South African President Jacob Zuma has condemned the perpetrators of a gang rape of a young woman who subsequently died, in a case similar to the sexual assault of a female medical student in India late last year.
According to South African media, Anene Booysen, only 17 years old, was mutilated and gang-raped. Her body was found on Saturday by security guards in a construction site in Bredasdorp, a town about 80 miles from Cape Town. She was rushed to hospital, where she died, succumbing to her grave injuries -- but she was able to identify her attackers before expiring.
"The whole nation is outraged at this extreme violation and destruction of a young human life," Zuma said in a statement.
"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."
Zuma also demanded the severest possible punishment on the perpetrators.
Thus far, two people, including the girl’s 22-year-old ex-boyfriend, have been arrested in connection with the rape-murder.
BBC said that 64,000 rape cases -- including 25,000 sexual assaults on children -- were reported in South Africa last year; but, as with virtually every other country in the world, the true carnage is believed to be much higher.
This reported figure is more than double the reported rate of rapes recorded in India. Moreover, based on available data, South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of rape, granting the country the dubious title of “rape capital of the world.”
Indeed, rape is so common in South Africa that it is doubtful this case – as horrendous as it is – will even shock South Africans, much less lead to calls for the type of historic demonstrations as India has witnessed.
Research from the South African Medical Research Council suggest that up to one-third of the men in the country admitted they had committed rape at least once in their lives, suggesting widespread acceptance and a lack of prosecution.
Some prominent voices in the country want to change this blasé attitude.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), one of South Africa’s largest labor organizations, has said it will stage mass protests in response to the gruesome assault in Bredasdorp.
"When a very similar incident occurred in India recently, there was a massive outbreak of protest and mass demonstrations in the streets," Patrick Craven, a Cosatu spokesman said, according to Agence France Presse.
"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.”
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), the party that rules the Western Cape province where the rape occurred, also condemned the attack.
"The DA is doing everything it can to support the family of the victim and will continue to do so this, including the arrangement of the funeral next week Saturday," said DA spokeswoman Liza Albrecht.
Albrecht also vowed to pressure the police and judiciary to reach a speedy verdict in the case.
The DA’s parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, said: "It is time to ask the tough questions that for too long we have avoided. We live in a deeply patriarchal and injured society where the rights of women are not respected. Indeed, there is a silent war against the children and women of this country -- and we need all South Africans to unite in the fight against it."
In addition, The Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa, warned that rapes are escalating across the country.
"The rape of women now seems to be the order of the day," said spokeswoman Zingiswa Losi.
The Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party plans to call for a national enquiry into the epidemic of violence against women in South Africa.
"We will be calling for a National Commission of Enquiry into rape and gender-based violence in order to develop a national strategy to eradicate rape from South African society," said League spokeswoman Troye Martins.
Activists in South Africa are hoping that the tragic death of Anene Booysen leads to the kind of national soul-searching and plans to reform the police and legal systems that the Delhi incident sparked in India. But longtime anti-rape campaigners are less than optimistic about such prospects.
Dumisani Rebombo, a former rapist who became a gender equality activist, told the Guardian: "We don't need a debate, we need action. My take is that more people need to say enough is enough, let's prevent this in our country. We don't need more recommendations. We need education. The question of debate is an insult."
In addition, Rachel Jewkes, acting president of the South African Medical Research Council, said comparisons to the Indian case are probably irrelevant.
"In many ways gender relations in India are probably worse than they are here,” she told the Guardian.
“In South Africa this issue has been in the spotlight for a long time; in India it has been largely ignored. I noticed some religious leaders in India blaming the victim; at least we have moved beyond that with leaders in South Africa. But both countries have a major problem in terms of not tackling the issue."
Indeed, Reuters reported that since the young woman in Delhi was gang-raped, almost 9,000 women and children in South Africa have been sexually assaulted. There was, in fact, a sensational gang-rape in Pretoria where five men attacked a 21-year-old woman.
None of these cases led to national protests.
Even more frustrating, even when rape suspects are arrested, only 12 percent of them are ever convicted.
"We are not the only country faced with crime, sexism, patriarchal attitudes and poverty. But we seem to be the only country that goes to sleep when a rape happens," radio presenter Redi Tlhabi wrote.
Jewkes further lamented that the high occurrence of rape (and the attendant lack of interest in punishing the perpetrators) reflects a “sickness in our society.”
"We're still dealing with a patriarchal society, where men see themselves as privileged and doing anything they can get away with, and that includes raping," she added.
A middle-aged woman from Johannesburg named Andisiwe Kawa, who was gang-raped in 2010 and is still waiting for justice, complained to Reuters: "Rape has become a norm. We've become very apathetic about it. There's this silence that gives an upper hand to perpetrators because we don't tell on them. We have a constitution that promises us the right to safety and security and justice but in reality we don't have those. We have this nice, world-class legislation but it is not implemented for the people on the ground who require it. It is useless legislation."
In addition, President Zuma’s “outrage” over the latest gang rape in his country is rather questionable given that he was once charged with sexually assaulting a woman. Insisting that sexual relations he had with the woman were “consensual,” he was acquitted of all charges prior to his rise to the presidency.