By media standards, this article is more than a week late and grandly stale, but by real-life standards, it’s timeless. Talented boy from the township gets his big break; is celebrated for a while; and lives lavish. Yet, soon enough, his vices catch up with him and his shortcomings are exposed.
This is the story of Simiso Zwane aka Okmalumkoolkat, his fans, his fame and the woman he violated. It’s also a story about the many faceless victims of men like Simiso, and a society that continues to fail them.
With his impeccable shoe and shade collection, Simiso was the cool older brother you’d always wanted.
I wish I could be angry as I type this, but having been raped twice and sexually assaulted more times than I care to recount that anger has either evaporated or been numbed. Statistics say women will usually be abused or violated by people they know. Don’t worry about the strangers who catcall you; worry about your boyfriend or cousin.
When Koolkat first burst onto the mainstream scene as a featured artist on Cassper Nyovest’s smash hit Gusheshe, many hip-hop fans thought him weird and weren’t quick to embrace him. Even though his rhymes were lazy, they were catchy. He had a drawl and township accent to his tone that gave him a distinct voice. So, even if they didn’t like him, many knew his verses by heart ’cause that’s just how music works.
His biggest fans, and the reason I heard about him in the first place, were young Southern African feminists. They’d pegged him as a carefree black boy–à la Jaden Smith or Kid Cudi–because of his non-conformist nature and non-threatening demeanour.
With his impeccable shoe and shade collection, Simiso was the cool older brother you’d always wanted. Out of all the members of BoyznBucks, the collective he repped at the time, he was the one young women gravitated to the most. His creativity was inspiring and one might say brilliant.
Koolkat was proof that if you were good, you could be great and true to yourself without selling out.
He had the weirdest, coolest videos and when he got signed to his label in Austria, no one cheered him on more than the Tumblr girls who’d reposted and liked every move he made on the internet.
His first EP under the label, Holy Oxygen, solidified his eclectic sound and every feature he was on during that time was distinct – it was his and him. Koolkat was proof that if you were good, you could be great and true to yourself without selling out.
When he wasn’t on tour, he was hanging out at his regular spots in Braamfontein, chain-smoking and chatting shit with his homies. Simiso wasn’t too cool for the regular cats and we celebrated him as if we really knew him – as if he was our own flesh and blood. Maybe it’s an African thing but when one of us makes it, it feels like we’ve all made it. Just see how the success of people like Davido, Wizkid and Trevor Noah seems to unite Africa.
Sometime in 2015, however, after the release of his critically acclaimed 100k Macassette mixtape/album, word leaked that Simiso had been arrested and imprisoned in Tasmania for assaulting a fellow performer at the concert that night. The charges were ‘indecent assault and assault with indecent intent’. According to him, he got wasted, got into the wrong room and blacked out. She woke up, found him there and overreacted. The other side of the story, is that he indeed entered the room, then proceeded to kiss and grope her and when she protested he told her ‘don’t make any noise’.
He was sentenced to six months and only served one, after which he returned home to his partner and child to ‘heal’. It’s a luxury I doubt his victim had or has.
The news of this incident and his jail time did not come from him nor his PR team, it was reported in the local press. His fellow BoyznBucks members, usually vocal and all over our screens, suddenly had little to say, leaving us to wonder if this was them standing with him in solitude or nah?
After Twitter outrage from ‘angry feminists’ (ie people who have an issue with women being violated) he was pulled from a concert in Cape Town and only then did he release a statement. It was handwritten, leading me to believe he wanted it to seem personal and genuine, and the most narcissistic apology I’ve personally ever encountered in my life.
The visual artist Lady Skollie thought the same; she underlined every time Simiso mentioned ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘my’ in his apology letter which was–I shit you not–addressed to his fans and not his victim. He said he plead guilty because his lawyers told him to and needed to be left alone. In my little room in Gaborone, Botswana, my heart shattered.
What I want to explain is why Simiso’s actions hurt African women so much and continue to do so.
Simiso, Okmalumkoolkat, Smart Mampara, the brother I wished I had, the man I thought I knew, as a fan, was one of the many men ‘turning women’s bodies into crime scenes’ as Kiri Ntando put it. And not only that, he was unapologetic about it. He didn’t think he was wrong, that much was apparent. He was just pissed it was fucking with his money.
‘Both [Woody] Allen and Zwane have been allowed to continue their lives without much scrutiny because their public work is perceived as more important than their offences,’ wrote Sihle Mthembu in the Mail & Guardian. Like Chris Brown, Ike Turner, Jacob Zuma (yes, let’s not forget that rape charges have been filed against the South African president), Roman Polanski and Euphonik, Simiso just wanted the freedom to sweep this under the rug, have his victim publicly dismissed as a liar, a bitch or downright crazy. Remember Euphonik calling Bonang ‘hlanyo’? [Crazy] Or Chris releasing Deuces where he basically called Rihanna dramatic? And how he kept doing the taxi driver dance on stages with his peers.
And Okmalumkoolkat has sort of succeeded. Big artists like KO and AKA continue to put coin into his pocket and his face on our screens in the name of ‘art’ and ‘creativity’. As Sihle Mthembu said ‘We can never underestimate the capacity of men to bond whilst the voices of their victims are reduced to background noise.’
We think ‘that guy’ is some shady asshole lurking in the shadows, never the guy dancing in front of you and making you laugh.
I could get into details about misogyny and patriarchy and how men ain’t shit but what I want to explain is why Simiso’s actions hurt African women so much and continue to do so. There have been reliable reports that up to one in four of women in some provinces are victims of sexual assault. 18 per cent of women in Gauteng province have experienced ‘intimate partner rape on one or more occasions’. These are boyfriends and husbands. Consider how much we supported Simiso. Then consider the statistics. Then think about his reaction.
You almost can’t blame him. Many of us know what happens when we tell the truth. The perpetrator is mad, offended even, and tries their hardest to silence you. ‘It was definitely a low for me cos I’m not that guy,’ he told The Plug Mag.
And they never are, are they? We think ‘that guy’ is some shady asshole lurking in the shadows, never the guy dancing in front of you and making you laugh.
Does he not know any women?
And as a victim of sexual assault, the pain just seems to keep on coming in waves. First the incident, then the grief, then being blamed and possibly threatened. And that’s just with average people. Imagine when your perpetrator has tens of thousands of fans. Simiso’s case triggered young women on a scale I’ve never seen before. Suddenly he stopped being the cool older brother and became the cousin, uncle, your dad’s friend, whom you avoided like the plague lest they catch you slipping. He became the Boogeyman.
In his recent attempt at an apology–on International Women’s Day no less–he stated that his experience ‘opened his eyes to stories of sexual abuse and harassment.’ How? When something like one in four women have been sexually assaulted? Does he not know any women? Oh wait, he does, his two sisters he conveniently forgot when he crawled into that bed that night.
The men who raped me had mothers and sisters too, Simiso. That, however, did not save me. Nor will the fact as you mentioned, while you were shamelessly plugging your new album during your apology, that you didn’t use ‘the B word’ as you put it, in your new album, save you from the fact that you’re a sex offender now.
We apologise to you and your fans if we no longer want to dance to the music of the man who reminds us of the men who’ve violated us. It will not change a thing, for now. You will still get booked and paid. But hopefully, the next generation of men will see women differently. That generation includes your son. And I wonder, how will you buy his respect when he’s old enough to understand what his father has done?