JOHANNESBURG – In a country where one in four women is raped and where months-old babies and 94-year-old grandmothers are sexually assaulted, citizens are demanding action after a teenager was gang-raped, sliced open from her stomach to her genitals, and left for dead on a construction site last week.
The 17-year-old lived long enough to identify one of her attackers, a 22-year-old. Police arrested him and said Thursday they have arrested a second suspect, aged 21. They promised more arrests soon.
"Kill them!" and "Cut off their penises," were some of the demands voiced on talk show radio stations Thursday.
Every few months this African nation with the highest rate of rapes of babies and young girls in the world yells its outrage at a particularly brutal attack.
Last year, South Africans were shocked when village boys gang-raped a mentally ill 17-year-old with a mental age of 4. She was attacked by six boys, the youngest who was 10, in a crime that only came to light because the boys made a cellphone video of the rape and posted it on the Internet. It went viral.
Prof. Rachel Jewkes, a doctor heading the Women's Research Unit of South Africa's Medical Research Council, said 37 percent of surveyed men in South Africa's most populated province of Gauteng said they had raped a woman or child, according to a study. Seventy-five percent of them first raped a teenager, she said.
"It's a social disaster," she said. The number of "men who try to feel better about their past by trying to make out that what they did wasn't serious or wasn't rape is obviously huge and must be a huge obstacle to getting anything done -- from police making arrests to decisions in the courtroom by magistrates and so forth."
The outcry over Saturday's rape in Bredasdorp, a Western Cape town known for its giant protea flowers, led President Jacob Zuma to vow Thursday "that government would never rest until the perpetrators and all those who rape and abuse women and children, are meted with the maximum justice that the law allows."
The maximum sentence for rape in South Africa is life in prison. The death sentence has been abolished.
Zuma himself was accused of rape by the HIV-positive lesbian daughter of a close friend in 2005. Zuma said the sex was consensual and he was acquitted, but is unlikely to live down his comment in court that he had a shower afterward to cut the risk of acquiring AIDS.
In a study conducted by Jewkes in 2009, 62 percent of surveyed boys over age 11 said they believed that forcing someone to have sex was not an act of violence. One-third said girls enjoy being raped.
That study found one-quarter of South African women are raped but only one in 25 report it to the police. Of those who were not raped by a partner, one in 13 had never reported the rape, and many had been raped more than once, Jewkes said. That casts doubt on police statistics showing sexual crimes decreased from 70,514 in 2009 to 64,419 last year. Females make up half of South Africa's population of 50 million.
Official statistics show less than 10 percent of reported sexual crimes result in a successful prosecution, another reason many are reluctant to report rape.
A British documentary, "Lost Girls of South Africa," concludes girls here have a bigger chance of being raped than of completing high school.
Studies show nearly 90 percent of victims are raped by family members, friends or other people they know. Girls are not safe at home or at school, with many reports of teachers having sex with students anxious to get good examination results.
Many reasons have been given for South Africa suffering the highest incidence of rape in the world. This is a patriarchal society where many men believe they are entitled to sex. The mother of an 11-year-old girl raped by her father told a court that her husband said no man had a right to have sex with his child until he had her.
The brutality of the white apartheid regime often is blamed, with psychologists saying that humiliated men work out their anger on those nearest and most helpless, their families.
Pervasive poverty, which also disempowers men and forces children to sleep in one-room shacks with adults, also is blamed.
That excuse was angrily dismissed in a Twitter debate last weekend.
"No one can tell me that raping a 3-month baby or 87-year-old granny or burning a library or vandalizing a school is caused by poverty," tweeted Zwelinzima Vavi, head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions. "Yes, apartheid humiliated, dehumanized and made people feel valueless - its existence in the past is no excuse for current moral degeneration."
Eastern KwaZulu-Natal province last year set up day-care centers for elderly women after several were raped.
Perhaps the saddest comment came from one protesting grandmother outside a court where a man was accused of raping a 94-year-old.
"It's becoming clear that our grandchildren and great-grandsons are targeting us and it is only stiff sentences like castration and death that will stop this from happening," 68-year-old Thokozile Gcumisa was quoted as saying in The Sowetan newspaper. "We fear our own flesh and blood."