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South Africa, the world’s rape capital

Let’s heed Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya’s call to think about what each of us can do about this scourge that confronts our wonderful country. As the VC said: “Surely, we cannot be proud when the rest of the world views us only through this lens because this is what they are reading about in the news.” Let’s join this national initiative and wear black tomorrow to create more awareness and show our support.

On Valentine’s Day, when the world celebrates the positive aspects of sexual love, it is beyond disturbing to realise that, by the time you have read this article, at least two women will have been raped in South Africa. That is because, on average, a woman is raped every four minutes in the country.

In fact, various media reports last year stated that Interpol named South Africa as the world’s rape capital, and said women were more likely to be raped than educated. A 2009 Medical Research Council study found that one in four South African men admitted to raping a woman.

Despite these frightening statistics, experts said while rape in South Africa is common, it barely makes the news. The last massive public outcry was about a year ago, when a 17-year-old mentally disabled girl from Soweto was gang raped by young men who videotaped her and offered her 25 cents to keep quiet.

However, the recent death of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was gang raped, mutilated and left for dead, has stirred the wrath of South Africans frustrated by a national epidemic of sexual violence.

Yale World Fellow, Sisonke Msimang from Sonke Gender Justice Network expressed the emotions many South Africans feel:  “I will cry, as I have been already this morning. And maybe, I will begin to feel my way out of the lurching, heavy knowing after I have spoken with others. With the mothers and the sisters, the brothers and fathers – those like me, who have girls … Anene was raped and mutilated because she was a girl. It was her vagina and her breasts that they wanted to destroy. It was her walk and her talk. It was her girl-ness. These parts of her were broken and sliced and pulled apart, not by monsters, but by friends. Each of her ten fingers were broken.”

Academics speak out

Academics have also added their voice to the chorus of outcries, addressing various topics related to rape and violence against women in South Africa.

Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya said he felt absolute disdain and contempt for the scourge of rape and harassment to which the women and children of South Africa are exposed. He said surely South Africans cannot be proud when the rest of the world views us only through this lens because this is what they are reading about in the news.

Addressing Unisa staff he said: “The latest very cruel and deplorable case of a young 17-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Bredasdorp enticed me to emphasise to all of you that we need to take a stand against this unacceptable behaviour. We all need to pause and consciously reflect on the values of respect for life, and the dignity of each fellow human. We are all part of civil society and rape and violence affects every one of us, no one is exempt. We cannot sit back and wait for others to set the foundation for change – that role belongs to all of us.”

Students hold candles as they pray during a candlelight vigil for a physiotherapy intern who was beaten and gang raped in New Delhi, India in December 2012. She died from her injuries 13 days later while undergoing emergency treatment in Singapore for brain and gastrointestinal damage. As in South Africa, following the rape and mutilation of Anene Booysen, this incident has generated international coverage and was condemned by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, who called on the Government of India to take action and reform. Public protests took place in Delhi, where thousands of protesters clashed with security forces. Similar protests took place in major cities throughout the country. Photo source:

Addressing the problem

Gender unit director at the Medical Research Council Prof Rachel Jewkes said rape is about a culture where young men feel they have a right to a woman’s body. She said almost half of the gang rapes in South Africa were prearranged, the victim was also mutilated and the attack was “virtually always an act of revenge by a man who knows her”.

Eusebius McKaiser, an associate at the Wits Centre for Ethics, and a talk show host on Talk Radio 702 said Booysen’s case has shattered the silence around the country’s rape crisis, which seldom gets the national attention it deserves.

He believes that South Africa needs to address the factors that partly explain why rape is so prevalent; “after all, no one is born a rapist”. Factors, he said, stem from not dealing with the violence during apartheid which became normative and has remained that way, inequality in a deeply divided society, the lack of better and healthier male role models for boys and young men, and the weakness of the country’s criminal justice system, with low conviction rates for sexual violence.

Christo Cilliers, a health expert in Unisa’s Communications Science Department, said, “unfortunately”, boys learn their first modes of behaviour at home. “We all know that gender (masculinity) is constructed – so boys learn how to act, and re-act towards women from what they learn at home.  Men in general and fathers, specifically, should be aware that their sons learn from them.”

He also said it was important for South African police to be trained as experts in dealing with rape and sexual violence.  “Police members dealing with rapes should be trained as counsellors in trauma and rape counselling.”

Advocating for special courts

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) advocated for special courts for rape victims to be established immediately, and said that the high prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence raise fundamental questions about the Criminal Justice System. The council’s spokesperson, Nomboniso Gasa, said: “We need to look at the establishment of special courts to deal with sexual violence, to deal with domestic and family violence … The Government must think very hard.”

Professor Amanda Gouws from the University of Stellenbosch agreed that a sexual offences court was needed to tackle the rape epidemic in South Africa.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Justice Navi Pillay urged for a more comprehensive approach to tackling the problem. “There is a need for very strong signals to be sent to all rapists that sexual violence is absolutely unacceptable and that they will have to face the consequences of their terrible acts. The entrenched culture of sexual violence which prevails in South Africa must end.”

