Attack on Anene Booysen likened to Delhi bus case, but similar protests unlikely in country where rape has become normalised
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. He and another man have been detained, and police say more arrests are likely.
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.
In January the Daily Maverick website asked: “Where is South Africa’s Jantar Mantar moment?“, referring to the location of the gang rape in the Indian capital and subsequent protests. On Thursday it appeared that politicians sensed that the death of Booysen might provide it.
The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said: “The whole nation is outraged at this extreme violation and destruction of a young human life. This act is shocking, cruel and most inhumane. It has no place in our country. We must never allow ourselves to get used to these acts of base criminality to our women and children.”
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.”
Rachel Jewkes, acting president of the South African Medical Research Council, said it had been researching sexual violence for 20 years and found between a quarter and third of men admit rape, indicating widespread social acceptance. “It suggests we’re not making any progress in combating rape in South Africa.”
But comparisons with India are unhelpful, she added. “In many ways gender relations in India are probably worse than they are here. In South Africa this issue has been in the spotlight for a long time; in India has been largely ignored. I noticed some religious leaders in India blaming the victim; at least we have moved beyond that with leaders in South Africa. But both countries have a major problem in terms of not tackling the issue.”