South Africa contemplates a “debate” on rape

South Africa has its own recent horrific rape-combined-with-mutilation-murder, and there are people who want that too to be a catalyst for outrage and change.

The gang-rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl in South Africa has triggered expressions of outrage from politicians and calls for Indian-style protests against a culture of sexual violence.

Anene Booysen was reportedly lured away from her friends and raped by a group of men. She was badly mutilated and left for dead on a building site in the town of Bredasdorp, 80 miles east of Cape Town, and found by a security guard on Saturday morning.

Hospital staff who fought to save her life were given counselling because of the horrific nature of her injuries, local media said. Before she died, Anene identified her former boyfriend as one of her attackers.

The former boyfriend certainly makes it interesting. Not stranger rape and murder, not random opportunistic rape and mutilation and murder, but personal, vindictive, possessive, angry rape and mutilation and murder.

Patrick Craven, spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said: “When a very similar incident occurred in India recently, there was a massive outbreak of protest and mass demonstrations in the streets; it was a big story around the world. 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.”

But such a display seems unlikely in a country where rights groups complain that rape has become normalised and lost the power to shock. In 2010-11, 56,272 rapes were recorded in South Africa, an average of 154 a day and more than double the rate in India.

The same thing is said of DR Congo – rape has become normalized there.

Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, 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.”

Mazibuko vowed to table a motion in parliament to debate “the ongoing scourge” and said she would request special public hearings “so that we can begin a national dialogue on South Africa’s rape and sexual violence crisis”.

Such calls are bemusing to campaigners already working to combat such violence. Dumisani Rebombo, who was 15 when he raped a girl at his school in 1976, is now a gender equality activist. “We don’t need a debate, we need action,” he said. “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.”

Really. What is there to “debate”? What is there to have a “dialogue” about? Whether or not rape is bad?

Maybe Mazibuko just said it clumsily, but clearly Rebombo doesn’t think so. Clearly he thinks South Africa should skip the “debate” and just say Stop.


  1. Sastra says

    I assume the debate/dialogue would have to be on the best and most effective ways to stop “the ongoing scourge.” Education how, and where? If rape is really imbedded into the culture, this isn’t going to be easy. They’ll need to come up with a list of feasible ideas and prioritize it.

  2. Nepenthe says

    I’m familiar with the South African situation only through reading, but if the statistics and news reports are true, Rebombo may have a point. South Africa has, perhaps, gone beyond the civil discussion phase and entered straight into the tear gas and burning shit down phase.

  3. says

    Dumisani Rebombo, who was 15 when he raped a girl at his school in 1976, is now a gender equality activist.

    I’m sorry, but this stuck out to me. Not that I don’t believe in forgiveness if he actually did seek forgiveness and has changed (as it would appear), but still…

    I don’t know… it just…


    Even I, in my well-documented love of debate, know that there are certain subject simply not up to debate.; rape is one of those subjects, unless the debate is strictly over how to stop it. Whatever they do enact as a result of this, they need to avoid shit like “this is how you can avoid being raped” and focus instead on stuff like “this is why you really shouldn’t rape” and “consent is actually sexy” and so on… a lesson we here in the so-called “civilized world” *snirk* need to learn badly…

  4. says

    I share NateHevens’ questions regarding Rebombo, but OTOH he certainly wouldn’t be the first person to have engaged in horrific actions, later realized how horrible they were, and now campaigns against them.

    Also, the only discussion that should be happening is what the most effective steps to take are, and where they should start addressing the problem. More enforcement? Educational campaigns like ‘Don’t be that guy,’ or the posters I’ve seen from India (I don’t know if there’s a short name for that ad campaign)? Something else? Some combination? I honestly don’t know the answer although I bet it’s a combination. Still, there’s a legitimate discussion there about where best to allocate resources to maximise the impact, and that’s the only legitimate discussion on this topic.

  5. says

    Nate: Remombo was only 15, and it’s easy to see how he could have succumbed to peer pressure to do something he later regretted. So yeah, in this case, unless contrary evidence surfaces, I’m willing to give him some benefit of doubt. He certainly doesn’t sound dishonest or hypocritical here.

