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South Africa’s rape crisis

By Sadé Savings, One Young World Ambassador from South Africa.

One of the greatest challenges facing South African women today is the increasingly prevalent and horrifically brutal acts of sexual violence being perpetuated against women and small children. Statistics SA reveals that South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, with estimates suggesting that more than 50% of women will be raped in their life time. Notably, incidents of child rape have become progressively common. While these stories shock us to the core when they are splashed across media channels, we hastily shove these thoughts and feelings deep within our subconscious and seldom revisit them.

But the pandemic nature of sexual violence in South Africa cannot be ignored. The South African government has acknowledged this challenge to women’s rights and responded by passing various bills and laws to curb the destructive scourge of sexual violence. However, a question still remains – to what end exactly? Statistics SA reveals that only about 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted and only 1 in 9 rapes are reported in South Africa.

As women in South Africa, we are now faced with a threat to the very rights that are enshrined in the South African Constitution. The Bill of Rights highlights our right to ‘human dignity’, and to ‘a life of freedom and security of the person’, as well as to ‘a life of bodily and psychological integrity’. The Criminal (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (2007), very accurately makes a call to “scrutinise” the issue of sexual violence in South Africa, while attributing this immense challenge to the deep-rooted, systemic social ills of South African society.

Even with all of the legislation, lobbying, and civil society action, the incidence of rape has led to the country being referred to as the “rape capital of the world”. Campaigns centered on rape and/or sexual violence prevention and awareness, are often narrow in their approach. Moreover, they do not adequately address the complexity of the causes and symptoms that continue to drive this threat into the very heart of the post-adolescent South African demographic.

Child-headed households, alcohol and drug abuse, economic challenges, and the severe structural and systemic entrenchment of a violent society have resulted in a dangerous disregard for life and human rights in the South African society. We are slowly becoming numb to incidents of sexual violence, of baby rape, of gang-rape by a ‘known-person’. Each time we do this, we allow this pandemic to spread further and dig its roots deeper into our society.

Our nation’s cry for the end to rape and sexual violence needs to move from a slight murmur and change to the billowing sounds of a vuvuzela. We need to heed the cry of our beloved nation, of all the women, children and babies who have already been made victims to this gross violation of human rights. Only then will we truly begin to rise as a nation.