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South Africa Moves Closer to Tougher Rape Law

South Africa’s cabinet has approved the draft of a law that seeks to crack down on sexual assaults. The draft is now open for public comment as it goes back to Parliament for approval. (For an explanation of the legal process, click the above link for VOA reporter Delia Robertson in Johannesburg)

Some estimates say as many as 150 rapes a day occur in South Africa. One of the groups that tries to help the victims is the Cape Town Rape Crisis Center. Nolita Mazwayi is the advocacy coordinator for the center. From Cape Town, she told English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua that rape is widespread.

“The rape situation in South Africa is rife because you find in most instances people live in poverty and are unemployed as well and they commit these offenses because they have nothing to do. And on the other hand we have prominent members of our society also committing the offenses. So it becomes difficult for organizations like ours working to eradicate rape itself and sexual offenses in general when we try to educate members of the community and society around these issues. And yet you have prominent members committing the offenses as well.”

Asked if she was speaking about former deputy president Jacob Zuma, who is awaiting his verdict in his rape trial, Mazayi says, “I am speaking about the Jacob Zuma rape trial because it has had a negative effect on complainants in general because people feel that if they do come forward to report the offense then they will be ridiculed and it will be made a mockery.”

She makes the comments even though Zuma, accused of raping a long-time family friend, won’t hear his verdict until May 8th. She says, “A verdict has not been handed down, but the way the complainant in this particular case has been treated by the media shows that there’s not that responsible sending out of messages by the media as well. Because they sort of perpetuate the myth that we’re trying to dispel at all times.”

Mazwayi says there were angry protests against the accuser on the one hand, and on the other, the judge allowed the defense to delve into her personal life. She agrees with the draft law including the rape of men as a criminal offense. “We want to see a society which looks at rape as a gender neutral offense.”