On Saturday, 16 September 2017 at 12:30 PM, questions were sent to my office by City Press wherein they advised that I had a deadline of 5pm. On the same day, I had been attending the funeral of Cde. Sindiso Magaqa in Umzimkhulu as instructed by the National Executive Committee of the ANC. My office informed the Assistant Editor concerned that I was not reachable and requested them not to publish a story without giving me an opportunity to respond.
At 5pm my office once again reached out to the Assistant Editor and advised her that I would not be able to meet the deadline as I was still unreachable. An undertaking was never forthcoming from the Assistant Editor concerned that the story would not be published without my responses. This is not only disappointing but it is violation of journalism ethics. I have always availed myself to engage with the media and remain committed to this. However, such conduct leaves a lot to be desired. It raises a question whether this was not done in bad faith to taint my reputation.
The enquiry which came from City Press was about my involvement and what the Assistant Editor has described as my “manipulation of Fezeka by hiring a lawyer ostensibly for him to persuade her to drop the rape charges she laid against President Zuma”.
I must at the outset express my discomfort and reservations to publicly talk about this matter. I have over the years avoided doing so because of my appreciation of Fezeka’s right to privacy and human dignity. I also believe that like any other woman, she was entitled to justice, fairness and equality.
I also elected not to deal with the media at the time of the trial as I understood that the matter was sub-judice and I had to allow for the legal process to unfold and cooperate with any formal investigation if and when required to do so.
I have now been advised that these allegations regarding my involvement have also been made in a book published by Ms. Redi Thlapi. I have not yet had sight of the book. Whilst respecting her right to publish the book and capture versions given by those she interviewed, I would have appreciated her to also engage me in order to understand my involvement in this matter and get an opportunity to interrogate me in light of the other versions that she had gathered. I believe that had this been done, it would have assisted her in understanding the context of my involvement.
Given the interest that this now published book is bound to generate, I have decided to make public my version and the sequence of events in so far as my involvement in this matter is concerned.
It is important for me to firstly give background of how I knew Fezeka and her family. Fezeka was Judson Khuzwayo’s daughter. Her father, whom we called Comrade Mthethwa during the years of the underground struggle, was amongst the first people I had contact with in the ANC. When I went to Swaziland consultations he was one of the leaders whom I forged a close relationship with. He taught me most of the basics about the underground operations in the African National Congress and the involvement in the liberation struggle in general. He left an indelible mark in my life.
Comrade Mthethwa, who passed away in the 80s was married to Sis Beauty, Fezeka’s mother, and we later lived as neighbours in Zimbabwe. They were like family to me. I had always seen Fezeka as my daughter, she had been brought up in front of me. Even after her father passed on, Sis Beauty and Fezeka remained family to me. She came to visit my family and children whom she regarded as her younger siblings. I can safely say we had a very close relationship and a strong bond.
In the year 2005, I was called by President Zuma who advised me that he had made a terrible mistake of having sexual relations with Fezeka. I was shocked by this because I had always been under the impression that Fezeka was like a daughter to both of us.
When I listened to what President Zuma was saying to me, his version appeared to show that there was a degree of an intimate relationship that had built up over a period between them. In fact, he indicated that they had been conversing for a while. The reason why I believe the President said this was a mistake, is because he knew that I would never have expected him to engage in that kind of a relationship with someone we both regarded as a daughter.
He also informed me that he had been made aware that Fezeka was in the process of laying criminal charges against him. When I asked why she would do that if they were now in a relationship, he said he himself wasn’t sure what could have upset her as he was under the impression that all was well between them. He said Fezeka had not raised any issues or complaint with him. He appeared to be puzzled about what had gone wrong between them.
I must immediately clarify this was purely President Zuma’s version to me at the time when we had the conversation.
In as much as I personally still had fundamental difficulty with what appeared to be a relationship between the President and Fezeka, given our history as three families, I had to respect the fact that Fezeka was now an adult who was entitled to make her own life choices.
Based on the relationship I had with the Khuzwayo family and President Zuma who has always been like a big brother to me, I decided to take the initiative to engage with Fezeka’s mother. The main reason for this engagement was for me to share what I had been told by President Zuma, find out what she understood to be the issue and whether she knew if President Zuma and Fezeka had established an intimate relationship.
At that meeting she also expressed her surprise as she had been told that Fezeka had laid a rape charge against President Zuma. As we continued to engage on this matter, it became apparent that both Sis Beauty and I were not sure of the exact version and turn of events. We were both also unaware of the alleged relationship that had developed between President Zuma and Fezeka.
