South Africa: Where Corruption, Rape and Murder Are Normal

liberia-danger_1123070iI met a woman from South Africa the other day. What she said shocked me.

“Not long ago, I thought I was going to get raped and murdered by the police.”

What?

She was on her way home to her acreage in a farming community outside Johannesburg when she approached a four-way stop.

“This intersection is known for carjackings,” she said. “No one stops. You just slow down enough to make sure you are not going to hit anyone, and keep going.

“You know what happens to people who get carjacked?” she asked.

I had a vague idea, I thought. But I actually didn’t have a clue.

The next thing she knew, flashing lights appeared in her rearview mirror. It was thereservist police—basically volunteer police officers.

“There was no way I was stopping,” she said. “Even if it really was the police, who knows what they might have done to me.” She stomped on the gas. “Up where I live, when the police try to pull you over, you just head for the nearest police station and hope you make it.”

She didn’t. She was rammed off the road. “Lucky I was driving a big truck,” she said matter-of-factly. “I kept going.”

She phoned to confirm that the police were real, and to let someone else know what was going on and to come and find her. Then she pulled to a stop.

And she went from being a motorist on the way home to a woman alone in a field with a bunch of armed, angry men yelling at her and telling her she was going to jail.

“Do you know what happens to white girls in jail?” she asked.

Thankfully, she didn’t go to jail, and she didn’t get attacked in the field. And it was a good thing after all that she didn’t make it to the police station either; she later learned that the one she was headed for was one of the “bad” ones.

“So many of the police are thugs and criminals,” she said. “You can’t trust them. And you don’t even know if they really are the police. People steal police cars. They have uniforms, and even bulletproof vests. Then you see it on the news, women brutally raped and murdered, or tortured.” Yes, by police officers.

“People are raped all the time,” she said. “It is part of the culture.”

The mainstream media report regularly on atrocities in Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Syria. We rarely hear about South Africa. But what is happening there is deeply troubling—for a number of reasons. It also holds some powerful lessons for those of us who live elsewhere.

Fact of Life: Rape Culture

This might seem like just one person’s subjective opinion. But if you look up the facts, they will stun you even more. If you have a daughter, think about her. Then think about this: One out of three South African girls will be raped before she turns 18.

Almost three out of four South African women have been sexually abused at least once.

South African women have a greater chance of being raped than of graduating from high school.

What kind of country is this?

Where is the outcry? Why isn’t this all over the news? Why aren’t women’s groups crying out at the top of their lungs? Why aren’t people demonstrating? This is South Africa, a country considered modern and civilized. Now it has descended—without much fuss, apparently—into a jungle of chaos.

Yet even South Africans don’t really understand what is happening to their country. They feel the temperature rising, but seem dulled to the danger.

One recent study examined about 250 reported rapes from 2005 to 2007 that occurred in the vicinity of one small town. More than half of the reported victims werechildren. Yet, only nine of the accused were convicted. Only seven received jail sentences.

Two hundred and fifty rapists—seven convicted. Yet, no media firestorm. No international protest. The incomprehensible has become a fact of life for South Africans. They have a saying for this: Only in Africa.

Several men were accused of five or six rapes, according to the study’s authors. Not one was convicted. Only in Africa.

An astounding 66,000 rapes occur in South Africa each year—one every four minutes. Interpol says this makes South Africa the rape capital of the world. According to experts, rape is so common, justice is so rarely served, and so many women have been raped so many times that many women don’t bother reporting it.

That’s just the way it is in South Africa.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that a police constable was still working for the force even though he had been accused of 14 rapes over the past two years—some of which allegedly took place while he was in uniform. That follows the arrest of a police officer accused of raping a 14-year-old boy, and another officer accused of raping a woman who came to the police station to report a crime.

Log on to South Africa’s Independent Police Investigative Directorate website (http://www.ipid.gov.za/media_statements/media_statements.asp) and see for yourself. In September, two constables were arrested for rape, one of them for raping a female inmate. In August, a captain was arrested on rape charges. In July, four more constables were arrested for various rapes, one for multiple counts. Another police captain was arrested for raping a woman in his police car and threatening to kill her and her family if she reported it. And a 41-year-old warrant officer was arrested for raping a 14-year-old girl multiple times.

