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Rape in South Africa

Aired March 23, 2006 - 18:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST: South Africa's epidemic of sexual assault. Victims don't come forward, courts don't convict, so the country's curse keeps getting worse.
Hello and welcome.

South Africans have been shocked by a rape case that's making headlines. Not the one involving the country's most popular politician who stands accused by a family friend, a woman who says she had already been raped before. That one got underway two weeks ago.

The latest outrage involves three men accused of gang raping a nanny and murdering the four-year-old girl in her care.

Relative to its population, South Africa has more reported cases of rape than any country on earth. The number of victims keeps going up, and so do the number of victims who are children.

On our program today, rape in South Africa.

This story from CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh.


ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This little girl was just four when a neighbor's friend allegedly lured her from this yard then savagely raped her.

Eight months later, her guardian and grandmother, Elizabeth Getze (ph) is trying to understand why.

"I really want to ask him, did you try to kill my child? When my child was lying there, screaming, didn't you feel anything?" she tells me.

Neighbors chased down and dragged the alleged rapist to this police station where he's awaiting trial. This little girl's alleged ordeal is just one of an estimated 55,000 reported rapes per year in South Africa.

ANNIKA PIENAAR, SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICE: Not all the cases that the police service actually deals with are reported in the media.

VAN MARSH: But those that are reported are shocking. Allegations of gang rape, the use of beer bottles, of rape victims left for dead.

A most damning accusation made by South Africa's Oscar winning actress a few years ago.

CHARLIZE THERON, ACTRESS: Well, if you consider that more women are raped in South Africa than any other country in the world.

VAN MARSH: That statistic is often quoted, but it's also hotly disputed by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki.

South Africa is already labelled with having one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates on earth. So the rape trial of Mr. Mbeki's political party No. 2, South Africa's former Deputy President Jacob Zuma, isn't helping things. Zuma's supporters, like most South Africans, are watching Zuma fight charges that he had forced unprotected sex with an HIV-positive family friend nearly half his age.

The wildly popular Zuma, once considered to be South Africa's likely next president, says the sex was consensual, not rape.

DELPHINE SUTAMAGA (ph), ACTIVIST: We call it a crisis. It is a rape crisis.

VAN MARSH: Delphine Sutamaga (ph) is one of dozens of activists inside and outside of Johannesburg's high court in support of Zuma's accuser. She says only one in nine victims actually report rape to South African police. Why? Sutamaga (ph) says look at the reaction to the accuser in the Zuma case. Zuma supporters, many from his African National Congress Party singing nasty songs about the accuser with lyrics like "burn the bitch."

Others proceeded to do just that to her photocopied image outside the courthouse. A local newspaper published her identity and the Court has allowed her sexual history into evidence.

SUTAMAGA (ph): This is a commentary of what society is saying about a raped woman.

VAN MARSH: While the case is still being argued in court, there is a growing outcry over the message this trial is sending.

This petition, signed and circulated by prominent South African women, including a former ambassador and a senior ANC Women's League official. They say the trial is eroding women's rights and may discourage rape survivors from speaking out.

Luke Lamprecht runs South Africa's Teddy Bear Clinic. It specializes in child abuse, including rape. He says another factor keeping people from reporting rape is South Africa's apartheid past, a time when Luke says police were administering social policy instead of law, order and service.

But he says that's changing.

LUKE LAMPRECHT, TEDDY BEAR CLINIC: The prevalence that we're seeing at the moment might be as a result of the fact that there are finally good services available 10 years into democracy and so on, that people are finally trusting the justice system.

VAN MARSH: South African President Thabo Mbeki has always championed the rights of women and children, but his critics say South Africa's alarming rape statistics indicate his message is not reaching the masses.

The president doesn't take questions from reporters every day, so we asked him about issues of rape here at a recent press conference with the U.N. secretary-general.

(on camera): To what degree is your administration handling what some would argue is South Africa's rape crisis?

THABO MBEKI, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: We didn't discuss that question with the secretary-general at all, so I'm not quite sure that we should discuss it here, now. I can volunteer, let's discuss that question afterwards. We'll do that.

VAN MARSH (voice-over): CNN followed up with two of Mr. Mbeki's aides and later emailed his spokesperson, but still no answer to that question.

