News / Africa

South Africa Gang Rape Death Shocks Nation

Anita Powell
The brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a South African teenager has shocked the nation. South Africa’s incidence of sexual assault is very high, with no relief in sight. But top officials say this latest assault may be a wake-up call, much like the gang rape of a New Delhi woman in December has been for India.  

Even in a nation considered the rape capital of the world, Anene Booysen’s story is shocking.

The 17-year-old was found at a construction site in the Western Cape on Saturday. She had been repeatedly raped. A doctor told a local newspaper that her attackers had sliced her open from the stomach down. The doctor said it appeared they had pulled out her intestines with their hands. She died Wednesday.

A health department official said staffers at the hospital were receiving counseling because her injuries were so horrific.

Booysen managed to identify one of her alleged assailants before her death - her 22-year-old ex-boyfriend. Three more suspects have been arrested.

President outraged

The outrage has reverberated up to the very top. President Jacob Zuma expressed his outrage and called for stiff punishments for the attackers.

Presidential spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said Booysen’s death could represent a turning point for South Africa, much as the rape and murder of a young New Delhi woman did last year in India.

“Maybe, in a perverse way, this is something that will trigger a reaction where the entire community, with society as a whole, government, police, the courts and the communities working together will act in concert to stamp out this scourge in our society," said Maharaj. "It is a deep-seated problem and it is not something that can be overcome by one singular act. It needs a change of behavior, not only on the part of the rapist, but it needs a change of behavior amongst all of us so we all become parties to removing this scourge.”

Rape, a frequent crime

South African police documented more than 64,000 rapes last year.

A widely cited 2010 study found that more than a quarter of South African men have admitted to raping a girl or woman. One in seven men admitted to gang rape.

Gender rights activist Dumisani Rebombo is one of those men. When he was 15, his friends teased him and told him he wasn’t a man. So, in an attempt to prove his manliness, he participated in a gang rape. The victim never reported the crime and he was never charged. But 20 years later, he found her and apologized to her. She told him her life had never been the same.

Community outcry

Today, he heads the One Man Can project, which works to educate rural communities about rape. He says he thinks gender inequality is a big factor behind South Africa’s rape epidemic.

“I cannot say, 'these are the reasons why,' but I think the underlying factor is how we socialize boys and girls, differently, and there many examples we can take. From birth emanates the notion that men are, or should be, superior and should be treated with more respect and dignity than women," said Rebombo.

He says he doesn’t accept arguments that seem to exonerate men from responsibility.

“If men, because of patriarchy, could be CEOs of companies and president, and so forth, and be in high positions, I don’t see why men cannot control themselves when they are around women," Rebombo said. "So I don’t take that. I don’t take that men rape because they are poor and they are therefore they were just drinking, because there’s nothing to do. We have poorer countries surrounding South Africa and we don’t have these type of atrocities widely reported."

March against women's violence

Activist Zubeida Shaik is one of the organizers of a planned mass march against women’s violence in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The marches will be held on Valentine’s Day (February 14), but don’t expect hearts and flowers. That approach, she says, is long gone. Instead, she says, her group is making demands, going into communities and forcing them to confront the problem as a group. She says she’s seeing increasingly brutal attacks on women.

“We’re placing demands now," she said. "It’s no longer about being polite about rape. It’s not about saying, you know, ‘we’re going to advocate, and we’re going to lobby, and we’re going to do all of this with government structures and institutions etc.’ That’s gone now. We’ve done that. It hasn’t worked, we’ve got to move on, we’ve got to make it a community problem or find solutions within the community because that’s where the problems are."

An official in the Western Cape told a local news station that young people should not “get into situations at 3 in the morning where they place themselves in danger.”

Shaik says the official’s comment only contributes to the problem.

“It’s because of statements and comments like that that people’s perceptions become so warped about this. Because in a sense, he was blaming this young woman. And the same thing happened in India, where they also said, ‘oh, but why was she out at that time of the night?’ Now, if a woman is not free to move around whenever she wants to, wear whatever she wants to, what kind of society are we living in,” asked Shaik.

That’s a question that South Africa may find itself asking more and more as it confronts the nation's high incidence of sexual assaults.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs