Related Stories By Gabriel Manyati Published: 20120514
Is rape a national sport in SA?


Sexual violations of women and children in South Africa are under the spotlight for the umpteenth time after South Africans three weeks ago awoke to a hair-raising story: a 17-year-old with the mental ability of a five-year-old had been gang-raped by seven young men who had offered her R2 for their perverse pleasure.

It is without doubt one of the most revolting stories of rape that has emerged recently in South Africa, and has no doubt trained the spotlight afresh on the violence and abuse of women and children rampant in the country.

But that grim tale – exacerbated by the circulation of the gory crime by video on cellphones – is just the tip of the iceberg.

On April 16, nine men – including a father-and-son team – appeared in the Johannesburg High Court for the alleged rapes of 62 women in and around the city.

The father and son from Alexandra face 21 counts of rape, as well as charges of kidnapping, robbery, and assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The rapes took place at a wide variety of Gauteng locations, and occurred at all hours of the day or night.

There seemed to be no escape for women, who were attacked in deserted zones and busy Sandton, in Marlboro Drive early one morning and Northgate Shopping Centre, where one victim was raped and robbed of R2 000.

A social worker at People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa), Tiny Moloko, says the high number of rape cases was a terrifying indication of the amount of violence being perpetrated against women in South Africa.

“Those numbers aren’t even a true reflection, as many rape victims don’t even come forward to tell their story. But at the end of the day, women are being raped and robbed and it’s clear that we are living in an unsafe world.

“And then in court, the prosecutors have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the perpetrator is guilty.

“It is so frustrating seeing victims being grilled in court. Our legal department does try to assist rape victims with pre-court preparations, but all too often the alleged perpetrators get off for lack of proven evidence,” she says.

Lisa Vetten, of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, describes the upsurge of repeat rapists appearing in court as “terrifying”.

She believes the increase is due to the government’s decision to do away with specialised police units, particularly those that were dedicated to investigating crimes against women and children.

Vetten says dismantling the units has made it almost impossible for police in different stations to investigate these types of crimes.

According to Vetten, when the units were done away with, serial rapists managed to move from one area to another with ease, and without being detected.

“It was only a year ago that the specialised units were reinstated, which again allowed the police to investigate these crimes effectively.”

Mbuyiselo Botha, of the Sonke Gender Justice Network, says the growing number of crimes against women and children was linked to the increasing violence in South Africa.

“Some of these criminals have a feeling of invincibility. They believe that ‘I will get away with it, or if I’m caught, the possibilities are that I may get away scot-free’. They look at women as fair game, thinking there will be no consequences,” Botha notes.

Botha, however, has acknowledged that the criminal justice system and the courts have acted harshly on these criminals in past cases but “we need to encourage the courts to do more”.

The gang-rape of the 17-year-old and subsequent circulation of the crime via cellphone have made her case one of the most tragic stories of neglect and abuse of a mentally handicapped teenager in one of the country’s biggest townships, Soweto.

While raping her, the perpetrators recorded their crime and proceeded to distribute it.

What makes her plight even sadder is that police are investigating the existence of a second video of another rape of the very same girl.

This is a story of complicity, gender violence and neglect in Soweto and is, in all likelihood – to varying degrees – representative of what is happening to girls and women at the hands of this nation’s men.

The complicity lies in the fact that a community knew this teenager, a child really, and must have known she had previously disappeared for weeks.

She has apparently been raped several times since 2009. But no-one seems to have found it necessary to report this to the authorities.

Then there is the mother, whom police initially said might be investigated for alleged neglect. She had initially told the media and police that she had reported her daughter missing but had been turned away.

But when Gauteng community safety Member of the Executive Committee (MEC), Faith Mazibuko, demanded answers from senior Soweto police officers, she was told the mother’s claim was a “blatant lie”.

Soweto Police Cluster Commander, Major-General Nkanyiso Maphango, said: “She has reported her daughter’s four previous disappearances, but not this one. It is a blatant lie. She will be investigated.”

Before that, Mazibuko had launched an attack on the parents of the teenager and the seven suspects who have been identified by the community and arrested.

One alleged rapist, a 14-year-old, has been left in his parents’ care.

“This is horrendous. How can a mother not report their child missing?” asked Mazibuko.

“She never reported her daughter missing, yet she blames the criminal justice system for failing her and her family.

“Also, how can a 14-year-old do this? What are parents doing to allow their children to do this?

“Where is family discipline?”

But perhaps most tragic of all is the way that the 17-year-old was discovered after the crime.

As police officers moved through the township, using loud hailers to ask community members to come forward with information about the missing girl, she was brought from a 37-year-old man’s one-roomed home.

He claimed she was his “girlfriend” and that she had arrived at his house two days earlier.

Hungry, dazed and confused, the girl was unable to recall her whereabouts.

Police spokesman Makhubela said investigators were seeking information about everything that had happened to the teenager since she had disappeared.

“There is information that she may have been kept as a sex slave,” he said. “There is information that there is another video and that she was allegedly raped repeatedly after she disappeared.”

Makhubela said the seven youths had been arrested after the community provided police with information.

The 37-year-old man has also been arrested.

“This investigation is not over yet. We are expecting to make more arrests as information is gathered,” Makhubela said.

The teen’s mother had told police she had reported a previous rape of her daughter.

Johannesburg mayoral committee member for public safety Matshidiso Mfiko said: “She told us one of the court cases, against a Zimbabwean, was dismissed because of her daughter’s mental state.

She apparently could not testify.

“MEC Faith Mazibuko will engage with the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“The investigation will be difficult because the girl can only tell us she was with friends. She doesn’t know who these friends are or where they live,” Mfiko said.

 

A National Sport

 

The story has precipitated unprecedented public anger, setting the news agenda and dominating newspaper editorials.

In a letter to The Star newspaper, Mitch Launspach, of Mogale City, wrote: “Why are we all so shocked at this latest high-profile gang rape? The day before this case hit the headlines, The Star reported that nine men had appeared in the Johannesburg High Court on a single day in connection with 62 different rape cases – in a small sidebar there was a report of a six-year-old who had been raped.

“Rape is not only South Africa’s national sport, it seems that it’s a team sport, and that no woman is safe – not a tiny baby, not an 80-year-old grandmother, not even a terminally ill patient in a hospital bed.

“Women are not even safe from the police, as there are regular reports of lone women travelling at night being stopped by either SAPS or metro Police who rape or sexually assault them.

“(Recently), a female motorist was stopped at a roadblock in broad daylight and sexually assaulted by a police officer in full view of his colleagues. The colleagues failed to intervene on the motorist’s behalf.

“The fact that so few of these cases result in convictions, makes one suspect that the accused are being shielded by their colleagues and superiors.

“There are also regular incidents at taxi ranks, where young women are stripped and sexually assaulted by taxi drivers if they are deemed to be inappropriately dressed. This always happens in public and yet no man steps forward to protect them.

“Why do men think that they have the right to behave in this manner? Are we so ignorant and arrogant that we cannot understand the damage we are doing or do we feel so threatened by women that the only way to re-assert our control is by sexual violence?

“Regardless of women’s status under law, the fact remains that religion and culture are two very powerful factors in determining people’s attitudes, and whether we want to admit it or not, both religion and culture assert the dominance of the man over the woman.

“Sometimes the message is very subtly conveyed, and at other times it’s quite blatant, but it’s there nevertheless.

Whether that is the intention or not, these messages sanction and legitimise men’s behaviour against women.

“The message that the police and the courts need to send out must be so consistent and unequivocal, that even the most arrogant thug eventually gets the message – a rapist is a dog!”