Former medical technician Sonette Ehlers says she's invented one solution to South Africa's rape problem.

SONETTE EHLERS, RAPEX INVENTOR: The RapeX is made of latex.

VAN MARSH: She calls this prototype RapeX. It's a female condom-like device Ehlers says women should insert like a tampon if they fear being raped.

EHLERS: I feel it's the same as burglar bars on my windows. Why have I got burglar bars on my windows? I don't know when somebody is going to burgle my house, but I put it there in case, and the same with RapeX.

VAN MARSH: Here is the literal catch. This latex prototype has four pointed plastic hooks on the inside designed to attach themselves to an attacker on the way out. Ehlers says it can only be removed medically.

EHLERS: There won't be much blood because it only goes skin deep. It does not go into the spongy tissue, because I am not out for vengeance. It's purely to tag the guy and that he must turn himself in.

VAN MARSH: Even if RapeX were on the market, it would not have kept Elizabeth Getze's (ph) granddaughter safe from her alleged attacker, but Elizabeth says she is satisfied with the counseling and support services from the state helping her granddaughter return to what she calls a, quote, "normal childhood."

(on camera): Elizabeth Getze's (ph) satisfaction may be showing some signs of strain. There has been little movement in the case against the man accused of raping her granddaughter last July. According to authorities, now eight months on, the man still doesn't have a court- appointed lawyer.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, Johannesburg.


MANN: We take a break. When we come back, schoolteachers and a terrible lesson.

Stay with us.


MANN: Rape is so commonplace in South Africa, young people aren't even sure it's always a crime. A study of the country's teenagers found that more than half don't consider forced sex an assault if the victim is attacked by someone they already know.

Welcome back.

In South Africa, the victims do tend to know their attackers. A stunning example, the many children who are raped by their teachers.

Once again, here is Alphonso Van Marsh.


VAN MARSH: This teenager wearing the white hat says her schoolteacher raped her when she was just 13. We can't identify her, but her aunt and grandmother say after the alleged assault the teacher offered a startling confession.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He came here, sat where you are sitting. He told us how sorry he was and he's willing to pay, you know, for the damage and for the pain that he has caused.

I remember standing up, you know, looking for a knife. I wanted to kill that bastard.

VAN MARSH: She didn't kill him, but the family did convince police to investigate the school where the alleged attack took place. Now, three years later, the teacher is on trial for rape and he's still teaching at the same school.

BEN BOTES, ATTORNEY: There was sexual intercourse between the two parties. What we are saying, it was with permission. That basically makes my client guilty of a Section 14 offense, which is intercourse with a girl under the age of 16 years old.

VAN MARSH: Criminal lawyers say the sentence under Section 14 usually means less jail time than a rape conviction, and in some cases no jail time at all.

The South African Council of Educators says in the last two years at least 35 teachers, out of some 450,000, have lost their jobs because of improper relationships with students.

RAJ BRYAJ (ph) SOUTH AFRICAN COUNCIL OF EDUCATORS: It is a scourge that we want completely removed from our society. However small it may be.

VAN MARSH (on camera): There is a legal loophole in South Africa which may allow predatory teachers continued access to children.

According to current legislation, if a teacher is found guilty of having sex with a student from his or her school, that teacher must be fired. But if that student comes from another school, well that's not so clear.

(voice-over): Last year parliament turned down a proposal that would have mandated the firing of teachers found guilty of sexual relations with any student from any school. A Department of Education legal affairs adviser says the proposal was flawed because it limited a teacher's constitutional right to freedom of association.

Parliamentarian Bahudi Tolo (ph), chairman of the Educational Committee that rejected the proposal, told CNN it was just too hard to enforce.

Meanwhile, the teacher at Elite Primary who admitted to Sylvia he'd had sex with her 13-year-old niece made the same admission in court. The head of the South African Council of Educators, the group that can ban teachers from working, says the teacher, by his own admission, broke council rules.

BRYAJ (ph): And it is written into our code of ethics that a relationship with a learner at any school is not permissible.

VAN MARSH: The council had its own disciplinary hearing for the accused teacher. Lawyer Ben Botes says his client admitted to consensual sex there too.

BOTES: That's what I'm saying, and that's exactly what was said during the disciplinary trial.

