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 Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    I don’t think we’re going to get enough truly strong males anytime soon, so I think the women need to take over--completely. Fear THAT! Yeah!! I'll paint with a broad brush: The losers had their chance already. Backlash THAT...straight to

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    It’s their own vulnerability that they hate. Like a bully, they take that self-hatred out on women. Rapists are cowards, like paedophiles are cowards. Most of their male role models exhibit hatred of their own vulnerability, by the various ways they put down women. It’s in everything; rampant. The quiet power of the weak/gentle is feared across the globe & that fear is taken out on women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Rashaa - Yes we agree on that, but I do not agree with any religion being promoted as the way forward in this discussion. It is not your religion or your religious laws which have taught the majority of men about respect, it is the culture that they have been brought up in (two very different things). Unfortunately it is a culture of acceptance and apathy which has lead to this in SA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Western disdain is creeping in here.

    I once lived for 3 yrs with the Bedouin of S.Arabia - dirt poor, but proud. Women were not quite equal but were treated with a respect and dignity that I have seen nowhere else in the world. Even though the sexes mixed freely, they were INVIOLATE. Rape was unthinkable: a rapist would've been hunted down & killed instantly. We could ALL learn from these people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    137. Rashaa

    I do not speak for BabyLawyer, but I agree that principles of respect are 'common ground', and are not the purview of any one religion, culture or philosophy. They are humanistic principles, not Islamic nor Christian; not 'Western' nor 'Eastern'. It suits the topic to speak of such principles as common, rather than as a cover for promoting a religion or culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Some Islamic countries' government' don't apply the Islamic laws but weak civil laws which are inactive to stop crimes. And this's why the Arab revolutions are happing now.

    Do you think that a man who believes that raping's a crime and sine would do it?
    Do you believe that any society rejects, by all his members, such a crime and punishes any offender would suffer rape, abuse...?
    Absolutly NOT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    About that there are Muslims offenders in the prisons; Yes, there are, they should be punished.The punish's conditioned by witnesses and a trail. If he is found guilty and he is not married he will be whipped 100 times and exiled for a year, if he is married he should be killed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    I'm happy for you and the fact that your husband is a respectable man of high morals. That is a common ground, high morals I mean, that what I am calling for, Embracing principles that respect women's rights, teaching children these principles, and punishing any offender. So we agree on that, don’t we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

  • Comment number 135.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    @120 "men are men and will be attracted to women if they dress sexily"....suggesting that in some way women ask to be raped by the way they dress? ANYONE can be the victim of rape no matter how they dress and it is NEVER the victims fault. The fault lies with the man who has exercised his 'dominance' and 'power' instead of self-control and basic human decency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Sadly, I believe the situation will get a lot, lot worse before it ever gets better in Africa. In many respects the country has been in decline over the last decade. This isn't meant to upset anyone, it's just my opinion having been there and having family and friends (from) there. A truly beautiful country. Such a shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    South Africa is a brutal, sick, corrupt and morally deficient society in many respects. Blaming apartheid is just an opt out and much of the violence is not reported or is deliberately ommitted from government statistics. For a more accurate depiction read "Torn in the New SA: Living, Loving & Leaving South Africa" by Bronwyn McIntosh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    I have read some appalling comments in here - men are men and will be attracted to women who dress sexily is one. With attitudes like this what hope do women living like this have? It takes a town to ignore it, but it will only take half a town to stop it. Women have got to be told it is okay to stand up for their right to not be abused, that will only be started by soneone in power who will lead

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Too often here in India; children have seen their fathers as the head of the family; with a final say over matters; and mothers been treated as doormats.

    This makes young boys feel privileged and girls as second class citizens.

    Respecting the other sex has to be imbibed from early days. Education begins at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Sam Sly @ 128

    Sadly, it's not uncommon amongst the Tswana either. The other day a friend was listing the rapes in her neighbourhood during the last month - one in broad daylight. And a fortnight ago, I dropped a friend off at a funeral for a 17-year-old who'd been beaten to death by a gang of 8. Not sure if she was raped, though. Life in SA can be quite hideous, but yes, it gets shrugged off.

  • Comment number 128.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    123.Swing Lowe - "This type of rape is apporant to any Brit, and we would never allow this type of crime to be committed here..........."

    Erm, Jimmy Saville ring any bells...???

  • Comment number 126.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    120.Atif Shabir Islamabad Pakistan - "......Men are “men” by nature and nobody can deny this fact. They WILL get attracted to women if they look sexy."

    A/. Not if the bloke in question is gay he won't......

    ...& so what, men need to control their animalistic urges, not indulge them - the victim is NEVER, in ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, to blame for ANY rape.......


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