Letter from Africa: Soul-searching over rape crimes

Protesters hold on October 18, 2013 a placard reading "A Real Man Doesn"t Rape !" during a demonstrating in Diepsloot,

In our series of letters from African journalists, filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers the recent case of the rape and killing of two South African children in Diepsloot.

My abiding memories of Diepsloot - the sprawling shanty town north of Johannesburg - since reporting from there in 2004 are of metal shacks housing many people in small spaces, the smell of paraffin in the darkness, an absence of light, not enough sanitation and vigilantes trying to protect a community from criminals in the face of zero police presence.

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What is it about some South African males that render them incapable of relationships with adult females?”

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Nearly a decade on, nothing much has changed and the police still do not have a permanent presence in this sprawling eyesore of 70% unemployment which was the setting for the heart-wrenching tragedy that brought the police onto Diepsloot's streets.

This month, two cousins, Zandile and Yonelisa Mali, aged two and three, were allegedly abducted in broad daylight by a man who sparked a nationwide hunt and despair in the hearts of mothers everywhere.

The subsequent search ended with the discovery of the children's raped bodies in a public toilet - and the ripples of this heinous crime have the nation soul-searching and the politicians promising justice, while urging restraint.

Armchair judge

Last month, Anelise Mkhondo's five-year-old body was found raped and strangled a hundred yards away from the same public toilet in Diepsloot.

Five men have been arrested for the alleged abduction, rape and murder of the cousins, calming an incendiary atmosphere in Diepsloot, whose residents threatened to target foreigners and lash out at the government's lack of will in providing security for the youngest of the poorest in Africa's most developed nation.

It is easy to sit in armchair judgement about our continent's ills and wonder at the contradictions in policy and rights.

Residents of Diepsloot (file photo) Diepsloot residents say the government is doing nothing for them

But what is it about some South African males that render them incapable of relationships with adult females?

How wrong was the first person to suggest that raping a child could cure a grown adult man of Aids?

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According to the police, a child is raped every three minutes in the 'Rainbow Nation'”

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And what of women with Aids? Is there a supposed cure for them through young boys?

Which mystic "muti" pedlar suggested a man's riches can be increased by human sacrifice and the body parts of young children?

As Gauteng Premiere Nomvula Mokonyane attempted to calm the Diepsloot community with words like "enough is enough", the crowd listened but did not follow her when she urged them to let the police do their jobs and bring these men to justice.

They wanted the suspects to be released to them, into their angry hands for the kind of justice any parent wants before reason and humanity bring them back from the brink of barbarity - the kind that had claimed their daughters.

Meeting for men?

There is of course a tendency among all of us in a changing Africa to decry negative images of our continent and ask where in the world are paedophiles not present, that men rape and that is all there is to it.

But step away from the war zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo and consider the figures.

Milton Nkosi speaks to the mothers in Diepsloot after angry protests

According to the police, a child is raped every three minutes in the "Rainbow Nation".

South Africa's Medical Research Council (MRC) said that in 2009, 40% of all victims who reported rape to the police were under 18 and 15% under 12.

It is in South Africa that nine-month-old girls have been victims of rape.

And, as in every country, only a small fraction of rapes are reported to the police.

Then there is the "corrective rape" of lesbian women, the sexual harassment of students by pupils and teachers and never mind the knee-jerk xenophobia - a third of rape cases against minors are committed by a family member or close relative.

The world is fond of reminding women and girls that they matter in memorable UN days, in Women Empowerment conferences, in A World of Women celebrations - fair enough.

But in South Africa it is time for the men to have a serious meeting.

It is not the politicians, it is not poverty, it is not muti or juju it is not anything but the sickness in our heads.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The human mind is to be stimulated, without this, the mind descends into darkness. 70% unemployment doesn't help. Vigilante groups are trying to protect their lot. Are the police helping these vigilantes with educational instruction? In effect deputising would enable a start on order. The government needs to fund basic programmes. Algebraic signs. Rape = a knife + a picture of male genetilia.

  • Comment number 18.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    EDUCATION is the only way out. Educate the men, the women and the children. Of course, death penalty for rapists should be in order. There isn't a more horrific crime...a crime that kills the soul...

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    HYS moderators never remove comments that paint Africa in a bad light. But, they always remove comments that paint the West in a bad light. Talk about hypocrisy or double-standard!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Sadly and tragically, deviant behavior and many of the moral decay that only used to be common in the West, are now spreading to Africa. Death penalty for child rapists and pedophilias should and would serve as a deterrent to such horrific crimes towards innocent children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This is a worldwide problem since humanity existed. It might be a good idea to teach males from very early on how to manage and control their sexual urges. Everywhere sexual trafficking, pornography, pedophilia, rape and sexual molestation even of tiny children is rife

  • Comment number 13.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    At least all this is now coming out into the open. I knew of an 6 year-old girl raped in my husband's village but the parents were too afraid of reprisals to denounce the perpetrator. That was 30 years ago. Now women (and men) are less afraid than they used to be, to turn in family members and neighbours guilty of rape.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    "How wrong was the first person to suggest that raping a child could cure a grown adult man of Aids?"

    This has to be the sickest thing I've ever heard.
    I really have nothing but contempt for self-made "healers" that make up stupid stuff like this. Stupid people like this is why the western black rhino went extinct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Why not ask this question about other african states?
    You have a story "Kenyans demand gang-rape justice in police petition" about a girl gang raped and the punishment is mowing a lawn ... doesn't that answer your qustion?


  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Superstitions and cultural beliefs fuel such brutal perceptions in the minds of many people not just in SA, or indeed across Africa, but throughout the world.

    Yet education hardly seems to make even a dent in such barbarism, it hasnt in class and sectarian struggles.

    Yet those who speak out against it in other countries will always be labelled as bigots. That is an even larger shame.

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    Comment number 8.

    This is one of the reasons why I will not return to the country I love and miss. This is indicative of African leadership where they are more concerned with lining their pockets than providing safety, security and jobs for their citizens. Keep them poor and uneducated, blame the past for all the country's ills and stay in power. Nothing changes and the vulnerable, especially children, suffer most.

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    Comment number 7.

    Can someone please explain how SA has improved as a nation in recent years?.

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    Comment number 6.

    This is ugly, horrific, raw evil, and the men who perpetrate it are degenerate cowards.
    Please pardon my ignorance; I'm not from S. Africa, but might it be possible for women to (for lack of a better word) "guard" the children. I assume the police are not providing this protection.
    Women, I suggest, should draw together under the adage: "It takes a village to raise a child."

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This is not a subject for a forum to be moderated.

    Sometimes accurate statements based on facts drawn from social observations will be what we call "racist".

    The BBC is in for a hiding with this topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I am so sorry.... The suffering of these children must have been terrible..... Those sick men should never be free again. I agree with Maria about the necessity of education and law enforcement.

  • Comment number 3.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    In order to beat back the tide of rape that grips this entire planet like some kind of curse too many people got comfortable with some millenia ago, it is important not only to teach the young from an early age that any form of sexual aggression cannot be tolerated, but also to make sure all legal authorities are diligent about prosecuting rapists. Sentences for rape have to be strict & strong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    My compliments to the writer, Farai Sevenzo, who covers this very unpleasant territory concisely and dispassionately, and it leaves me immensely disturbed. I'm sure that what he relates is not confined to S Africa. There are men with "sickness in their heads" all across the globe. Why, in the 21st century, they feel they have right to subject females to their base predations is beyond me.


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