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South Africa Pledges to Get Tough on Rape

  • Anita Powell

South Africa is often called the “rape capital of the world.” This year, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, South Africans are mobilizing to end this horrifying trend.

In recent months, the outrage has grown.

These protesters are marching to protest the brutal killing of teenager Anene Booysen. Anene was one of an estimated 64,000 girls and women who are raped every year in South Africa.

Her experience was horrifying.

She was raped and tortured in her hometown of Bredasdorp in the Western Cape this year. Her attackers literally tore her small body apart. She died shortly after in a local hospital.

Troy Martens, the spokeswoman for the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress party says the brutality of the attack has galvanized the nation.

“I think we find ourselves in a very fortunate situation at this moment in rape advocacy and sexual violence advocacy. Because there is so much public attention on it at the moment and there is a pub[lic] sentiment that something needs to be done and enough is enough, and the time for action is now,” said Martens.

President Jacob Zuma condemned the attack and called for action in his February State of the Nation Address. Earlier this month, Zuma launched a national campaign that calls for schoolchildren to give a daily pledge not to commit rape or sexual violence.

On the streets of Johannesburg, a shocking number of passersby said they had seen the effects of rape firsthand.

“I know quite a few people who have actually considered doing rape, in my community,” a man stated.

Sthembiso Hlungwani said she had been sexually assaulted - though not raped - by a family friend.

“I felt dirty," she shared. "And I just wanted to die, and it made it worse when they didn’t believe me. So I think a person who’s raped feels a million times worse than I did, and it’s not a good feeling, trust me, I know. It hurts, and it haunts you, every day, every time.”

The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre works with women who have been victims of abuse. Acting director Nicky Vienings says the anti-rape pledge is a good start, but not enough.

“It’s fine to recite something but what does it mean? What is the impact of rape, what does it mean for women? And I think think essentially, living in a patriarchal society, rape is a systemic issue. And until those things change and until we change what’s happening in education," noted Vienings. "I’m not sure the extent to which this issue of rape is going to be addressed.”

Vienings and other advocates say there are many other steps that need to be taken, including a strengthening of police and court systems.
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