Rape shame in Limpopo

2013-04-07 10:01

An official document reveals that more than 650 rapes have been reported at just a handful of Limpopo hospitals since January 1. Sipho Masondo tries to make sense of what’s making men in the province he calls home so brutal.

How does a man rise up against his wife, dismember her with an axe and then drag his teenage stepdaughter, her hands bound with a piece of wire, to a graveyard where he rapes her repeatedly?

What goes through the mind of a man who repeatedly rapes his eight-year-old daughter over many days – and possibly even months or years?

No matter how many cases I read while researching this article, the goose bumps did not subside.

My work started when a friend in the police told me he was worried about the increasingly violent and frequent rapes happening in Mankweng, outside Polokwane in Limpopo.

I’m not the only one who was horrified by what I found.

Some of the attacks in Limpopo are so violent and traumatic that staff at the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme have to go for debriefing and counselling sessions, according to the centre’s legal researcher, Fhatuwani Manthada.

Rape is so prevalent and violent in the region that police have called in the University of Limpopo to conduct research that might explain what’s going on.

After a few calls, a source at the provincial health department provided me with some horrifying figures.

Every month, provincial state hospitals must supply the department with figures that show who has been treated, and what brought them there.

Usually, rape survivors were referred to the hospitals by the police stations where they initially reported the attacks.

These are the figures for just 13 of Limpopo’s 40 public hospitals, from January 1 to March 15 this year. The victim empowerment programme also supplied its statistics.

Another police source told me these figures are likely to be a gross understatement of the real problem, since they probably reflect reports from fewer than 30 of Limpopo’s 95 police stations.

“If we take into account the number of police stations and hospitals in the province, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said the correct figure of reported rape cases is over 2?000 now,” he said.

Research suggests that reporting rates for rape in South Africa are just 1 in 9, or as low as 1 in 13.

That means – working with the 650 we’re sure of – that 5?850 people, most of them women and very young children, have been raped in Limpopo in the past three months.

During the last crime statistics period – April 1 2011 to 31 March 2012 – 5?685 rapes were reported in Limpopo alone, with the national figure at 64?694.

Nonkululeko Khumalo, the spokesperson for People Opposing Women Abuse and the victim empowerment programme’s Manthada laid the blame at the door of “our patriarchal societies”.

Khumalo said: “These statistics are absolutely shocking and we as society should not accept them.

“We are failing our women if so many of them are still getting raped just in one province alone, in such a short space of time.

“Men violate women to exert power over them.

Some harmful traditional practices make men rape – men are using cultural beliefs to excuse their dirty behaviour.”

But rape happens so often, she said, that society has become numb to reports.

“We need to go back to a place where the rape of one woman causes outrage to the whole country.”

Manthada, who said the violent nature of rape was worsening, echoed Khumalo’s sentiments.

“We still live in patriarchal societies where men see women as sex objects. We have to deal with that mentality. It’s a challenge,” he said.

Khumalo and colleagues have a plan: they have decided to target primary schools and “indoctrinate” young boys. “If we miss them at primary schools, we’ve lost the battle,” she said.

Captain Ronel Otto, the police spokesperson in Limpopo, refused to release police rape statistics.

These are usually only made public when the police minister presents national crime statistics towards the end of each year.

Otto said rape was a complex social issue.

“Informal research has shown that the age group between 15 and 33 is targeted the most.

“Most incidents of rape are reported during weekends between 8pm and 1am.

“A large number of incidents of rape are reported after victims leave bars, lounges or taverns; children walking to and from school; women and children out collecting firewood or water; or working in the mealie fields alone.”

She said the police’s family violence and sexual offences unit in Limpopo was working tirelessly to trace and arrest suspects, and to get maximum sentences once cases go to trial.

“Several life sentences were handed down to a number of people accused of rape over the past year,” she said.

“The most recent sentencing was that of Ronald Sibanda, a serial rapist from Modimolle.

“On March 8, he was sentenced to 125 years’ imprisonment on eight counts of rape.”

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