  6. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    I”m going to quote Sisonke Msimang’s entire piece because it’s just that damn good.

    I read an article on Thursday morning. It said: “The victim had been sliced open from her stomach to her genitals and dumped.” The radio is full of this story. Full of politicians and posers, trying to outdo one another. Like funeral criers. But it will end, the show. And there will be marches and petitions. There will be statements and rage. But it will happen again. Until we are inured to shock. It will happen again. Until our bones are worn into dust and our teeth crushed into the sand. It will happen and happen. Until we invent a way to stop being women. Until we find a way for our blood to no longer bleed between our legs. As long as we exist, we will be raped.

    So, no, I will not march. I don’t believe my marching will stop this war. I will cry, as I have been already this morning. And maybe, I will begin to feel my way out of the lurching, heavy knowing after I have spoken with others. With the mothers and the sisters, the brothers and fathers – those like me, who have girls.

    There is only this: a dead, hollow knowing that has always been knocking at my heart. From the minute she was born, it fell in step with the rhythm of my breath: to raise a girl in this world, to raise her strong and healthy and proud, to ensure that she survives and then to insist ferociously that she laugh and dance and think and dream, is to choose the most heartbreaking and joyous path. It is to tempt fate every single day, it is to fear that her breath will be strangled by a stranger. It is to live with the horrible possibility that this could be your child.

    Anene was raped and mutilated because she was a girl. It was her vagina and her breasts that they wanted to destroy. It was her walk and her talk. It was her girl-ness. These parts of her were broken and sliced and pulled apart, not by monsters, but by friends. Each of her 10 fingers were broken.

    Ten fingers and 10 toes. I kiss my baby girl goodnight. Ten fingers and 10 toes, I counted them when she was born just to be sure that she was real. I found love in the spaces between each. I cried at the weight of her. Tiny and strong.

    Tonight, I will kiss her neck in the bath and she will wiggle away from me. ‘Stop it Mama’, and I will pinch her wet bum and she will sparkle. Tonight, she will be safe. But they will not stop killing girls.

    And I will die defending her. Let them wear my bones into dust. Let them crush my teeth into the sand. Only this will stop the war. That we be prepared to die – our bodies barricades against the fingers that should not be there. The knives that slit. The guns that lodge. Let them lodge in me. In us.

    Anene’s mother said that if she hadn’t seen her shoes, she wouldn’t have known that it was her own child. Her intestines? Her intestines.

    God help us. And if God will not, Let the women be the barricades. The men, surely will follow.

    When the president of your country (who was re-elected for a second term!) is acquitted of rape because the victim, despite clearly not wanting to have sex, “didn’t say no” and said victim is then hounded and threatened until she had to fled South Africa and seek asylum in the Netherlands and things just go back to their poisonous levels of normal afterwards with no harm no foul kind of attitutes, then yes, I do think that politicizing the issue and forcing the government to take a stance and start seriously implementing strategies (as opposed to just talking about it and making empty promises) may be the first step, in addition to the work done by grassroots activists.

    It’s weird, here in South Africa, and really hard to explain. According to many of the important measures, we’re doing really well against sexism. On paper. We have gender equality enshrined as absolute in the constitution and have the third highest female government representation in the world. We have drives for education all children, for helping encouraging girls to get into STEM fields, and women have traditionally been part of the work force (albeit in low-paying, low-status jobs, but still). When we struggled for suffrage for all South Africans, regardless of race, colour or creed, we included women in that catagory *by default*. Women fill many positions of power, and even the backlash against feminism we see so clearly is not present (or at least not so VOCAL) that I’ve experienced here in South Africa.

    Yet the prevailing culture (and I do not mean “culture” as a euphemism for ‘black’ or ‘indigenous’ or the other racist shit people often like to sneak in when they say “culture”, I mean the literal overarching country culture that runs the same shit through all peoples and subcultures of South Africa) is still demonstrably and DEEPLY toxic against women. (On my darker days, I sometimes feel that the reason the MRA and backlash is not so loud here in ZA because their ideals and ‘ideas’ are already mostly realized on a cultural, societal level, here.)