It is not just police officers. Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was embroiled in an alleged rape and blackmail scandal earlier this year. A few years ago, it was President Jacob Zuma himself. Some judges even seem to empathize with rapists. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is accused of reducing sentences because the rapists are poor—and black.

A 2010 Medical Research Foundation survey found that more than 37 percent of menadmitted to raping at least one woman. Seven percent said they had participated in a gang rape. The researchers found that with many of the men, the idea of forcing someone to have sex with them was trivial, and “seen as a legitimate activity.” A 2007 survey found similar results.

A legitimate activity? Are these 18.9 million men out of their minds?

In February, a 17-year-old girl was brutally gang-raped, gutted and dumped, still alive, at a construction site. She was discovered and taken to the hospital, where she died. The story made international headlines. But in South Africa? There were some small protests, but then life went on.

And so did the brutality.

An 80-year-old woman was raped by her 18-year-old neighbor. A 26-year-old was abducted from her house and gang-raped. A man committed suicide while in jail after being accused of raping 33 girls and 2 women.

Experts say many young men rape women to prove their manhood. Sometimes it is part of gang initiations. Other times it is “corrective rape” to convert suspected lesbians. Many other rapes are due to tribal witch doctors who claim that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. Experts say this is why there are so many reports of babies and children—5-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 2-year-olds—being raped.

In 2007, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS said there were 22.5 million South Africans with HIV, the virus that causes AIDs. That is twice the number of HIV-positive people in the rest of the world combined.

Fact of Life: Police Are Criminal

How do you live in a society where rape is considered legitimate by so many? In a society that reveres witch doctors and voodoo magic? In a country where the most important institutions are irreversibly corrupt? You get cynical, it seems. You go numb.

“No one trusts the police or any government institution anymore,” said the woman I met. “Not long ago, the army was fighting the police.”

Surely she was exaggerating.

Sadly, she was not. In July, Transparency International released its 2013 Global Corruption Barometer report. It found South Africa to be among the most corrupt countries in the world. According to its findings, an astounding 83 percent of South Africans believe that the police force is corrupt. And 36 percent of respondents admitted to paying at least one bribe to the police.

South Africa’s shadow minister of police Dianne Kohler-Barnard said that upon reflection, she wasn’t surprised at the findings. The recent murder of people in broad daylight by police officers was an indication of the nature of the country’s police force, she said. “Police demand bribes each time they stop a car, and they threaten those who refuse to pay bribes. … Police steal from houses of victims of crime when they go to their houses to get statements from the victim. … There is this issue or tendency of circulating criminal elements within the police by moving them from one station to another instead of dismissing them,” she said.

In July, an internal South African police force audit revealed that 1,448 police employees, including a major general, 10 brigadiers, 21 colonels, 43 lieutenant colonels, 10 majors, 163 captains and 706 warrant officers, had undisclosed criminal convictions for murder, attempted murder, homicide, rape, attempted rape, assault, aiding and abetting, theft, breaking and entering, drug trafficking, kidnapping, robbery, malicious damage to property, and domestic violence. The vast majority were top brass. The same audit found that there were “serious challenges” regarding the management of discipline in the department.

In recent years, the police force has become internationally notorious for its brutality and corruption. Nine policemen were arrested earlier this year for murder, but only after a video surfaced showing them tying a man to a van and dragging him through the streets before killing him. And in May, a policeman was caught on tape pimping a policewoman to a man in a mall parking lot.

Fact of Life: Whites Are Targeted

And as bad as it is for South Africans in general, if you are an Afrikaner farmer, it is worse.

“The white farmers are being targeted,” said the South African woman. “But the government won’t do anything about it.”

Again, the statistics confirm what she said.

Last year, South Africa had an astoundingly high murder rate of 31.9 per 100,000 people, according to police statistics. That is almost 20 times the murder rate of Canada, 27 times the rate in the United Kingdom, and more than 30 times the rate in Australia or New Zealand. South Africa’s murder rate is almost twice as high as Rwanda, Chad, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.

But for white farmers in South Africa, the murder rate is 99 per 100,000!

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