Rape in South Africa – will the latest horrific attack change attitudes?

Corlia Olivier, who brought up Anene Booysen, holds her ID book

A seventeen year old girl has been found raped and murdered on a construction site 80 miles east of Cape Town in Bredasdorp, South Africa. The young woman named Anene Booysen and was out with friends last Friday evening before she was attacked. Anene was allegedly lured away by her ex boyfriend and taken to a construction site where numerous men attacked her. She was found on Saturday morning by two security guards who tried to save her life but her injuries were too severe and she later died. Anene was ‘sliced’ open allowing the men to tear out intestines and various other organs with their hands. The two security guards who found her are now receiving counselling as her injuries were so horrific.

In South Africa, rape is an all too familiar story with Johannesburg being considered as the ‘rape capital’ of the world. Last month, we seen a young woman gang raped by five men outside Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa. Yet, there was no public outrage or protest, and this attack was generally just accepted and forgotten about.

However, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has condemned the gang rape and mutilation of the 17 year old. President Zuma stated that Anene’s brutal rape and murder was “shocking, cruel and most inhumane.” The President also stated that the courts should impose “harsher sentences” for sex crimes. But then again, would imposing ‘harsher’ sentences resolve cultural norms?

Gang rape in South Africa is considered a ‘male bonding session’ where young boys feel that taking part in a gang rape somehow makes them a man. There needs to be more education and awareness introduced which highlights the impact of rape and how it effects women and their families. In 2009, research highlighted that a quarter of men have carried out an attack on a woman, with more than half admitting they have carried more than one rape.

These statistics should have been the turning point of the Government in tackling rape being a cultural norm, but it wasn’t. The attack on Anene Booysen should spark widespread protests across South Africa.

In response to this brutal attack SAMWU (the South African Municipal Workers’ Union) has stated that;

“The continuation of the scourge of rape, in all its shapes and forms continues to stain the reputation of our beloved country, and the ideals of equality and liberty that underpin our much lauded constitution…. Rape and the threat of rape are now regarded by the UN as one of the most oppressive instruments of subjugation. The latest shocking case of a gang rape against a seventeen year old, who was left for dead, has demanded that we all stop and think about what type of society we are developing. A recent gang rape in India has sparked a mass movement across India and several continents demanding that governments take measures to protect their citizens.This Union believes that much more needs to be done to apply existing laws to make sure that rapists and abusers are brought to court, and convicted, and that our communities are made safe for girls and women and all those who are vulnerable. What is needed is a dramatic change of mindset, and behaviour.

A massive campaign needs to be launched to challenge the patriarchal view of our society. We have to sensitise boys and men that using sexual harassment, violence and worse to oppress girls and women is holding back our development, and is undermining the democratic struggle that brought an end to apartheid. We need education on these issues in every school, college, workplace and community. Secondly, we cannot separate the desperation that is produced from unemployment, poverty and hopelessness and the socially negative behaviour that characterises life in many of our communities.

SAMWU is right. This is a breech of human rights and why should it be tolerated in any society? Change needs to happen. I urge our brothers and sisters in South Africa to stand up against this culture and stop these attacks happening to women. 

Our thoughts are with the friends and family of Anene Booysen.


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