South Africa is often called the “rape capital of the world,” and it is estimated that more than 70 percent of women have experienced sexual abuse. On Tuesday, five men attacked and gang-raped a young woman in the capital, Pretoria. In the shadow of a similar attack in India that mobilized millions to protest, activists in Johannesburg say they do not understand why more South Africans are not outraged.
Police say the young woman was waiting overnight Tuesday in line to register at the Tshwane University of Technology.
Five men dragged her into the bushes, raped her and stole her phone and money. Police say no suspect has been been arrested.
When a young student in New Delhi was gang-raped by six men, beaten and left to die last month, the horrific act sparked mass protests across India.
The victim’s father recently announced her name to the world. Her name was Jyoti, a Hindu name that means “light.”
And fittingly, her plight has focused the world’s attention on India’s rape epidemic. Five of the six suspects have appeared before a New Delhi court and charged with abduction, gang rape and murder. The case’s swiftness is unheard of in a nation where it normally takes months for prosecutors to prepare.
But in South Africa, says activist Zubeda Dangor, it is likely that this one student’s horrific ordeal will simply fade from public view.
Dangor, who is of Indian ancestry, is the executive director of the Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development
. The name of the non-religious organization references a chapter of the Koran that speaks of women’s rights.
“Why is South African society complacent about something like this?" she asks. "And, the lesson that we do take from the Indian experience is that we do need to be able to stand up. We are people that have a struggle history, that have organized. But we organized in terms of liberation of South Africa, but we can’t seem to get our act together in terms of organizing against sexual violence.”
South African police documented more than 64,000 rapes last year. And, that figure includes only reported rapes. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes worldwide.
A widely cited 2010 study by the Medical Research Council
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.
Dangor says no woman is safe. Rape victims include babies, girls and old women.
South Africa also struggles with unacceptably high levels of abuse. According to government figures, 90 percent of women have experienced emotional and physical abuse and 71 percent have experienced sexual abuse.
Dangor’s organization helped gather thousands of signatures for a petition to the Indian government, delivered Tuesday. The petition asks the Indian government to act against rape and protect rape victims. Dangor says the Indian experience offers hope for his native South Africa.
“I think that the lesson that we, as South Africans, can take out of this, is that one admires Indian society for standing up, particularly at this point in time, so that women survivors of rape or abuse can get assisted," she says. "We know that the Indian police are also very slow to act and that is a similar situation in South Africa. We have wonderful laws, but our laws are not implemented sufficiently for women to receive social justice.
A South African police spokeswoman refused to comment for this story, but police have said they are committed to fighting sexual assault.
But, until they succeed, it is likely that tomorrow, some 175 South African girls and women will be raped.
And another 175 the next. day - and so on.