The Khwezi protest during a speech by President Jacob Zuma was a defining moment in our politics, and felt like the Black Sash reincarnate, says Ed Herbst.

Outside, the music pumped. But no one looked like they were in the mood for a party. The late winter crescent moon hung in the sky like a scythe. Five pieces of paper had worked like a car bomb, blowing the night apart.

Dlamini and Zulu had to be physically restrained by staff members 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. Mokonyane shouted: “You sold us out! This can’t be! You sold us out!” The three ministers were forced into a corner by their staff in an attempt to calm them down while a shaken Mapisa-Nqakula shook her head and walked back to her seat.

‘Ministers in heated clash over Khwezi protest shock’Daily Dispatch 7/8/2016

On the morning of 9 August, Women’s Day, an editorial in Die Burger drew an impassioned analogy between the silence of Prime Minister J G Strijdom 60 years ago when women staged a protest march to the Union buildings and the silence of President Jacob Zuma about the“Remember Khwezi”  protest at the IEC building on 6 August.

It was headlined ‘Zuma confirms everything in that moment of silence’.

Today, exactly 60 years ago, women from differing backgrounds but with a communal goal marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Women’s Day, the public holiday which we celebrate today, was established to commemorate them – those women who, with icy discipline, stood for half an hour in silence in front of the Union Building to say enough is enough, we will no longer carry a passbook.

Women who were so invisible to J G Strijdom that he did not find it necessary to acknowledge their presence, still less to listen to their protest.

Strike a woman, strike a rock.

The silent protesters hold up their posters while President Jacob Zuma speaks. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

The four young women – like the women of 1956 – said much in their disciplined silence without uttering a word.

On Saturday Zuma did exactly the same. And he confirmed everyone’s worst suspicions about his attitude to women.

Warm embrace

As the ANC’s door-to-door canvassers now confirm, they encountered hostility from Camps Bay to the Cape Flats about President Zuma’s warm embrace of Western Cape ANC leader Marius Fransman during the hustings.

They were undoubtedly asked the same questions that ANC stalwart Melanie Verwoerd posed in a recent News24 article:

Firstly: Why was Wynand taken along to an ANC conference, when she was apparently not working for Fransman in an ANC capacity, but in his private business?

Secondly: Knowing that there were at least three people travelling together, why were there only two rooms booked at the Flamingo hotel and Casino in Kimberley? Of course before 1994 when party money was scarce ANC comrades of the same gender were required to share rooms at ANC events, (I shared a room with Naledi Pandor once, but that is a story for another day). However, 20 years later, I won’t buy it for a second that a former Cabinet Member was planning to share a room with one of his male comrades. My guess is that the ANC covered the cost of two rooms for the official delegates, but not for Wynand, because she wasn’t there in an ANC capacity. But then, why did Fransman not pay for an extra one? A room at the hotel in questions costs R595 per night and an additional R70 for breakfast – not a big stretch on his salary and if it was a legitimate business expense, he could have claimed it back.

Thirdly: Fransman has insisted that Wynand’s allegations were a “honey-trap”, set up by his political opponents. Perhaps. Politics is a dirty business, but Fransman is a seasoned politician. So morals aside, the question remains why it did not cross his mind that as a 47-year-old married man it might create a problem for him when found to be visiting the room of a 21-year-old young woman.

And then, of course, his recently released text messages to her have remained unexplained. If the messages are a true reflection of what was sent, it is difficult to understand how it can be construed as appropriate behaviour between an employer and employee.

I doubt that we shall ever get any answers to these questions, but I think the ANC needs to explain why Fransman was flanking the president last week, when this matter has not been resolved.

Startled recognition

When elderly South Africans like myself saw the images of the Khwezi protest, there was a moment of almost startled recognition.

The protestors were black rather than white, their stance was slightly different but the message was the same – this was the Black Sash reincarnate.

The state broadcaster, for obvious reasons, did not see fit to interview the protestors but eNCAspoke to the organisers and they were eloquent in their conviction that women are being failed by the theoretical safeguards that exist to ostensibly protect them.

It is impossible not to be cynical about the outrage expressed by Nomvula Mokonyane, Lindiwe Zulu and Bathabile “Skeletons” Dlamini over the “security breech” occasioned by the Khwezi protest.

How long would it have taken the four slightly-built young women to beat President Zuma to death with their pieces of paper even had they such an intention – which they did not – and even had they got past his phalanx of bodyguards?

No, the ANC politicians were angry because, on a world stage, it heaped insult upon the humiliating injury of the election results and their anger was echoed by the ANC Women’s League.

Strangely, they were all silent when a confirmed schizophrenic, a man with a history of violence, was deployed without security clearance by ANC parliamentary cadres to take up a position within metres not only of President Jacob Zuma but also world leaders like Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Raoul Castro.

The Khwezi protest speaks as eloquently to the lot of women as does the life and violent death a century ago of Emily Davison.

It speaks to a long history of sexual harassment and the casual misogyny of people likeNtokozo Qwabe.

As Donald Trump has yet to discover, a woman’s vote has exactly the same political power as his own.

The Khwezi moment was a defining moment in our politics.

Strike a woman, strike a rock.

•    Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.