Will South Africans ever be shocked by rape?


The BBC's Andrew Harding was told that even babies got raped

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The 22 year old was still sitting inside the makeshift bar in Soweto, when the police came for him. It was a few days before new year.

According to witnesses, the man had just attacked and raped a 17-year-old girl at his table, but apparently considered the incident so trivial that he had not even tried to flee.

Nor had anyone else in the bar, besides the alleged victim, thought of contacting the police.

At a time when Indians are re-examining their society in the light of a single, horrific incident of gang rape, South Africa seems numb - unable to muster much more than a collective shrug in the face of almost unbelievably grim statistics - seemingly far worse than India's.

Start Quote

Andy Kawa

Rape is in our culture. It's part of the whole patriarchal culture”

End Quote Andy Kawa Businesswoman and activist

Here almost 60,000 rapes are reported to the police each year - more than double the number in India, in a far smaller country.

Experts believe the true figure is at least 10 times that - 600,000 attacks

It is not that the issue is ignored - far from it.

This week South African newspapers are carrying gruesome stories of what is being described as a new trend - the rape of elderly grandmothers, mostly in rural communities; an 82 year old and a 73 year old attacked on 2 January.

But despite the anger voiced by columnists, and by people calling in to radio stations, there is no sense of a nation being galvanised.

In recent days commentators and campaigners here have looked, almost enviously, towards India, wondering what it might take to provoke a similar sense of outrage - and angrily debating whether outrage itself is enough, and who, or what, to blame.

History, perhaps, or drugs, or poverty…

"No-one can tell me that raping a three-month-old baby or 87-year-old granny or burning a library or vandalising a school is caused by poverty," said trade union federation leader Zwelenzima Vavi, in a recent Tweet exchange.

"Rape is in our culture. It's part of the whole patriarchal culture," businesswoman and activist Andy Kawa, who was herself the victim of a gang rape, told me.

"It's an every day thing. It happens in homes. There's silence because of fear, because the perpetrator, most of the time, has the power," she said.

'Plenty of rapists here'
Mpumelelo Mkhabela, editor of the Sowetan newspaper Editor Mpumelelo Mkhabela says the people need to do more to fight rape

Mpumelelo Mkhabela, editor of the Sowetan newspaper, said: "The government is doing its best but we also need citizens to take up the fight and take up the campaign instead of being outraged for a moment, only to stop a few days later."

Perhaps the only certainty is that South Africa is a violent society.

It has been so for decades, and people have got used to it.

In many communities young women talk of how they almost expect to be assaulted - and young men grow up with a dangerous sense of entitlement.

So this week there was barely any public reaction, beyond a few brief headlines, when news came in of a 21-year-old woman who was gang-raped on Tuesday on her way to try to enrol at a university outside Pretoria.

Start Quote

We're not protected, we don't feel safe”

End Quote Female student

She was dragged into the bushes by four as yet unidentified men. She survived the attack.

Outside the university gates the next day, I spoke to some of her fellow students.

Most had not heard about the attack, and none seemed remotely surprised.

They were more preoccupied with keeping their places in a very long queue on a very hot day.

"We're not protected, we don't feel safe," said one female student.

A man walking past said: "There's plenty of rapists here."

Then a young woman thought for a moment, looked at her friends, and said quietly, "I don't know what is wrong about men.

"There must be something done about them."

Andrew Harding, Africa correspondent Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Raping 80 year old women ? do this people think about their mother , sister, grandma while raping :-o

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I don't think castration would solve the problem. Chopping the pecker right off would be more effective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I am a South African who has been living in the UK for 16 years and I am currently on holiday in Cape Town. It's wonderful here but I cannot bear to follow local news. Numerous rapes are reported every day. Victims are anything from a few months old to the very elderly. It is so common that the locals are de-sensitised. Victims are often just grateful that they were allowed to live. .

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Reading this article makes me feel very sad. Reading the comments make me feel even sadder. We can comment all we like but unless we, as an international community, take action then we are wasting our breathe.... but then comes the question - what can we really do? Attitudes must be changed first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    There is patriarchy = rape, incest, dowry, bringing up females as less as significant than males. There is GLOBAL PATRIARCHY, controlled by male violence. This mindset says women are less, women are not equal, they are to be controlled. Sexuality must be contained. I see this mindset in every country. I ask: What is common factor?
    Could it be a male God, who allegedly created man first?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What's all this talk abt? What do you expect when you have someone like Jacob Zuma who has a big problem keeping his trousers zipped, in charge of the nation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Rob D you are quite correct in saying that its a sad state of affairs not getting enough comments in a certain time span! This really is serious unfortunately people in SA have become immune as we hear of this crime day in and day out! Some need to watch their backs as crime is quite high! Only solution would be Castration which would also stop ADS and population explosion .

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Gavin - perhaps the first thousand castrated will convince others to live a civilized life...

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @12 Accusation does not equal guilt. Conviction rates of such low values as Sweden can be just as readily explained by a high false accusation rate and an over-eager police force. A single Percentage value cannot convey all of the complexities of criminal cases. Without the facts - several large archives worth - you are merely making assumptions, and are almost certainly wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    In 2011, The Guardian named Eve Ensler as one of the 100 most influential women in the world. On her visit to India, the American performer, play- right & activist talked about the challenges faced by women ACROSS THE WORLD, the privileged class of men & why the US needs anti- rape protests like the one witnessed in Delhi, last month.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    "UK - conviction rate for rape is 58%.
    US - arrest rate for rape was just 24%.
    Sweden - conviction rate is as low as 10% (among the lowest in Europe).
    India has an average rape conviction rate of 26%."

    There's a thousand different window dressings where rape stats are concerned

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    People are shocked but not surprised because what do the police do about it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    South Africa not alone!
    Will the world ever be shocked by rape?
    UK - conviction rate for rape is 58%.
    US - arrest rate for rape was just 24%.
    Sweden - conviction rate is as low as 10% (among the lowest in Europe).
    India has an average rape conviction rate of 26%.
    Importance: low convictions make females hesitate to report - little faith in the legal system to deliver justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Bad things not always reported

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Find them, try them in a court of law, if found guilty, hang them in the public square for all to see; perhaps other would-be rapists will rethink their actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This is very disturbing news .. that country will eventually have to do something tangible to stop such crimes from happening... what is going on this world ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Justice, you know nothing about Africa. Non-consensual sex with their husbands is a fact of life for most married women in southern africa, do you propose to castrate them all? Then what?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I agree with Rob D! We aspire to be a first world country, yet behave worse than a fourth world one! It's a disgrace!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Gem you cannot generalise. Lots of men with power rape such as politicians and business men

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    There's very little respect for women in South Africa and no number of political appointments of females is going to change that (that seems to be the MO of the ANC government in terms of addressing gender issues). As in India, it's an attitudinal issue that needs to rectified from a cultural point of view.


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