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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid