Wednesday, 15 December 2010

South Africa: Few Good Men?

FotoCredit: Getty Images

by Azad Essa

"He pulled me by my hair and dragged me to the entrance of the house. I knew he was taking me to the bedroom, and I knew what that would mean. His one hand pulled at my long hair, braided to my scalp while his other hand wrapped itself around my face, choking me, his fingers digging into my eyes .... I held on to the gate and refused to let him take me in - that was when he bit off half my ear."

Three weeks earlier, 46-year-old Gugu Mofokeng had left the shelter where she had been living for a year - in hiding from her abusive former boyfriend. Her rehabilitation had been fruitful; she had volunteered for a community radio station and worked to nurture dialogue between abused women. She now planned to open her own shelter for abused women and children.

But Mofokeng's ex-boyfriend tracked her down, begged for forgiveness and promised to help make her dream of opening a shelter a reality. At first things went well - he had money and a car. But Mofokeng struggled with the irony of the very man who had led her to a shelter helping her to open one for other abused women.

Then the abuse resurfaced.

"I had gone to a white Christian shelter for abused women, and so he started ... [accusing me of sleeping] with white men," Mofokeng explains. "When I told him that this won't work, it got worse."

Her former boyfriend hounded her for days before the attack outside her home.

Mofokeng's story may sound shocking, but it is not unusual in South Africa. Gender activists have long argued that violence against women in the country is at "epidemic" proportions. And despite the introduction of several pieces of legislation and the creation of the Commission for Gender Equality, few improvements have been forthcoming.

A question of numbers
A 2009 study conducted by the Medical Research Council (MCR) sent shockwaves across the country when it revealed that one in four men in the coastal provinces of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal admitted to committing rape.

But the findings of a new report, the Gauteng Gender Violence Indicators Pilot Project, released to coincide with 16 days of international activism against gender violence, suggest the situation may be even worse than initially thought.

Conducted in 1,000 homes across Gauteng, South Africa's most prosperous and populated province, which includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria, the study found that 78.3 per cent of men admitted to perpetrating some form of violence - whether emotional, physical or sexual - against women.

A joint initiative by the MRC and the NGO Gender Links, the study involved in-depth interviews with men and women.

Twenty-five per cent of the women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence - but only 3.9 per cent of these reported the crime to the police. One in 13 of the women surveyed said they had been raped by a non-partner, but just one in 25 rapes had been reported to the police.

Of the men interviewed, 37.4 per cent admitted to committing an act of sexual violence at least once.

Rachel Jewkes of the MRC said the findings did not make easy reading. "I think it is remarkable that so many men are willing to say 'yes we did it'," she says, adding that the study was the first of its kind because it attempted to map the prevalence of gender violence through a household survey. The sample used was representative of the population dynamics of the province, but was randomly selected and, crucially, did not rely on police data.

Read the rest of this grim, but brilliant piece on Al Jazeera