Letter from Africa: Soul-searching over rape crimes
- 30 October 2013
- From the section Africa
In our series of letters from African journalists, filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers the recent case of the rape and killing of two South African children in Diepsloot.
My abiding memories of Diepsloot - the sprawling shanty town north of Johannesburg - since reporting from there in 2004 are of metal shacks housing many people in small spaces, the smell of paraffin in the darkness, an absence of light, not enough sanitation and vigilantes trying to protect a community from criminals in the face of zero police presence.
Nearly a decade on, nothing much has changed and the police still do not have a permanent presence in this sprawling eyesore of 70% unemployment which was the setting for the heart-wrenching tragedy that brought the police onto Diepsloot's streets.
This month, two cousins, Zandile and Yonelisa Mali, aged two and three, were allegedly abducted in broad daylight by a man who sparked a nationwide hunt and despair in the hearts of mothers everywhere.
The subsequent search ended with the discovery of the children's raped bodies in a public toilet - and the ripples of this heinous crime have the nation soul-searching and the politicians promising justice, while urging restraint.
Last month, Anelise Mkhondo's five-year-old body was found raped and strangled a hundred yards away from the same public toilet in Diepsloot.
Five men have been arrested for the alleged abduction, rape and murder of the cousins, calming an incendiary atmosphere in Diepsloot, whose residents threatened to target foreigners and lash out at the government's lack of will in providing security for the youngest of the poorest in Africa's most developed nation.
It is easy to sit in armchair judgement about our continent's ills and wonder at the contradictions in policy and rights.
But what is it about some South African males that render them incapable of relationships with adult females?
How wrong was the first person to suggest that raping a child could cure a grown adult man of Aids?
And what of women with Aids? Is there a supposed cure for them through young boys?
Which mystic "muti" pedlar suggested a man's riches can be increased by human sacrifice and the body parts of young children?
As Gauteng Premiere Nomvula Mokonyane attempted to calm the Diepsloot community with words like "enough is enough", the crowd listened but did not follow her when she urged them to let the police do their jobs and bring these men to justice.
They wanted the suspects to be released to them, into their angry hands for the kind of justice any parent wants before reason and humanity bring them back from the brink of barbarity - the kind that had claimed their daughters.
Meeting for men?
There is of course a tendency among all of us in a changing Africa to decry negative images of our continent and ask where in the world are paedophiles not present, that men rape and that is all there is to it.
But step away from the war zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo and consider the figures.
According to the police, a child is raped every three minutes in the "Rainbow Nation".
South Africa's Medical Research Council (MRC) said that in 2009, 40% of all victims who reported rape to the police were under 18 and 15% under 12.
It is in South Africa that nine-month-old girls have been victims of rape.
And, as in every country, only a small fraction of rapes are reported to the police.
Then there is the "corrective rape" of lesbian women, the sexual harassment of students by pupils and teachers and never mind the knee-jerk xenophobia - a third of rape cases against minors are committed by a family member or close relative.
The world is fond of reminding women and girls that they matter in memorable UN days, in Women Empowerment conferences, in A World of Women celebrations - fair enough.
But in South Africa it is time for the men to have a serious meeting.
It is not the politicians, it is not poverty, it is not muti or juju it is not anything but the sickness in our heads.
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