Is South Africa’s Rape Problem Caused by Apartied?

Executive Summary

  • South Africa’s high incidence of rape is frequently blamed on apartied.
  • This article covers how likely this is to be true.


South Africa’s high incidence of rape has frequently been blamed on the “legacy or apartied.” This article shows that there are many problems with substantiating this claim.

Our References for This Article

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South Africa’s High Incidence of Rape Due to the Legacy of Apartied?

Here are some quotes on the supposed relationship between rape and apartied.

SOUTH African Deputy President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday attributed the gang-rape of a nine-month-old baby to a lack of morality he blamed on apartheid.

Zuma said during a debate in the National Assembly on the rape in the small northern township of Louisville that “something was seriously amiss” in the country.

Six men, aged between 24 and 66, are accused of raping and sodomising the baby girl.

The baby, who has been dubbed “Tshepang” (“Have Hope”) to protect her identity, suffered injuries to her vagina and anus.

“Apartheid left a legacy of breakdown of the moral fabric of our society. Apartheid sowed the seeds of the breakdown of the family. The molestation of children is a symptom of this degeneration,” Zuma said.

South Africa is believed to have one of the highest incidences of rape in the world and police reports show that 58 children fall victims to rape or sexual assault every day — a figure contested as too low by activists, who believe many child-rapes are not reported.

Xingwana said the irony was that the child’s mother had become pregnant after she was raped and that her grandmother too had been raped “in the same house where the baby was raped.”

She angrily listed similar cases in the past month, including those of a 14-month-old baby raped by her uncles and of a three-year-old girl who died after she was raped by her father.

Xingwana blamed the increase in child rape on a widespread myth that having sex with a virgin will cure HIV/Aids, which afflicts one in nine South Africans.

“People must stop thinking that raping a virgin will cure Aids. There is no cure.” But opposition politicians laid the blame at government’s door.

“The government sits idly by and watches while the children suffer,” the official opposition Democratic Alliance’s Mike Waters said. – MG

There are a few problems with this logic. First, raping babies is not found in European countries, so it could be something that could be blamed on Europeans — and secondly, again, the only place people are known to rape babies, specifically to combat AIDS, is Africa. The other line of reasoning is that apartied leads black Africans to rape babies.

A specific problem with Jacob Zuma making this statement is that Jacob Zuma went to trial for rape, as is explained in the following quotation.

Whilst many cultures have helped to make up contemporary South African society, this section will focus specifically on Zulu culture due to the 2005/2006 Zuma rape trial in which he used his Zulu culture as a significant part of his defence. Moreover, Zulu cultural traditions still hold influence, particularly in isolated rural areas, such in the KwaZulu-Natal province where government services are less effective than in urban areas.

Whilst many cultures have a patriarchal structure, Wright highlights that Zulu society incorporates ideological controls which “served to socialise females into accepting a position of inferiority” (Bozzoli 1983, 150), limiting them to the traditional roles of mother, wife, daughter, accepting themselves as ‘second class citizens’. This idea of women as second class citizens has been carried through into contemporary society; in general, society conditions women to believe themselves at the disposal of men.

Zuma was accused of the rape of the daughter of a family friend. He argued that earlier in the evening the complainant had been wearing a Kanga; a traditional African cloth which usually symbolises modesty and respectability. Throughout the trial this was“sexualised and transformed into an object of seduction” (Robins 2008, 415).

Additionally, the woman was sitting without her legs crossed which, to Zuma, symbolised she was sexually aroused. He claimed that it was his responsibility, as a Zulu man, to have sex with her (Reddy and Potgieter 2006). If he had not, he claims he would have disrespected her dignity. Throughout the trial, Zuma used Zulu culture as his defence. Additionally he spoke in Zulu throughout, despite his fluency in English and this being the usual courtroom language, to emphasise he was Zulu.

The rape trial revealed many within the country openly sided with Zuma. On the opening day of trial, Zuma supporters were more than 1000 strong. His support was mostly organised by the ANC Youth League.

The complainant was heavily scrutinised and following the trial, she was forced to leave the country. Zuma was acquitted of the charges against him. These attitudes against rape victims highlight key difficulties in overcoming sexual violence. – SA History

Apartied or Zulu Culture is to Blame?

