What the world thinks of South African men

18 Jun

In between tales of Confederate Cup games and rugby team excursions, World Cup preparations and political escapades, this story has reverberated through media in the U.S and the U.K.:

MRC: Quarter of men in South Africa admit rape

“One in four men in South Africa have admitted to rape and many confess to attacking more than one victim, according to a study that exposes the country’s endemic culture of sexual violence.

Three out of four rapists first attacked while still in their teens, the study found. One in 20 men said they had raped a woman or girl in the last year.”

I find it deeply frustrating that my home – a country I love so much – is becoming renown for its violence against women.

My opinion on this story, and a list of international coverage after the jump …

But first, are the topics of politics and sexual assault related? Absolutely. One example is the situation our current President faced a few years ago, standing trial for rape and failing to condemn the behaviour of protestors outside, screaming “Burn the bitch” and setting women’s underwear alight.

Another example is the fact that, as reported in the Mail & Guardian“only a fraction [of rapes] are reported, and only a fraction of those lead to a conviction.”

This last fact is a result of, in my opinion, a government that has not prioritised issues of sexual violence, one that has failed to provide protection to, and support for, women who experience incidences of brutality and abuse.

South African cartoonist Zapiro often spotlights our terrible statistics and attitude towards rape in his satirical cartoons.

South African cartoonist Zapiro often spotlights our terrible statistics and attitude towards rape in his satirical cartoons.

The research for this study was conducted by Professor Rachel Jewkes of the Medical Research Council, whom the M&G quote as saying: “The social space for debating these gender issues is now smaller than it was a few years ago. We need our government to show political leadership in changing attitudes. We need South African men, from the top to the grassroots, to take responsibility.”

Most South African women care for large families, form a substantial part of the “second economy“, deal with the practicalities of living with overwhelming rates of HIV-infection and mother-to-child-transmission, and earn less than men for equal positions. They also live these challenges under a suffocating patriarchy, experiencing prejudice, disrespect and violence on a daily basis.

We may have a large number of women in Parliament, and a reputation for having impressive female politicians, business leaders and entrepeneurs, but that reputation means nothing in the face of statistics like these. It is honestly my belief that disrespect and violence against one female citizen of a country is an abuse of all female members of that society.

It’s always been my opinion that you can assess the state of a country and its potential to thrive by the way it treats its female citizens, by the prioritisation of gender equality on all levels of society. And by this measure, South Africa has failed.

The government itself writes:

Oppressive gender relations are not a natural phenomenon but socially constructed practices. Gender relations can therefore be changed by the very society that created them.

Government has since 1994 embarked on a deliberate campaign to reverse this odious history of gender oppression. No doubt it will take a very long time of hard work before this challenge could be fully and adequately addressed.

This is not a “challenge”. This is a CATASTROPHE. This is a war, waged against women daily. The Commission on Gender Equality needs to regroup, fix its website and push government and communities to honestly and agressively address the issue of gender equality and violence against women – starting with young children in schools who are undoubtedly learning lessons of gender inequality from friends, families, peers and communities who are struggling to deal with sexual violence alone.

The web has great potential for this as well. The web can provide safe spaces for abused women to interact or share their experiences and provide each other with support. Advocacy groups can  gather signatures to petition for local and national government and produce education modules for young children and teenagers to explore after school, or for young adults to study as part of continued education … advertisements, videos, interactive multimedia, press releases – Gender Links, where is your online reaction to this study?!

I believe in the power, strength and beauty of South African women, who I know will forge on and protect their families and communities despite their suffering. They should know that they are not alone though. While they can’t be reassured that government is on their side right now, they should at least know that the people across the world are – including this Jozi girl in the States.

South African rape survey shock BBC
Quarter of men in South Africa admit rape, survey finds guardian.co.uk
One in four SAfrican men admit to rape: study AFP
Shocking study: One in four admit to rape in South Africa Indian Express



At home, we tend to forget how shocking statistics like these are for the global community. People are truly horrified, and struggle to reconcile their perception of the post-apartheid South Africa of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu with a society of men who feel compelled to rape. It may be easier for South Africans who are aware of and experience the legacy of apartheid every day. Politically, things have changed massively since Nelson Mandela stepped down some time ago. The realities of daily life are dealt with by South Africans as best they can. But it’s still very hard for non-South Africans to comprehend these shocking statistics.









Three out of four rapists first attacked while still in their teens, the study found. One in 20 men said they had raped a woman or girl in the last year.”


2 Responses to “What the world thinks of South African men”

  1. jax June 19, 2009 at 5:33 pm #


    An excellent post on moves being made in South Africa to fight for the rights of abused women ….

  2. claire June 19, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    i have not read the article, but i must point out that it was about men in the eastern cape and kzn. which is obviously still TERRIBLE but it really annoys me that the headlines say 1 in 4 SA men, when that is not what the study was about. irresponsible of the M&G. rant out.

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