In cities and in towns, in urban centres and rural villages, South Africa’s women are running scared. Jeanne van der Merwe, Thanduxolo Jika and Andrew Trench examine what crime statistics tell us about the country’s most dangerous places – and ordinary women in the four most dangerous tell their stories.
South Africa’s sex-crime danger zones include the Joburg and Durban inner cities – but also small rural towns, a Media24 Investigations analysis of official crime statistics reveals.
Using the latest crime statistics, new population estimates for each policing area calculated by independent consultants Afriscope and mapping software, we were able to reveal sex-crime rates per 10?000 people for more than 1?100 policing precincts in the country.
Crime rates give an idea of the risk of someone becoming a victim.
We ignored police precincts with populations of fewer than 3?000 to avoid a distorted result.
Our figures show central Joburg is the worst, with 204 sex crimes for every 10?000 people.
Central Durban is next, with 103 sex crimes per 10?000.
Citrusdal in the Western Cape is third nationally, with 84 sex crimes per 10?000.
Polokwane, with 74 sex crimes per 10?000, comes in fourth.
Women and children in Citrusdal and Rawsonville, which was fifth worst, are almost four times more likely to become a victim of a sex crime than those in notoriously dangerous areas like Mitchells Plain, where 471 sex crimes were recorded with police.
But with a population of 195?000, that is a rate of only 24 per 10?000.
There are 49 different types of sex crimes in the “total sex-crime” figures police release annually.
Prostitution is among the 49, which Polokwane police believe may have caused their figures to shoot up.
Limpopo police spokesperson Ronel Otto said rape was not the most perpetrated crime in the Polokwane policing area.
She attributed the high sex-crime rates in our investigation to prostitution in Polokwane, adding that when police arrest prostitutes, the charge sheets reflect crimes of a sexual nature.
But police have indicated more than three-quarters of all reported sex crimes are rape – and women and children together comprise nearly 90% of all victims.
Lizette Lancaster, of the Institute for Security Studies’ crime and justice information and analysis hub, said inner cities were high-risk areas for sexual crime.
“We know the socioeconomic conditions in these areas are harsh, with high density and a lack of basic services,” said Lancaster.
She said such areas lent themselves to transactional sex “as women – and children – are desperate for basics such as food”.
Lisa Vetten, analyst with the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said the data raised “plenty of questions”.
“Firstly, what you’re measuring is the reporting rate. We don’t know whether high rates reflect a high incidence of rape or better rates of reporting,” she said.
“For example, Khayelitsha initiated the commission of inquiry into police responses to crime in the area and records low rates of rape.Could the low rate of reported rape in the area reflect lack of community trust in the police?”
Surveys have found only between one in nine and one in 13 women report rape in South Africa.
“Reducing and preventing rape is not a police responsibility because the factors productive of rape are outside the police’s control,” said Vetten.
“All the police can realistically reduce is the number of serial rapists in operation. I don’t know how well they’re doing in that regard.”
‘Am I afraid of men?’
Before the Joburg winter of short days began last year, Fenzani Khumalo decided to buy pepper spray.
“I used to carry a screwdriver. I think you feel safer if you think you can at least protect yourself if anything happens,” the 26-year-old says.
She lives in the heart of Joburg’s run-down CBD.
“I try not to wear anything tight. I don’t want to wear jeans or leggings, because they accentuate my shape and that brings the wrong attention,” she says.
“I try to be as invisible as possible. If I wear longer dresses and skirts, I’ll hopefully get less attention.
“When you’re wearing a short skirt they’ll even touch you behind your knee. It’s so disgusting.”
Fezani, who’s originally from KwaZulu-Natal, starts her commute to work at 5.45am. She walks for 20 minutes to catch a taxi to Rosebank.
She tries not to change her routes because Market Street has become “familiar” to her.
Once, she took a shorter route through Polly Street and encountered groups of men.
She started praying. She didn’t want to turn back, out of the street, because she thought the men would definitely come after her.
“The men hadn’t said anything and they weren’t even looking at me, but the fear I had was too much.
“I even bought something that I didn’t want, just to show that at least I’m supporting their businesses and I’m friendly, hoping they won’t do anything to me.”
