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In South Africa, rape victims must fight against their aggressors but also against a system


It was two years ago. As everyday, Nthabiseng Mabuza went to work on a minibus. But that morning his journey turned into a nightmare. As the only passenger in the vehicle, the South African cook was raped by the driver.

Alerted by her cries, a police patrol intervened and immediately arrested the aggressor. He was placed in pre-trial detention, but was released under judicial supervision a few months later despite the overwhelming evidence against him. The suspect has since vanished.

“On the day when the trial was due to open, no one was able to find my attacker,” Nthabiseng Mabuza, whose name was modified to preserve her anonymity, told AFP. “He disappeared “.

Very bitter, the 35-year-old woman who lives in the township of Vosloorus in the east of Johannesburg today blames the negligence of the police and magistrates of her country.

For his case is far from being isolated. Like her, tens of thousands of women are victims of rape or sexual assault each year in South Africa. And like her, most struggle to obtain justice.

A study of the South African Medical Research Council has found that in 2012, only 8.6% of rape trials had ended in a conviction.

According to this document, the public prosecutor’s office refused to prosecute 47.7% of the cases of rape transmitted by the police in the same year: it focuses on the cases most likely to lead to convictions, in particular on the basis of the evidence gathered and his perception of the gravity of the facts.

Many victims did not even report because of the “discriminatory attitude of the police,” said the South African Medical Research Council. South African police officers, who are highly stressed, develop little compassion for the victims of rape and are insufficiently trained to handle these cases, according to the study.

“Our Fault”

“On radio and television, prevention campaigns encourage us to file a complaint in case of rape. But when we go to the police, we are told that it is our fault. Sometimes the police dissuade women from filing a complaint by saying that the rapist is their boyfriend, “Nthabiseng said.

A feeling shared by Lu-Meri Kruger, another victim, for whom to go to file a complaint was a trial. “When I entered the police station, it was the coldest, darkest and most difficult moment of my life,” she says, “the most painful moment of rape.”

Now aged 35, Lu-Meri says she was assaulted by a man when she was only 15, in the showers of a youth hostel in Cape Town (southwest).

Many advocacy groups accuse the police of negligence, slowness and lack of sensitivity to victims.
An activist with the NGO “Sonke Gender Justice”, Marike Keller denounces their methods of interrogation. “The police ask questions that have nothing to do with rape, ask how the person was dressed,” she lamented, “the kind of questions that make you think you are responsible for what happened”.

“Against a system”

The South African authorities have recorded no fewer than 51,895 cases of rape from April 2015 to March 2016, more than a hundred per day. A figure largely underestimated, says Mara Glennie, the director of Tears.

Every year, this victim assistance center receives tens of thousands of telephone calls from victims of rape or sexual assault, she said.

There are dozens of NGOs dealing with violence against women.If Tears receives so many calls alone, “you can imagine” what it really is, says Glennie.

According to a survey carried out by the NGO Sonke Gender Justice and the University of Witwatersrand, more than half of the men in Diepsloot, a township in northern Johannesburg, have already raped or beaten a woman.

The victims “do not only fight against their aggressors, they are fighting against a system,” said Shaheda Omar, a doctor specializing in cases of rape of minors.

Under pressure from critics, South African Police Minister Fikile Mbalula acknowledged “errors in the administration of justice in our police stations.”He promised to completely reform the system of reception of rape victims by his officials.

“The population must find new confidence in us. We must hear the cry of those millions of people who denounce the inability of our police forces to respond appropriately [to cases of rape], “he told AFP.

“We are now doing what is necessary for our police stations to be functional and for the police to help the victims with the means at their disposal,” Mbalula insists. “The aggressors must know that their actions will have consequences.” A few years ago, South Africa set up some 60 specialized sexual offense courts to speed up court proceedings. Even today, a complaint still takes between two and six years before being judged.

La Libre Afrique