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Violent Times

Violent Times

The news of the fatal Valentine's Day shooting in South Africa of celebrity Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend world athletics icon Oscar Pistorius has shocked the country to its core. That shock was profound because Pistorius is the personification of the spirit of determination over adversity, and is someone who has transcended his physical disability to become a global sports champion and role model for all South Africans.

The shooting comes on the tip of a wave of violence in South Africa that has stretched from the horrendous Marikana massacre at Lonmin Mine in August last year that left 34 people dead, to almost daily ongoing service delivery, land demarcations and farm workers protests.

But perhaps the most horrifying violence besieging the country is that of sexual violence against women, born out by the recent death of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was gang raped, mutilated and left for dead. It was while this case whipped up the wrath of South Africans that news of the Oscar Pistorius tragedy broke, further highlighting the fear of violence women in the country live with daily.

A recent police study estimates that only one in 36 rape cases are reported in a country where more than 60 000 rapes are made known to the police each year. This puts South Africa as a world leader in rape, a title that the country seen as the gateway to Africa can do without.

The outrage about Anene Booysen's rape gained so much momentum that it prompted President Jacob Zuma to acknowledge the Booysen attack and speak at length on sexual violence in his State of the Nation address, calling for the harshest sentences on such crimes as part of a concerted campaign the end this scourge in South African society.

Much of the outrage about rape is being directed at the government and its failure to prevent violence against women and girls. This comes with calls for police to be better equipped to investigate sexual violence and the country's world class legal and policy framework to address violence against women to be more effective and fair when prosecuting rapists.

However the problem is much deeper than government's shortcomings. While poverty, unemployment and drug abuse no doubt are factors influencing rape, it is the deep scars left by the violent past apartheid system that lies at the root of this violence, across all race groups. Violence became the apartheid daily norm, and has never been adequately dealt with, leaving South Africa in danger of becoming immune to violence, as it was in the apartheid past.

Society as a whole must work collectively to prevent rape and not rely only on the government. Society must educate young men, both at home and in schools and ensure they are taught that women have the right to equality and a life that excludes violence perpetrated against them. It must start with mothers, fathers, social groups and extend to government and is non negotiable. Sexism at any level of the social and government fabric cannot be tolerated and this requires total commitment.

Simply put - violence against women will only stop when men stop committing the violence.

Posted by Francisco Little on 4/22/13

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