One evening, after work, the “paranoia” became so immense she ran for three blocks towards her apartment block because she thought a man was following her.
“He had been walking a distance behind me and crossed every time I crossed the street. I freaked out and ran,” she says.
“I doubt that, as women, we will ever feel safe. It doesn’t matter where you live.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m afraid of the city or the dark – or am I afraid of men?” – Athandiwe Saba
‘How do I know my client is not a rapist?’
Maria* has been a sex worker operating out of Polokwane’s CBD since the 2010 World Cup.
“I spend most of my days sleeping, reading, watching television or just window-shopping at Mall of the North. Later in the afternoon, I spend about an hour bathing, deciding which of my favourite perfumes and outfits I should wear to entice male clients.
“During the summer months, I and many of my colleagues hit the streets at about 7pm. At face value, it looks like the easiest of jobs that one can do, but believe me, it is not.
“It is one of the most dangerous jobs that any woman can do, especially in a country like South Africa, where violence against women is so rife.
“Some clients don’t want to use our rooms. They prefer the comfort of their own homes, or hotels. How do I know that the client is not some serial rapist who is out on the prowl?
How do I know that this person promising me R5?000 to f*** me the whole night is for real?
At best, he could refuse to pay and, at worst, he could just kill me at his home.
“I’ve been arrested. Many of my colleagues here will tell you harrowing stories of harsh police treatment. Since I arrived three years ago, two colleagues have disappeared. It’s a risky job, but we need to make a living.” – Sipho Masondo
‘I have a fear of being raped one day’
’In my first week in Durban, I had a bad experience. I was approached by this guy who just asked for my phone.
“I was walking with a male friend. He ran away. He was too scared to help. That’s the general perception here. These thugs are very dangerous.
“If you try to fight them, you’ll get hurt because they carry knives. People are scared that they will be marked by these thugs, who will cause problems for them in the future.
“That was my introduction to this city.”
Meet Maureen Memela (31). She is a hairdresser who has lived in central Durban since last February.
She supports her 91-year-old grandmother, who lives with a caregiver in Memela’s home town of Port Shepstone.
“I have never had an incident where I have nearly been raped, but I can tell you that it is something that is a constant threat.
“As a woman working in such a rough part of town, I have a fear of being raped one day.
“Because of the nature of my job, I do a lot of walking around, buying hair extensions wanted by clients that we might not have at our salon. It is very dangerous.
“Women are harassed here by the street kids. They will even feel your breasts, trying to feel whether you have money or cellphones, since they know women hide them there.
“You can’t take five steps without them stopping you to look for money. If you give them R5, they tell you that bread is R7. If you refuse to give it to them, they will either insult you or threaten you with words like, ‘Don’t be sorry when I do what I will do’.”
Memela closes her salon early, often because she doesn’t want to be the last to leave work.
“I live about 15 minutes away from my work place. But if I’m walking alone, I take a taxi. But even that doesn’t help.
“Taxi drivers and conductors have resorted to wearing uniforms just because criminals act as if they will lead you to the taxi and then strip you dry.” – Sphumelele Mngoma
Housebound in a town wrecked by booze
Although Janet Ockhuis lives in a country town surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Cederberg mountains, she rarely leaves her Citrusdal house.
Ockhuis runs a spaza shop from a converted shipping container in the yard of her RDP house.
Now 46, Ockhuis remembers how, as a younger woman, she could walk freely after dark. But that freedom is gone, she says.
She blames wine, tik and the influx of seasonal workers, who have established an informal settlement on the edge of town. “Every second household is broken by wine or tik.”
She has lived in the “coloured area” of Citrusdal for 13 years.
As a young teenage girl comes to buy chips from her shop, Ockhuis says: “This one’s mother has disappeared. Sy’s op die wyn (she’s on the wine).”
Herself the daughter of an alcoholic, Ockhuis says three of her four sisters became alcoholics.
One sister lives in the squatter camp with her daughter, who herself now has a child.
“Those two have been raped many times, too drunk to know they’ve even been raped.”
Ockhuis says just last week an “auntie” from one of the farms visited the squatter camp, “got drunk, walked in the street and was raped”.
She adds: “On the farms, almost every weekend there is a rape.” – West Cape News
Where women fear to tread