South Africa has been labelled by some as the rape capital of the world, and that is not without reasons. The most recent statistics supporting the ignominious label are utterly outrageous. Hardly does a week go by that there are not at least two reported rape incidences in the news. By the end of last year (2011), results of researches and surveys carried around the country estimated that over 25% of South African men have raped someone, at least one in three women in South Africa had been raped and about 500, 000 rape incidences occur annually in the country. Put in another way, a woman is raped in South Africa every 17 seconds, and this does not include cases of child rape which the country also leads in. Unbelievably, about half of the culprits of these dastardly acts believed their victims enjoyed these harrowing experiences. The numbers are expected to keep rising, as has been observed over the years, if the social malady is not put into check. As things stand, it is estimated that one in two women would be raped. In addition, considering that it is believed that about 90% of rape incidences go unreported, it is no wonder South Africa is considered to have the highest occurrence of this deviant sexual proclivity around the world.

The question remains unanswered as to what is at the root of the horrifying social ill, and subsequently how to combat it holistically. Many are quick to blame it on the legacies of apartheid. Though that might be part of the problem, I believe there is more to it than the throes of apartheid. How does apartheid account for a situation where about a quarter of schoolboys interviewed in Soweto said that “jackrolling”, slang for gang rape, was fun? This was evident in the horrible incident in March where a group of schoolboys recorded themselves raping a mentally challenged teenage girl and circulated the video around. One wonders if kids get to learn about virtues that they are supposed to be taught in their Life Orientation, religious studies and home training. Nevertheless, one need not wonder too long considering the number of single parents and the number of rape cases perpetrated by relatives of the victims (even their fathers/guardians) and schoolteachers in the country. There is also the sore manner in which the educational sector is run (like in many other African nations).

There is also the common belief that sexual intercourse with a virgin would cure a man of HIV/AIDS. This has led to the appalling rate of the abuse of infants as young as eight months old. This surely has nothing to do with apartheid (as the myth is also believed to exist in Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe). Neither does the issue of corrective rape that is being perpetuated against lesbians or women perceived to be one. Again, the tendency to accuse rape victims of lewd dressing is akin to a car burglar blaming the victim for parking the car at an exposed space. That does not justify the felony. Some of the blame would also go to the distortion of the cultural custom of bride abduction (ukuthwala) practised in some parts of the country, where a teenager would be kidnapped by a man and be forced to marry him in exchange for cows. This is an abhorrent show of disrespect for women.

Again, there is the feeling in some quarters that the police and the judiciary had not been dealing with reported rape cases adequately, thus discouraging victims from reporting most incidences and invariably stimulating the attitude of impunity displayed by the perpetrators. Reports suggest that the police sometimes ask rape victims demeaning questions (e.g. Did you enjoy it?), while the courts sometimes are accused of not dishing out fitting penalties. Just yesterday, two men got eight life sentences each at the South Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) for raping two paramedics. But on the same day, a magistrate at the Cape Town Regional Court gave a 65-year-old man (who is a repeat sex offender) only a 15-year jail sentence for sexually assaulting and raping a woman before her two-year-old son. With the pressure of overpopulation on the nations prison system, one would not be surprised to see some of the convicted rapists roaming the streets again someday.

Ultimately, exigencies exist for nationwide sensitisation and reorientation programs. Men need to learn to discipline themselves and control their sexual urges, not always seeking instant gratification for them. Men must also learn that women are not their properties, accord them the respect they deserve and not seek rape as a show of power and dominance over women. Even couples in relationships need to learn how to communicate about sex in relationships.

Who/what do you think is/are to be blamed for this cankerous epidemic?