets to find out where women stand.

  • Regina Mkhana
  • (48), a domestic worker in Illovo, originally from KwaZulu-Natal: ”[Thabo] Mbeki is Xhosa and [Jacob] Zuma is Zulu like me; they’re trying to spoil the name of Zuma so that he’s never chief. Why bring up this story now? That woman went to Zuma to ask for money, you can’t do that with someone you don’t like. I hear everybody talk, they can see this story is a lie. I support the Inkatha Freedom Party but I support Zuma. He is very good because he helped suffering children — when he was taken out of office, children were crying on TV. If he knew that a child’s mother was dead, he used to pay for their uniforms, school fees, everything.”

  • A domestic worker in Rosebank
  • (54) and African National Congress member, who asked not to be named: ”I think it’s political. Some of Zuma’s colleagues in politics don’t want him to be president in the near future. President Mbeki, if this was his comrade, has the power to stop all the trials and let Zuma walk free. But he’s quiet about all that. I do not support rapists, I don’t want any woman to be raped. But her story! Firstly, she was invited, then she agreed to cook. Third, she agreed to stay with Zuma for the night and fourth, she didn’t lock the door. There was no rape, her and Zuma are lovers or something. I think this whole thing is very unfair, but I don’t see that Zuma has any future in South Africa. We know that all men have girlfriends but his secret came into the open. They caught him in his corner because they know he likes women. [Laughs.] We don’t want someone like him, it doesn’t send the right message, especially sleeping with a woman without a condom — what message does it tell our youth?”

  • Nombuyiselo Nxako
  • (51), a hawker in Rosebank: ”I see Zuma the same way. I think the outcome of the trial is still not clear but I think he’s innocent. The aim was to drag his name through the mud. The two of them were in love. He should carry on to be president.”

  • Noluthando Mase
  • (26), unemployed: ”There was an agreement between the two. He did not rape her. Zuma understands the dangers of being infected with HIV and I don’t see an intelligent person like him raping an infected person. Women in this country should change their attitudes; they should stop crying rape whenever their boyfriends disappoint them. No matter how hard the ANC government tries to bring Zuma down; we the people of South Africa still support him because he’s a good man who loves his country.”

  • Nana Zajiji
  • (24), camera operator visiting Johannesburg from Durban: ”My idea of Zuma changed after the Schabir Shaik trial but not much since the rape trial. I think he is a corrupt person who can rape. I don’t think he can still be president because politics is about perceptions and perceptions of him are negative. He is too busy with his cases and has been out of politics for a long time.”

  • Pretty Ngcobo
  • (42), a street hairdresser from Umlazi: ”It’s nice that they burnt that picture [of the alleged rape victim]. Somebody who doesn’t like Zuma has paid something to her. I want Zuma to be the next president. This rape trial is not right because somebody raped this girl before Zuma, so why does she not bring him to court before Zuma? Why does she want to destroy Zuma?”

  • Sthembile Ndwandwe
  • (24), a single mother from Lamontville who distributes flyers for a doctor’s surgery: ”This mama is speaking lies because she was in Zuma’s room with that [kanga] on and he could see everything. After that Zuma slept with this mama and then she put the case against him. Zuma will win this case because this mama is speaking lies and all the people know it’s wrong. She’s got too much money and she didn’t really work, where’s this money coming from? This woman is a isigebengu [criminal], she is Zuma’s girlfriend, otherwise why would she sleep with him without a condom? Why would she sleep with him four times? There’s nothing wrong!”

  • Hloniphile Maphalala
  • (18), a high school student from Ntuzuma near KwaMashu: ”Ja, I still support Zuma because I like him and I want him to be president. Things will change if he is president, there will be more jobs. [His supporters outside the court] are doing it because they don’t think Zuma is guilty; it’s fine. She allowed Zuma, Zuma didn’t force her. Women’s rights are not affected.”

  • Duduzile Buthelezi
  • (24), a doctor’s receptionist from Nkandla: ”We are not sure, because only Zuma knows what happened. We Zulus want him to take the chair when Mbeki leaves and we feel the Xhosas don’t want that. I don’t think [the behaviour outside the court] is good because no one knows if he did it or not, they must wait until the end of the case. The amount of women raped in this country is really bad. The people down here, we look up to Zuma and the Cabinet — if he did it, then people at the bottom will start to believe it is okay to rape. I like Zuma, even the IFP follow the trial and they like Zuma, but I can’t say he is good or bad until the trial is over.”

  • Mbongiwe Mthembu
  • (26), an informal trader on the beachfront who lives in Ndwedwe, north of Durban. ”I know about the trial, but I don’t have time to go to the meetings at the station or to the court, because I am here trying to make a living. The woman is lying, I know she is lying. I think she has done a bad thing. If I had that problem with Zuma I can talk to him, but not go to the court. She wants more money from Zuma and that’s not good.”

  • Mandisa Halam
  • (24), unemployed Soweto resident: ”Zuma used to warn people about the dangers of HIV/Aids but he failed to practise what he preached by raping his niece, sies! People say they want him as president and that makes me crazy. Even if he is found innocent of rape, he has proven that he is immoral. He can’t be trusted. How can a man who fails to control his feelings be given the responsibility of becoming our president? That’s stupid.”

  • Philiswa Lekau
  • (24), unemployed Soweto resident: ”Zuma is still a good man, rape or no rape. We still want him as president no matter what the ANC is saying against him. This government is trying everything to drag him down but they will not succeed. We love him and will support him to the very end. What has been shown in court so far indicates that the lady is an opportunist. She’s framing poor Zuma for nothing. Those Powa [People Opposing Women Abuse] people are only making noise. They should stay at home and address real rape issues that are occurring in squatter camps.”

  • Jean Chamane
  • (22), fashion designer: ”I don’t want Zuma to become president because he has shown that he can’t be trusted.”

  • Portia Mekhise
  • (31), photographer at the Johannesburg offices of the Department of Home Affairs: ”We don’t need Zuma as anything because he’s a disgrace to the society. Whether the lady consented to sex or was raped, Zuma acted immorally and something should be done with him. That woman could not just wake up and come up with such a big story about a big person as Zuma if the rape didn’t happen. Zuma took advantage of the girl seeing she is a family friend. It’s unfair because everybody is talking about her HIV status but nobody is saying anything about Zuma’s. I bet he’s also infected. He must go to jail just like everybody else if he’s found guilty of rape.”

  • Anna Mashele
  • (51), cleaner at the Bus Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg: ”Zuma for president, no matter what. This young girl is crazy and does not respect older people. She has insulted all women in this country, even those supporting her. She’s a bitch and deserves to be jailed for dragging Zuma’s name in the mud. All people supporting her are rotten, like her. She has shown the whole world that she can do anything for money.”

  • Rejoice Maluleke
  • (60), street vendor at Chris Hani-Baragwanath hospital: ”I haven’t heard that name before. I don’t know who Jacob Zuma is.”

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    Niren Tolsi
    Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.
    Kwanele Sosibo
    Kwanele Sosibo
    Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.
    Tumi Makgetla
    Guest Author

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