By Razanne Chatila
It took one horrible crime to be the tipping point to spark a national controversy in South Africa on what actions are being taken to prevent and prosecute sexual crimes against women and children.
When news earlier this month of the gang-rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was badly mutilated and left for dead on a building site in the town of Bredasdorp, 80 miles east of Cape Town, broke out, it sparked outrage by the South Africans and politicians alike. Boosyne who was found barely alive by a security guard the following day, was taken to the hospital where she managed to identify one of her rapists before dying of her injuries It seems to be an echo of another recent case, being compared to the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus that triggered huge demonstrations in India against endemic gender violence.
“When a very similar incident occurred in India recently, there was a massive outbreak of protest and mass demonstrations in the streets; it was a big story around the world,” said Patrick Craven, spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions in a recent interview. “We must show the world that South Africans are no less angry at such crimes and make an equally loud statement of disgust and protest in the streets.”
Many rights groups complain that the reason rape crimes are still occurring is because it has been normalized in society and has lost the power to shock, especially in South Africa, and the statistics definitely emphasize this. In 2010-11, there were 56,272 rapes recorded in South Africa, which is an average of 154 a day. This is more than double the rate in India. According to a study in 2009, one in four South African men has admitted to having raped a woman. The last significant public outcry was a year ago when a 17-year-old mentally disabled girl from Soweto was gang raped by young men who videotaped her anguish and offered her the equivalent of 25 cents to keep quiet.
This time, however, it has garnered the attention of the South African president who called on the courts to “impose the harshest crimes, as part of a concerted campaign to end this scourge in our country.”
He further stated, “The whole nation is outraged at this extreme violation and destruction of a young human life. This act is shocking, cruel and most inhumane. It has no place in our country. We must never allow ourselves to get used to these acts of base criminality to our women and children.”
Many criticize the lack of action taken by the government and have accused the government of neglecting the issue of rape and violence against women. This lack of initiative has also raised international concern as the top human rights official at the United Nations, Navi Pillay, says the scourge of rape in South Africa must be addressed in a “macro fashion in order to find the root causes.” She emphasized the U.N. stance that the primary responsibility of protecting civilians, including from rape, lies in the hands of the state. As such, she commented on South Africa’s approach and praised the law but objected on the lack of implementation, connecting it to the endemic societal patriarchy. Also noting the need to open up the discussion to all citizens, women and men alike should pick up ideas and share solutions in order to change a culture where discrimination and violence against women is condemned, and where punishment is duly given.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.