    When you add to that the legacy and normalization of violence that’s been woven into the fabric of the country without any noticeable non-violent periods since even before the institutionalization of Apartheid (in fact, since just about the time the Dutch first came to the Cape and colonized…) and the current socio-economic crisis which is actually more of a collapse, where unemployment and EXTREME poverty affects the majority of the country…

    Well. I’m not sure how to even *begin* thinking about addressing these problems, which all feed on each other and amplify each other and form a vicious cycle that gets louder and louder and worse and worse every year (it feels like) in a sustainable manner.

  7. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Oh, and regarding Dlamini Rebombo:

    In a country that often feels like MRA utopia on a cultural and societal level in some ways, he made the step of realizing that what he did was wrong, despite most of society telling him otherwise and trying to excuse people who do what he does, despite between one third and one quarter of other South African men admitting to committing that same crime*, despite every other thing that’s going on here – the poverty, the unemployment, the crime, the violence, the history, etc.

    He realized what he did was wrong and unconscionable, tried to make amends to his victim and dedicated his life to not only helping rape victims, but speaking out against an entire country’s culture and perceptions. Once again, let me just reiterate: he did all of this in a country and culture which is in many aspects, most especially regarding those dealing with sexual violence and domestic violence, an MRA’s fondest utopian dream.

    I respect the hell out of that.

    Jewkes, Rachel; Yandisa Sikweyiya1, Robert Morrell, Kristin Dunkle (2009). UNDERSTANDING MEN’S HEALTH AND USE OF VIOLENCE: INTERFACE OF RAPE AND HIV IN SOUTH AFRICA (Report). South African Medical Research Council. Retrieved 24 October 2010.

    Also read:

  8. says

    All of you are absolutely right about Dlamini Rebombo and I’m sorry I didn’t think of that to begin with. Special thanks to Gen for putting it in such great perspective.

  9. Lacri says

    “rape has become normalized there”

    I have to take issue with this. In many ways it’s true, for the reasons you’ve given (or quoted). But there is also the phenomenon that atrocities in Africa have become normalized to people in developed countries. The Delhi gang rape was international news, but Anene’s story doesn’t evoke a fraction of the coverage or the outrage. What do you expect in Africa, after all? Last I looked (admittedly some hours ago), nobody had mustered up enough interest to comment on your first Anene post. And I’ve just left a Facebook group which is supposed to be about women’s issues because all the first world princesses objected to having the gory details “forced” on them. A murdered, mutilated and brutalised African women is just as murdered, mutilated and brutalised as anybody else, it’s just that nobody really cares. Thank you, Ophelia, for being one of to tell Anene’s story..

  10. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Lacri, thank you for making that point, it’s a very important and relevant (and true!) point to have. I am a white South African and I know I see only a fraction of the reality of the racism involved due to my privilege, but I’d like to add to your point that it’s not just the outside world, if I can put it like that, that normalizes rape in the African and South African context, but inside ZA itself you can see in any commentary of the story and similar stories where the victim is black: “yes, it’s their culture”, with “culture” meaning “barbarism” and “their” meaning “black/indigenous”.

    As a surprise to absolutely no one, comments like this most often come from white commentators, which brings in an odious level of racism from within as well as from without. Also, in what I’m sure will be an absolute shocking turn of events, comments like these are absent when the victim/rapists are white.

  11. says

    Just a note re. context (I’m a South African, who happens to also be friendly with Mazibuko) – that is standard language for our National Assembly (Parliament), where debates are the mechanism by which actions (sometimes) end up being taken. Furthermore, it’s a *very* patriarchal and conservative society. Last year, for example, a bill called the Traditional Courts Bill was being debated, and this Bill basically removed the right to legal representation for some women. One of the sponsors of the Bill is in this same Parliament, and he’d certainly have different attitudes to rape than readers of B&W would, and that Mazibuko would. I debated him on radio last year, and he was quite certain that animal sacrifices at dangerous traffic intersections would stop road deaths – so, not a very critical thinker. In that context, having the “debate” in Parliament is not a risk-free move, and is an essential first step to any possible increase in policing, support, and so forth to minimize both the incidence and lasting damage of rape.

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