In this struggling community 25 miles south of Johannesburg, children have become prey.
A 15-year-old tells a local physician she is not sure of her parentage. She wonders if the man who says he is her father is telling the truth, ” ‘because every day he would come and climb on top of me and then beat me,”’ said Dumiso Zulu, the doctor, recounting the girl’s words.
A mother refuses to consider that the likely suspect responsible for the anal sores found on her 21-month-old baby is the child’s father. “No, it can’t be,” she told a nurse.
Child rape - and rape in general - has emerged as the new South Africa’s ugly secret.
Nationwide, reported cases of child rape have increased dramatically in recent years, from 7,559 in 1994, to 10,037 in 1995, to 13,859 in 1996, according to police statistics.
Overall, South Africa may have the highest rate of reported rape in the world, police say. Based on total rape figures for the first eight months of 1996, South Africa’s rate of 141 reported rapes per 100,000 females is almost double the U.S. rate for 1995 of 72 rapes per 100,000 females.
Child rapes account for about 38 percent of South Africa’s rapes.
Unlike in the United States, where statisticians believe about 50 percent of rapes are reported, officials here believe only a small portion of the incidents are reported, owing partly to poor record keeping and the bureaucratic chaos caused when South Africa made the transition to democracy in 1994.
“I would go so far as to say there’s a war against women and children, a low-intensity war,” said Marilyn Donaldson, a clinical psychologist in the Johannesburg area. “It just seems like children are bearing the brunt of the insecurity of our transition.”
What South Africa is experiencing, social scientists say, are the effects of profound social upheaval, combined with deep poverty, which has left men feeling frustrated and socially impotent.
The problem flourishes in the black squatter camps where homelessness, hopelessness and social chaos have bred degrading conduct.
It occurs in white homes as well, fueled by a violent culture as well as alcohol abuse, analysts say.
In addition, a strong traditional African culture in which children are taught to respect all elders, even strangers, leaves them easy prey for adults with harmful designs. Some recent rapes also have been fueled by a folk tale that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be cured through sex with a virginal child.
Some say the end of apartheid has left a void in the life of black townships. Under apartheid, township life was defined by the struggle for racial liberation. That struggle spawned community structures such as civic groups, committees or people’s courts that kept a lid on crime.
Those structures, however, have largely fallen away.
The upheavals also have led to changes in the family structure. People break off from their extended families and set up house in places such as Orange Farm.
Often, the new residents here are single mothers, who bring boyfriends or new husbands into tiny homes where one room is made into two with only a curtain as a divider.
Analysts say this proximity between adults and children contributes to rape’s prevalence.
xxxx RAPE RATE South Africa’s rate of 141 reported rapes per 100,000 females is almost double the U.S. rate of 72 rapes per 100,000 females.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.