Sis Beauty was visibly distressed and asked me what I thought could be done to deal with this matter. My advice was that we needed to know Fezeka’s version of events. As a mother, she needed to sit down with Fezeka to fully understand what had really happened. If President Zuma’s version was confirmed by Fezeka, this matter could be dealt with in the culturally acceptable way. This meant that there would be an engagement and payment of inhlawulo (cultural damages). However, if Fezeka insisted that this was rape then we could not proceed with the inhlawulo as this matter would have to be dealt with through a legal process. At that point, we agreed that Sis Beauty discussing this matter with Fezeka was a priority.
A day or so later Sis Beauty and I met again. On this day, she was at Bab Mkhwanazi’s house. Mr. Mkhwanazi, who is now late, was an elder whom we lived with in exile. He was a veteran of the ANC that we had worked with and we also regarded him as part of our families.
When we got to Mr. Mkhwanazi’s house, we deliberated on this matter. In guiding us, Mr. Mkhwanazi suggested that we call Fezeka and request her to come home so we could hear her side of the story and be able to support her in any way we could. Her mother immediately called her and Fezeka refused to come home. She told her that she was held up. Bab Mkhwanazi spoke to her and I also spoke to her pleading that she come home, but she remained dismissive of this proposal. Whilst on the phone with her she told me that she was raped. The three of us did not engage further with her as we had picked up that Fezeka was highly emotional.
After that disturbing phone call, which left us even more concerned, we agreed Sis Beauty must immediately go to Johannesburg to see Fezeka and give her all the support she needed. She informed me that she was keen but didn’t have funds to travel. I then offered to take care of her travel arrangements. In that same conversation, I also suggested to her that it might be advisable to engage services of a lawyer who would be able to look into this matter and advise them on how to deal with it going forward. Sis Beauty accepted this suggestion.
I requested friends based in Gauteng to refer me to a Johannesburg-based lawyer who would assist my family on an urgent legal matter. I was given Mr Yusuf Docrat’s contacts. I must clarify that before this incident, I had never had any dealings with Mr. Docrat and had never met him. There was no relationship whatsoever between myself and Mr. Docrat before I contacted him telephonically regarding this matter.
When I spoke to him telephonically, I briefed him that there was a family matter that I required his legal services for. I told him that he was going to meet with Sis Beauty and Fezeka who would give him the full background to this matter and he was required to provide them with legal advice and to guide them. At no point was the lawyer instructed to advise Fezeka to drop the charges.
I must at this stage also emphasise that I had not had any follow-up discussions or meeting with President Zuma since the initial one. My intention was always to assist where I could and provide the necessary support.
My understanding throughout this process was that Sis Beauty and I were dealing with this matter on the basis of the trust relationship we had. This matter involved her daughter, my niece whose welfare we had to safeguard. Sis Beauty was stressed and appeared to need support which I was at all times committed to give her and Fezeka.
Sis Beauty left for Johannesburg. We kept in touch the whole time when she was there. A few days later, she contacted me to inform me that she was going to return to Durban to collect more of her clothing items as she needed to be with her daughter. She also informed me that she might no longer be available on her phone going forward because they were now dealing with police.
As time went on I received a call from Richard Mdluli who advised me that they were investigating this rape charge and they wanted to interview me. I met with him together with another police official and I was thoroughly interviewed. In fact, I remember as part of that interview, the police officials informed me that Sis Beauty had made it clear to them that my role had been to assist and support her, which she appreciated.
I was requested to prepare a statement to be submitted as part of the investigation. This was duly done. I then received a meeting request from a Ms De Beer who was a prosecutor in the matter. This meeting was held in Johannesburg. She went through the statement I had submitted and requested clarity on a few issues, which I accordingly provided. She then advised that she would be in contact with me should the state require any further information and once they had made a decision on the way forward.
After all these events, I did not receive a call from Sis Beauty again. I also became aware that Fezeka was in police protection. It became clear to me that given the seriousness, sensitivity and prominence this matter was gaining I needed to allow for the legal process to unfold and only attend to Sis Beauty and Fezeka if they made contact with me in order to avoid being seen to be interfering, especially because I had already been contacted by the police.
It is a pity that in all this, I never got a chance to personally engage with Fezeka to share the background on how I got involved which was ostensibly to give support as part of the family. In all that I did it was never my intention to let her down. I also did not in any way undermine her right to pursue any legal recourse in this case. It was painful to witness public humiliation and ridicule of a child who was like a daughter to me and yet at that stage, because of legal process, I could not lend any support to her and her mother.
I personally have never been involved in violence or the violation of women’s rights and dignity. As a husband and a father to my own daughters, I could never advocate for the dropping of charges against anyone accused of rape. We as men in our society have to be at the forefront of the protection of women and children against any form of abuse and violence, including rape.
Dr. Zweli L Mkhize