VAN MARSH: The council fined the teacher a month's salary and ordered him into counseling. The council says it offered the teenaged accuser an apology. And the council told the teacher he could continue to teach as long as there wasn't another complaint against him for 10 years.

(on camera): If you had a daughter of primary school age, would you allow her to be in this educator's classroom?

BRYAJ (ph): If I had a daughter of school-going age, I would advise her to be careful. I would contradict myself if I had to say to her not to go to school.

VAN MARSH (voice-over): The teacher's accuser attends a different school now. Her family says she's changed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a quiet girl before, but now, you know, she's a bull.

VAN MARSH: A bull who sees red knowing the man who admitted to having sex with her when she was just 13 is still free and still working around children.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, Johannesburg.


MANN: It's a horrific problem and one that doesn't seem to be getting any better. In fact, it's getting worse.

Earlier we talked to Charlene Smith, a journalist who is also a rape survivor, about the links between South Africa's problems and its past.


CHARLENE SMITH, JOURNALIST/RAPE SURVIVOR: I think it's fairly common within a society that's a post-conflictual society. We've got -- we had apartheid conflict. We've got very, very high rates of unemployment, 40 percent unemployment, 57 percent of our people live in poverty.

And I think that we've got a culture of entitlement, where men think that they can do what they want with women when they want. And there is a culture of disrespect towards women and children. And that's hugely problematic.

And, of course, we've got very, very poor policing at this stage. We've got some very good police officers, but the rate of actual arrest -- there's insufficient police officers that are investigating rape. According to our criminal justice system, 50 percent of all the cases before our courts are rape, which is an unbelievable percentage for any country.

MANN: So is this a law and order problem or is it is national sickness?

SMITH: I think it's a national sickness. I think it's a problem with the way we bring up our children. I think it's a problem with attitudes in our society. We've got a case at the moment where the deputy president -- the former deputy president -- is on trial for rape. And some of the scenes outside of court have been so disrespectful towards the woman testifying.

As an example, they thought that another woman was the complainant and they stoned her outside the court.

So that's a huge disincentive for women to lay charges of rape in this country. Despite that, however, the South African Law Commission estimates that there is an average of 1.69 million women and children who are raped in this country each year, and that's a country of 42 million people.

Of those people who are raped, 40 percent will become HIV positive if they don't receive preventative medication.

MANN: We're going to talk more about that in a moment, but let me ask you about the young people. You mentioned them in passing, and I'm sure you've seen the poll that shocked so many other people. I think it was 58 percent of teens in South Africa, both young men and young women, said it didn't constitute sexual violence if the rapist and the victim knew each other before the attack.

Why would so many young people think that that was so normal?

SMITH: Because I think we've got a break down in parenting. I think we've got a breakdown in families. I think that started with apartheid, but I thing that's something that's continued.

There is a lack of respect. There is a lack of family values. There is very little guidance. And, as I said earlier, there is a cultural way if a man wants a woman to do something, she must do it.

We've got a female homicide rate in this country where every six hours a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. And that shows a society where people feel no restraints in terms of harming a woman or a child. They believe they will get away with it. And in the majority of cases, they will get away with it.

We've got a conviction rate for rape, as an example, of just over 1 percent. It's unacceptable and it sends out a message that if you harm a woman, the chances are that you will get away with it.

MANN: Where is the government in this?

SMITH: Well, that's part of the problem. We have a government where the president has regularly attacked rape survivors, including myself, for speaking out about rape, for telling people about the very high statistics for expressing alarm about the situation.

We have a situation where a third of the women in our cabinet are women, and yet as an example we've got new sexual offenses legislation that's been waiting before parliament for the last four years and those women in cabinet were sitting in cabinet when the legislation came before parliament and they removed a section which would have demanded that women who are raped get free medical care to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

They removed that section, but left in the section that followed it, which guarantees medical treatment to the rapist, including preventive medication and assistance to cure him of any narcotics or alcohol related problems.

MANN: Just one last question. You are a victim, you are a survivor, and you're an activist. How much of what you do now is fueled by anger that it happened to you and that it's still happening every day, every hour?

SMITH: I think it's fueled mostly by the fact that I love my country. I really, really love this country and I believe in the people of this country, and I believe that there are more good people than bad people.

