Johannesburg: The chime sounds every four minutes on the radio station, reminding listeners that statistically yet another child or woman in South Africa is being raped.
It's also a call to arms for citizens outraged over the gang rape of a teenager who was mutilated — her body carved open from her stomach to her genitals — and left for dead on a construction site. While India agonizes with its high prevalence of rape because of a fatal attack on a young woman on a bus, South Africans are now becoming galvanized by the attack on the teenager in a small town. Civil society and governments in both countries are saying this must stop.
The injuries to the 17-year-old were so horrific that nurses in the operating theater, where doctors tried in vain to save her life, are undergoing trauma counseling.
The chimes on Talk Radio 702 are part of a campaign urging South Africans to identify perpetrators of rape that has become endemic. One in four females is raped here according to several studies, from months-old babies to 94-year-old grandmothers.
Citizen newspaper published an editorial calling for citizens to take collective responsibility in the fight against sexual crimes.
"Somehow, somewhere there must be a tipping point where society is so convulsed by a collective anger over rape that we begin to turn the tide against this terrible scourge," the newspaper said. "Each of us needs to ask what we can do to stop this awful trend. And then we must act accordingly. You can help."
The Star newspaper's editor Makhudu Sefara ran a front-page editorial saying "Stand up. Speak out. Help us turn this evil around once and for all."
Inspired by Delhi rape case
South Africans appear to be inspired by the mass demonstrations in India that protest a culture of sexual violence and revulsion over the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a New Delhi bus who died of internal injuries from a metal bar. India, with a population of 1.2 billion people, had 24,206 rapes reported in 2011. South Africa, population 50 million, reported 2.5 times that number of rapes last year.
Opposition politician Lindiwe Mazibuko described "a silent war against the children and women of this country ... We live in a deeply patriarchal and injured society where the rights of women are not respected."
She said she would request a national dialogue on the crisis.
President Jacob Zuma, who was acquitted on charges of raping the daughter of a family friend in 2005, said 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."
For Prof Rachel Jewkes, a doctor heading the Women's Research Unit of South Africa's Medical Research Council who has studied sexual violence here for 20 years, much more is needed.
"I'm jolly pleased to hear that even Jacob Zuma has belatedly come in, but we need to remember that actually women are raped and actually die from their injuries from rape almost every day in South Africa, and we need to make sure that the very, very profound sense of horror and outrage that people feel now is translated into something concrete."
Shaheda Omar, clinical director of Johannesburg's Teddy Bear Clinic for child victims of abuse, said: "We've had huge outcries in the past then things just fall through the cracks again, but I think there's a stronger sense of solidarity now."
Omar has worked with child victims for 28 years and suffers trauma spasms and headaches as a result. She said the government needs to enact "stringent measures, actions having consequences and perpetrators being brought to book to deter others."
Organizations that have been working with rape survivors plan a mass outdoor meeting next week in Johannesburg, she said.
Some South Africans, imbued with a chauvinism that believes men have a right to sex, do not even understand what constitutes rape, according to some who called in to radio stations.
Jewkes said a study she conducted in 2009 showed 62 per cent of surveyed boys over age 11 believed that forcing someone to have sex was not an act of violence. One-third said girls enjoy being raped. Jewkes' study had 37 per cent of surveyed men saying they had raped a women or child, and 75 per cent admitting they first raped a teenager. All the men came from Gauteng, South Africa's most populated province.
The 17-year-old raped last Saturday in Bredasdorp, a Western Cape town known for its giant protea flowers, lived long enough to identify a former 22-year-old boyfriend as one of her attackers. Police took him into custody. On Thursday they arrested a 21-year-old suspect and on Friday a 23-year-old. All are to appear in court Monday. According to media reports, the teen was attacked by five men.
The maximum sentence for rape in South Africa is life in prison. However, official statistics show less than 10 per cent of reported sexual crimes result in a successful prosecution, making many reluctant to report rape.