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Fifty-four women from 21 African countries, meeting in Johannesburg to discuss women's rights and HIV/AIDS, have issued a statement expressing concern about the Jacob Zuma rape trial. Zuma, the former deputy president of South Africa, has been charged with rape following allegations by a 31-year-old HIV-positive woman. The trial has been characterized by ugly scenes outside the court building, with Khwezi, as the complainant has been nicknamed by her supporters, being abused and insulted by supporters of Zuma.

We, 54 women from 21 African countries representing 41 national, regional and international women's organizations in Africa; comprising of HIV and AIDS organizations, feminist associations and human rights institutions, meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa between April 6 and 7, 2006 to formulate advocacy positions on women's rights in the context of HIV and AIDS are outraged at the direction that the rape trial of the deputy President of the African National Congress, ANC, Jacob Zuma is taking. We find the conduct of the defence lawyers, the media, the courts and the police dishonorable.

1. We have been and continue to be affected by the twin epidemics of Violence Against Women and HIV and AIDS in various ways. Many of us are living with HIV, provide care and support to members of our families and communities who are infected with HIV and living with AIDS. We have either as young girls, or in our adult life, survived violent crimes committed against us by men in powerful positions within our families and in our communities. Some of us remember those women who have been senselessly murdered through acts of violence committed at home, at work and at school. We know that women are often raped by men who are known to them.

2. We take this opportunity to publicly state that we stand in solidarity with Khwezi. We applaud her brave stance in reporting her experience to the police and in standing before the courts to name her violation. Khwezi has shown respect for the mechanisms that exist in South Africa to report and resolve crimes. Confronting powerful men in powerful positions is a difficult and courageous task. We wish her, all of South Africa and the world to know that she has our love and our support.

3. We are outraged by the horrific and unethical victimization Khwezi has received in and through the mainstream broadcast and print media. She has been vilified by a form of reporting that is biased and blatantly sexist. We are noting those sectors of the media that continue to serve as judge and jury through the lens of the mass media, conferring guilt on Khwezi through inappropriate coverage of her HIV status, her dress, and her sexual past based on violations committed during her childhood.

4. We are angered by the inaction of the police, who, rather than provide a safe environment for Khwezi, have left thousands of Zuma's supporters to burn underwear and images of Khwezi outside the courts in ghastly acts of hatred and intimidation. We believe that the Commissioner of Police has continued to permit what amounts to public violence to unfold in the vicinity of the courts. Where he could have ensured a peaceful atmosphere prevailed, he has let Khwezi suffer dramatically brutal acts of bullying in her journey to and from the courts.

5. We are offended by the manner in which Jacob Zuma has manipulated traditional Zulu practice and custom. We are also outraged by Zuma's admitted attempts to abuse Zulu culture by seeking to buy off Khwezi and her mother with a few fattened cows. It makes women seem like a bag of meat that can be humped and the issue settled by trading a few cattle as marriage negotiation. This tactic of invoking customary options is a manipulative affront to a continent that daily struggles with notions of barbarism and primitivism in a global world that is built on racist and unequal frames and that believes that Africans cannot respect human rights.

6. Given the irresponsible and inaccurate remarks made by Jacob Zuma with respect to risk of HIV transmission and the infamous shower, we call for the dismantling of the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) as it is evidently a vehicle of misinformation and miseducation that permits the abuse of political power rather than meeting its statutory mandate with respect to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

7. Opening up the sexual violations Khewzi experienced as a five year old or thirteen year old child to the scrutiny of the courts is improper. These are incidents that happened when she was a minor who needed protection. It is unfair to present them as part of the present case history.

8. South Africa prides itself as a democracy whose Constitution promotes and protects women's human rights and freedoms from sexual violations. It prides itself on promoting and protecting the rights of women and people living with HIV and AIDS. South Africa claims to have a sophisticated judiciary that is free of political and other powerful influence. We want these bold claims to hold true.

Given South Africa's pivotal role in regional and international politics, how the Zuma Rape Case is treated by the media, the courts, the police, the ruling African National Congress, the Office of the President, by Parliament, by the Human Rights Commission, by the Gender Equality Commission, by every single arm of government, will send strong signals about the Human Rights of Women in Africa in the 21st century. A century where South Africa and the other 52 nations of the African continent have adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa under the auspices of the African Union. And also where the SADC region has a Gender and Development Declaration and its Addendum on Violence against Women that has been signed by all its members including South Africa.

The women of the African continent deserve better than this. Women's rights are human rights and should not be violated under any circumstances; religious, political or cultural. Will South Africa walk its talk by upholding its Constitution and its Commitments at regional and international levels on women's rights?

Signed: Ama Kpetigo, Women in Law & Development (WILDAF), Amie Bojang-Sissoho, GAMCOTRAP, Amie Joof-cole, FAMEDEV,Beatrice Were, Uganda, Bernice Heloo, SWAA International, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, AWDF, Buyiswa Mhambi, Empinsweni Aids Centre, Caroline Sande, Kenya, Dawn Cavanagh, Gender AIDS Forum, Diakhoumba Gassama, Dorothy Namutamba, ICW, Ednah Bhala, Ellen Chitiyo, The Women's Trust, Ennie Chipembere, South Africa, Everjoice Win, South Africa, Faith Kasiva, COVAW – Kenya, Faiza Mohamed, Somalia, Flora Cole, WOLDDOF –GHANA, Funmi Doherty, SWAA – Nigeria, Gcebile Ndlovu, ICW, Harriet Akullu, Uganda, Helene Yinda, Switzerland, Isabella Matambanadzo, OSISA, Isatta Wuire, SWAA - Sierre Leone, Izeduwa Derex-Briggs, Nigeria, Jane Quaye, FIDA – Ghana, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Women's Aids Collective (WACOL), Ludfine Anyango, Kenya, Marion Stevens, South Africa, Mary Sandasi, WASN, Mary Wandia, Kenya, Matrine Chuulu, WLSA, Neelanjana Mukhia, South Africa, Sandasi Daughters, Zimbabwe, Olasunbo Odebode, Prudence Mabele, Positive Women's Network, Rouzeh Eghtessadi, Sarah Mukasa, Akina mama Wa Afrika, Shamillah Wilson, AWID, Sindi Blose, Siphiwe Hlophe, SWAPOL, Sisonke Msimang, OSISA, Tabitha Mageto, Africa, Taziona Sitamulaho, South Africa, Theo Sowa, Therese Niyondiko, Thoko Matshe, Vera Doku, AWDF, Oti Anukpe Ovrawah, National Human Rights Commission - Abuja

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