But the things that bad people do are so appalling and so disturbing. 40 percent of rape is rape against children. And we can't do that, because we build up generations of young people that are harmed and are more likely to inflict violence upon themselves and other people in the future.

So I think I'm motivated mostly by the fact that I really love this country and I want my children to have a place in it.

MANN: Charlene Smith, journalist, activist, survivor, thank you so much for talking with us.


We have to take a break now. When we come back, a crime compounded, rape and AIDS in South Africa.

Stay with us.


MANN: Long before the outbreak of AIDS there was a myth about sexually transmitted diseases known as the virgin cure. The name says it all, that sex with a virgin would restore a person's health.

In South Africa, where so many adults and even teens are HIV positive, rapists turn to younger and younger children at least in part because some sincerely believe that terrible lie.

Welcome back.

It's not just rape. South Africa sets a record for AIDS as well. It has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS. There are believed to be at least 5 million. And rape obviously only helps spread the disease more widely.

Joining us now to talk about that is Joseph Amon, who directs the program for HIV/AIDS at Human Rights Watch.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Is that the correlation? More rape-more AIDS, and that's why South Africa is a leader in both?

JOSEPH AMON, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Absolutely. There is undisputedly a correlation. And South Africa not only has the highest number of cases of AIDS worldwide, but it also had one of the steepest rises, from 1 percent of the population, of the adult population, with HIV, to 25 percent of the adult population with HIV in a decade. And that has everything to do with the rate of sexual violence and rape in South Africa.

MANN: Now, the health minister says that the rate of transmission that you were talking about, the rate of transmission is still growing, but it's growing more slowly than it did during that explosive period. That's said to be good news. Is it?

AMON: Well, absolutely. I mean, it's good news that it's not growing as quickly, but I'm not sure how much of that credit can go to the government of South Africa.

There has been quite a number of dynamic nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations, that have stepped in and done tremendous work spreading information about HIV prevention and getting HIV treatments to the populations who need them.

MANN: What's the government been doing? Or not doing?

AMON: One thing that the government has been doing is dragging its feet and just very slowly responding and continuing to sort of fail to dispel the myths that you mentioned and to really fail to promote antiretroviral therapies as life-saving therapies.

And, you know, the minister of health in South Africa continues to talk about garlic and vitamins and other absolute nonsense inaccuracies about how to treat HIV positive individuals.

MANN: It's extraordinary. I just want to go back to that. This is the minister of health, after all, who is counseling people to eat garlic and beetroot and African potato rather than taking medication. It's unbelievable.

What's the reaction in the medical community?

AMON: The medical community is absolutely united that this is a ridiculous, counterproductive approach. There is no debate, really, at all.

And one of the things I find just tremendously difficult is that South Africa is a real leader within sub-Saharan Africa. And there would be an opportunity for South Africa to lead on AIDS, and that hasn't happened.

And consequently, many other countries that look to South Africa have also had a much slower response than they should.

MANN: Does anyone know how many of the child rapes really are from this terrible myth about the virgin cure and how many are just because of perpetrators who are evil or sick?

AMON: You know, I don't think there is any good evidence that would give you a figure for that. And I think that the virgin myth cure is something that's found in almost every country to some extent or another. And it's, in my mind, not as important as a lot of the things that you mentioned in your report, just widespread impunity for rapists and a culture and a government which has failed to protect its population.

MANN: And there is a whole generation of young South Africans with this as part of their culture. What does that auger for the future of that country?

AMON: Well, it's a tremendously heartrending phenomenon to see the social fabric being ripped apart.

Charlene Smith mentioned 40 percent of rape victims become HIV positive. Two years ago Human Rights Watch issued a report of post- exposure prophylaxis. We have the drugs that could prevent that from happening, and the government has not done enough to make sure that rape victims come forward and are given those drugs in a timely fashion to prevent HIV transmission.

And on top of that, there are so many other things that they could do in terms of reforming the legal system in order to make it more effective at bringing rape perpetrators to trial and making sure that they get convicted, that it's very much unnecessary and it's a tragedy.

MANN: Joseph Amon, of Human Rights Watch, thanks very much for this.

AMON: Thank you.

MANN: That's INSIGHT. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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