She said while there were legal frameworks and some initiatives, much more needed to be done. “I am deeply disturbed by the fact that arrest and conviction rates of rape perpetrators remain extremely low. This is not only a shocking denial of justice for the thousands of victims, but also a factor that has contributed to the normalisation of rape and violence against women in South African society.”

Pillay added: “Violence against women is not only a human rights violation, it is also a brutal manifestation of wider discrimination against women, which is to be understood against the background of subordination of women within the patriarchal system that still exists in South Africa … South Africa’s Constitutional Court has emphasised that there is an obligation on the State to protect women against violence.”

Additional reading:

Read End culture of rape in 2013 by Lauren Wolfe, an award-winning journalist and the director of Women Under Siege.

Read Here’s what we can do about rape by Yusuf Abramjee, Prime Media’s head of news and LeadSA chairperson.

*Compiled by Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester and Rajiv Kamal

22 comments to South Africa, the world’s rape capital



  • Cheryl Wylie

    As a ‘reasonably’ safe woman citizen of South Africa,I am appalled and sickened at the daily reporting of violent actions…rape, beating, disrespect against our women.What sickens me most is that it almost seems to be becoming an acceptable norm like animal abuse, and rhino poaching. Filming these abuses seems to be a thrill of some sick sort to society.These women are people, human beings who are Mothers, Grannies, Daughters, Sisters, Aunts, and belong to families. Who are these perpetrators? Grand dads, Fathers, Sons, Brothers, Uncles, who belong to families. This needs to stop! Stop! Stop! Arrest the perpetrators, make an example of them! lock them up with no bail! Let the law for these violent cases take it’s course speedily and with ‘urgency.’Open up ‘Robin Island Prison” ‘again, just for these criminals who commit violence against women, also for other hardened murderers and drug traffickers. Please help create a safer environment for our country’s future,get these sick minded criminals out of the face of our society. Urgent Action!

  • Clem Davidson

    25 April 2013. Christo Cilliers is quoted in the article above, “Men in general and fathers, specifically, should be aware that their sons learn from them.” Today, less than two months after we were stirred to consider the horror that rape has become in South Africa, the Newspapers trumpet that we are to be allowed to view Pornography on TV.
    Who has authorised this ultimate public destruction of the Family? The people who stand to gain financially from this sickening intrusion into our parents right to guide their children’s development, need to be exposed so that we can shame them. The “Authoriser” must be dismissed from his /her job as “a person unfit to manage our Public Broadcasting Authority”.
    Let us South Africans stand before the World as Moral and Ethical people, not as a Nation of perverts.

  • sibulele

    i think men around the world do not want to change for the better because women are being raped and killed and some are abused by the people they love so people must show awareness to abuse and rape in South Africa

  • Themba treasure

    I think we are dealing with the same thing each an every day about rape,communities needs to stand by each other to fight this cruel,inhuman and disgusting behavior of our brothers,fathers and uncle. how can someone with with a spirit of ubuntu do such thing .we need this womans to embrace us stop abusing them…however we need the long arm of the law to assist in handling this issue

  • JP

    Today in our newspaper the “Volksblad” I read about the boy from Griquastad that allegidly raped his sister before he killed. Is this how little men think of themselves and the woman around them?

    Come on men BEHAVE yourself!

  • It is very stressing to be a Man in today’s world more especially when the manhood is been tragged down by a few (men) who act like animals.this is a new form of oppression and indignifying Manhood.WE WILL NEVER EVER TOLARATE SUCH KIND OF CANNIBALISM BEHAVIOUR, IN OUR COUNTRY (SA) AND THE REST OF THE WOLRLD. We have tostand together and fight it.This is a chanllenge to all of us, let us take actions togehter.

  • It is very disturbing to read that by the time you have read this article, at least two women will have been raped in South Africa. We need to stop this NOW!

  • Fidel

    Rape will never end or decrease in this country as long as the government does not seem to be intrested in all this evil deeds done by this small minded men, who only view women as sex tools. How can women keep on geting raped everyday and the government is not implementing serious consequences against this perpetrators. I appeal to those in power to give out heavy sentences or even better bring back the death penalty if that is what it takes. How do u show Ubuntu to criminals and not protect our Grandmothers, Mothers, sisters and Wives. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!

  • I agree full heartedly if we don’t protect ourselves who will. I say learn how to protect yourself, regain your confidence. Face the hurt, humiliation and anger and go from being a victim to a victor. Go check out

  • Melusi

    This serious issue has been going on for a very long time. What disturbs me is that it becomes the talk of the town only when something bad happens. What happened to Anene Booysen was tragic. My condolences to her family. Something needs to be done about this issue. For me it looks like jail time is not doing anything to these psychos roaming the streets of Joburg, thinking they can get away with such nonsense. If only the dearth penalty could be brought back. Every day someone is born and again someone dies.

