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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rape in South Africa: A widespread, layered problem

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on June 6, 2014. 

Last summer, the world was disgusted by a wave of rape in India, so much so that the UN’s Chief of Human Rights called it a “national problem.” Worse yet, a “dismally low” amount of prosecutions and convictions followed these crimes.

India is not alone in this epidemic. The Medical Research Council released a report in 2009 that claims, “based off of evidence from the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces, more than 25 percent of men in the Republic of South Africa have raped someone,” and that only about one in twenty-five men who are accused of rape are convicted, and that half a million rapes are committed in the Rainbow Nation annually.
South Africa’s rape epidemic never received the same type of coverage like that of India, but it is far from an unknown phenomenon. Rape in South Africa is a national epidemic for a multitude of reasons. The country’s history of segregation has made it difficult for its current government to advance in infrastructure and education, not to mention its present widespread corruption under President Zuma. While the country has progressed in combatting AIDS, the disease is still widespread and many believe absurd myths about AIDS and how to cure people of it. Widespread poverty persists, and while South Africa’s laws regarding sexual violence are progressive, enforcement rates are dismally low.

Apartheid has been dead for more than 20 years, but South Africa is still recovering from its fallout. Apartheid did not cause the problems that lie at the root of South Africa’s rape epidemic, but it certainly exacerbated them. Had Black South Africans been educated like their White counterparts through the majority of the 20th century, South Africa would likely not have this crisis. Black South Africans have historically been victims to poverty and a severe lack of opportunity and education because of apartheid. Strides have been made since President F.W. de Klerk repealed the racist legislation in the early 1990s, but the effects of decades of brutal institutionalized racism still smolder.

The current government, while multiracial and democratic, is led by a president who has himself been accused of rape. President Zuma also made the ridiculous claim that taking a shower after having unprotected sex would minimize the risk of contracting HIV. This claim is not the only myth that pervades South African society, and he is not the first president to be resistant to medical evidence. Former President Thabo Mbeki has downplayed the prevalence of AIDS in South Africa andappointed ministers who did not believe that HIV caused AIDS.

Would a power shift in South Africa’s government fix this crisis? Perhaps, but there’s no instant fix. While the ruling Democratic Alliance, a rival to the ANC, has a strong track record in advancing education in the Western Cape province, the province had the second-worst percentage of women experiencing sexual violence of South Africa’s nine provinces, which means present policies are not living up to expectations.

Media coverage of the epidemic has been increasing since 1994, but that alone won’t reduce the rate. Education and infrastructure development will lay a foundation for South Africa to dig itself out of this hole, and as education advances, a large stress on sexual health and proper sexual conduct will start to bring down the rates of rape in this country with such high potential.

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