South Africa waking up to rape and murder toll

Women take part in a drumming session in Johannesburg to protest against the violence against them. Picture: AP
Women take part in a drumming session in Johannesburg to protest against the violence against them. Picture: AP
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REEVA Steenkamp, the model killed by Oscar Pistorius, was statistically only one of three women in South Africa killed on Valentine’s Day by a partner, according to a study on violence against women.

South Africa, statistics show, has the highest such rate reported in research anywhere in the world.

As the world marked International Women’s Day yesterday, South Africans were locked in public soul-searching over the high level of murders and rapes of women.

In the past month, among other cases, a court charged a man with beheading his wife with a machete and police are investigating the rape of a 100-year-old great-great grandmother.

The authorities are also hunting for two of 15 men accused of gang raping a 23-year-old woman.

Many are now questioning traditional chauvinistic attitudes, gun control laws and the weaknesses of police and court systems that allow many perpetrators to walk free.

It seems there are few places for South African girls to be safe: Many are raped in their homes by a relative or family friend; many are raped at school, often by teachers; only a quarter are raped by someone they do not know.

In South Africa, statistics say someone is raped every four minutes. But of only 66,196 incidents reported to police last year investigations led to just 4,500 convictions.

“If data for all violent assaults, rapes and other sexual assaults against women are taken into account, then approximately 200,000 adult women are reported as being attacked in South Africa every year,” Lerato Moloi of the South African Institute for Race Relations said.

The real figure is considerably higher, she said, since most cases never are reported.

The rate of murders of women is equally troubling. A woman is killed by an close partner every eight hours in South Africa.

This is a probable underestimate because no perpetrator is identified in 20 per cent of killings, according to a study published in August and co-authored by Professor Rachel Jewkes of the South African Medical Research Council. That is double the rate of such murders in the United States, according to the report.

It found that although the murders of females has gone down between 1999 and 2009, as have all homicides, the percentage killed by their partners has increased – from 50 per cent to 57 per cent.

Half the women were killed by partners they were living with, 30 per cent by men they were dating and 18 per cent by their husbands.

The study also found rape was suspected in more than one in four of the killings.

“Something is going terribly wrong,” Ms Jewkes said.

A major obstacle is the number of men who are rapists. In a survey, 37 per cent of men in Gauteng Province, the smallest but most populated in South Africa, admitted they had raped a woman.