  • suraya

    Some say be the change you want to see…however sometimes I ask is this realy enough. As a victim how much voice or physical strength in SA do females realy have? My now exhusband was having sex with 11 or 12 years old girls for a coca cola or some cheap two cents value. Many people new about these evils, and many(including justice systems)turned a blind eye to what the sugar daddy was doing. I cry today cause my voice could not even save myself from this monster’s evil…What is Jacob Zuma and the people we vote for realy doing about this? or shall we continue our silent call to strengthen our faith in God to answer all our prayers…Islam Teaches “Jannah(PARADISE)lies at the feet of THY MOTHER” A mother is honoured three times more than that of a father..GOD IS ALLKNOWING.

  • Yolande

    Willem the ONLY preventitve measure that is required here is that men need to learn to keep it in thier pants – problem solved. They have to realise that they are NOT God’s gift to women and they DO NOT have the right to “take” every and any woman that they want as and when they please!

    The killing etc after the rape is jsut to cover up their disgusting tracks that they have no control over there SEX organ! Or perhaps they do but they see NO REASON to conrol it but rather to let it run WILD!

    ENOUGH is ENOUGH it is time these men pay the price

  • Willem Oosthuizen

    Preventative measures is what we need here but first we must trace rape to its source. Just stating that it is due to male gender constructions is not sufficient. On what ideas are those constructions built? Where does this need to be macho, to be in control, come from? Religion is often proffered as the answer to this scourge. But is it not indeed the opposite? In South Africa with its strong fundamentalist stances towards faith, the children of our country (both girls and boys) are regularly shown that preferential treatment for men and the lowered status of women are OK. In this regard both male and female practitioners are at fault. Medieval and pre-Medieval notions like “the man is the head of the home” and “women must cover up in the presence of men” fill the heads of every generation. Rape is a destruction of the true potential of both sexes. Our women and girls suffer physical and psychological trauma, while our boys and men are reduced to predators by the perpetuation of old-fashioned ideas, which in itself is a very slow form of violence against a budding masculinity of love and compassion.

  • Anonymous

    It saddens me to read this. i am a rape victim and the silence has tortured me over the years. 7 years later, i am still haunted by the thought that i did not report it and that he is still out there, walking around freely, who knows, maybe he has done it again and i could have stopped it, he could have been locked away. as much as i hope that we as women will someday live in a safe country, i still urge people to speak out. report it, do not fear to be judged because you could be saving someone else from going through the same ordeal.

    • Yolande

      Well done your strength is to be admired. I understand it is hard and what you have been through no should ever have goen through. May you continue to be strong and never let the event affect your future

  • Lebohang

    This is truly hurt for children and women.I think the S.A contitutional right has messed things.I can’t beilive that a 12 yrs old has a rights for sex and abortion without a parents concern .As a women,we need to stand up for our children.Rapist don’t deserve to be in jail but to be killed

  • Andrew

    These are shocking statistics, yes they are violent, Yes it calls for drastic action, yes it has to stop NOW – But really, Medical Research Council, (1 in 4?!)where did you interview these men? prison maybe? I wonder which RSA are you guys are talking about kanti?

  • Please let’s tell Anene Booysen’s family that we South African Women are going to take the rape bull by the horns ourselves!

    85% of our safety is in our own hands. SELF-DEFENCE is guaranteed to reduce rape by up to 30%.

    In Kenya 1 million women and children have been taught how to fight and get away, among them a girl of 6, a 15 year old who got away from 3 men with guns and a 60 year old woman who fought off an attacker.

    Kenyan trainers will come to SA to train us FOR FREE. I have collected money for their air fares. All we need is help to support a three week training programme, which will teach thousands of women and children within a few hours how to fight, get away and report. This is not judo, nor karate. It is knowing how to fight dirty to get away and report. It works!

    Please, if you want to stop this evil wave of violence against our women and children, work with us.

    This training can be the turning point of rape in our country.

    This is not an appeal for money. It is a shout for us to work together to make the world sit up and notice.
    I PROTECT ME project

  • Reneilwe

    Its extremely disturbing especialy when u give it much thought as a woman and mother.Statistics are just numbers but beneath each number there’s a heartache n pain that takes strength n support to overcome.Probles is the same rapists are rasing the future generation of men,and because they deny to admit an aknowledge that rape is rape not just sex,they cannot groom the young ones to b different.Maybe the perpetrators also need counseling so as to have a better understanding of their phsycological justification of rape.This is outrageously out of hand.

  • sello

    this is a serious problem,our country is sick.women are no more longer respected like it should have turned to be monsters.the people as well have turned against GOD and our values and beliefs as africans.there is a saying “never let your erection give you direction.come on people lets love our sisters,mothers,children and our grannies.last but not least JESUS LOVES YOU.SHALOM(peace)

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