Deadly rape provokes fury and pessimism in South Africa

As Anene Booysen lay dying,she whispered to her medics the name of the man who had assaulted her and left her lying in the dirt on a construction site,her bowels spilling from her abdomen.

Written by New York Times | Bredasdorp,south Africa | Published: June 11, 2013 2:52 am

As Anene Booysen lay dying,she whispered to her medics the name of the man who had assaulted her and left her lying in the dirt on a construction site,her bowels spilling from her abdomen.

“Zwai,” Booysen,17,told at least two people before she died. Zwai—the nickname of a close friend,Jonathan Davids—and his friends had done this to her,she said.

The next day,the police arrested Davids,22,and another man,charging them with rape and murder.

The attack,in February,produced such revulsion and outrage that it quickly became a national symbol of the epidemic of violence against women in South Africa,much as other recent cases have forced national soul-searching on sexual violence plaguing India,Egypt and Brazil.

With the swift arrest of two suspects,hopes were high that the attack on Booysen would be prosecuted quickly. But just as the trial was about to start last week,the prosecutors made a dramatic announcement. Despite Booysen’s dying declaration,they did not have enough evidence to prosecute Davids,and he was set free.

“We understand the sense of shock and outrage that was induced by the incident,” Eric Ntabazalila,a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority,told reporters. “However,as the prosecution we can only prosecute successfully on sufficient evidence.”

The trial of the second suspect began Monday,but the failure of prosecutors to make a case against Davids has shaken the public’s faith in South Africa’s ability to address its rape problem and hold perpetrators accountable.

About 64,000 cases of sexual assault are reported each year,and South Africa has one of the highest rates of nonpartner rapes in the world. Studies show that number vastly understates the epidemic,suggesting that hundreds of thousands of cases are not reported. Of those that are,fewer than 10 percent result in convictions,a product,analysts say,of shoddy police work and ineffective prosecution by a criminal justice system that has largely failed to take crime against women seriously.

Booysen’s rape and murder brought a furious response. “The whole nation is outraged at this extreme violation and destruction of a young human life,” President Jacob Zuma said in a statement.

Despite the protestations of politicians,such crimes are neither new nor uncommon. A 2009 study by the Medical Research Council found that one-quarter of men admitted to raping someone,and nearly half of those men said they had raped more than once.

One research study on a small town in Mpumalanga province examined about 250 reported rapes from 2005 to 2007. More than half of the victims were minors. Arrests were made in 60 per cent of the cases,but more than two-thirds of those cases were dropped and never came to trial. None of those cases ever made it to court,the study found.

In some cases,appellate court judges set aside guilty verdicts because they simply do not believe the victim. Two young men in Limpopo province were convicted of raping a 17-year-old girl in the bushes near her home in 2007. But in 2012,an appellate court judge set aside the conviction because her account of the assault “has some defects which cannot be ignored.” The victim had failed to run away or scream to passers-by,the judge said. She made up the story about being raped,the judge reasoned,to explain the bleeding from the loss of her virginity.

As to Booysen’s dying testimony pointing to Davids,the prosecution has offered no further public explanation as to why the case against him was dropped.

Davids,glassy-eyed and reeking of alcohol in the middle of a recent afternoon,was smoking marijuana. He seemed to regret what happened to Booysen,who he said was “like a sister” to him,and insisted he had nothing to do with the crime.

What was bothering him was that he spent four months in jail as a suspect.

“I have nothing left inside me to feel,” he said. “My pain is so deep I can’t go any further.”

Lydia Polgreen

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