So is it Zulu culture that caused Jakob Zuma to rape the daughter of a family friend, or was that apartied? Because when it came to his legal defense, he centered on Zulu culture rather than making the case that his rape was “apartied related.”

Zuma is very wealthy and was the leader of South Africa. Wouldn’t he have a hard time claiming his historical oppression caused him to rape? Zuma states that his rape was an obligation as a Zulu man. This was the president of the country saying this. This implies a serious problem not just with the groups usually connected to rape.

Furthermore, if one notices Botswana is in second place behind South Africa for reported rapes, Botswana never had apartied. So what is causing the high number of (reported remember) rapes in Botswana? No one seems to have asked this question in the articles I read that blamed the high number of reported rapes in South Africa on the legacy of apartied.

Current South African Black Culture is to Blame?

For a case to be made that indifference to rape was imposed upon them by apartied or some foreign culture, the current black South Africans are not doing an excellent job of communicating that they take rape allegations seriously. This is explained in the following quotation.

Outside the downtown Johannesburg courtroom, his supporters, who had previously burned an effigy of his accuser, wore T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “100 percent Zuluboy.” Many were women.

Yet Ms. Gasa, who is writing a book about South African history, said Mr. Zuma was likely to retain broad support in parts of South African society, if only because much of the population remains deeply patriarchal, whatever the Constitution and laws state. – New York Times

Here we have the statement that…

“Much of the population remains deeply patriarchal.”

What is the more direct translation of that sentence?

It is that black South Africans do not put a very high priority on defending women from rape. And if a politician who one likes — as in Jakob Zuma is accused of rape, a large percentage of South African blacks don’t want him to be prosecuted. And it is worse than this, and this is explained in the following quotation.

The woman was vilified by Zuma’s supporters during a gruelling court case that ended on Monday when the judge handed down a not-guilty verdict to the former number two.

Her mother’s home in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province was burgled twice after she laid the rape charge against Zuma, who was a friend of her late father, also a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle.

A friend of the woman, known as Khwezi because her identity was protected by the court, had earlier said it was no longer safe for her to live in South Africa. – MG

If an accuser has to be placed in witness protection for bringing a rape charge against the president, this means there is a good chance her life was at risk. Are those that would kill Khwezi doing so because their parents had to live under apartied?

Overall South African blacks have a long history of retaliating against those that bring charges of rape. This is being done for personal gain, not because their parents lived under apartied.

Police Protection for Rapes Under Apartied Versus Under the ANC

The following quotation was used to describe how rape was managed under apartied.

Under an apartheid system, where only the rape of white women was prosecuted, and gender and race issues could diffuse the black struggle, there were difficulties in mobilizing support to end violence against black women. There was social acceptance that rape of black women was part of life. Police statistics on the incidence of rape were notoriously unreliable, because only a small percentage of cases are reported to police, and many women would be ashamed to admit to marital abuse, including rape. – NCBI

Ok, so under apartied, the white-controlled government places little emphasis on prosecuting the rape of black women.

Let us see what the situation was after apartied.

Moreover, 1 in 3 women can be expected to be raped in her lifetime (Moffat 2006, 129). These shocking statistics are worse still by the fact that many sexual attacks in South Africa are not reported; the Medical Health Council suggest only 1 in 9 attacks are (Rape Crisis, Cape Town Trust 2015). The Women’s Health Project, 1992, survey showed 50-60% of marriages involved physical and sexual violence (Hassim 2009, 66), showing violence against women is a normalised part of society, including in intimate relationships.

Additionally, just one in four hundred rapes in South Africa end in a conviction due to the incompetence of the police, often losing evidence (Anderson 2000, 793). In Soweto, between 5-50% of reported rapes go to court but out of that number only 7-13% result in a conviction (Jewkes and Abrahams 2002, 1232). Moreover, there are suggestions the police will take bribes by the accused rapist to make the charges ‘disappear’. In Southern Johannesburg, it is estimated 1 in 20 pieces of evidence is lost in a fraudulent manner (Jewkes and Abrahams 2002, 1232). It is, therefore, no surprise women are not inclined to report sexual abuses and why sexual violence is still so prevalent within South African society. – SA History

And what is surprising is how inadequate South Africa’s record-keeping is, as is explained in the following quotation. This means that the rapes reported are just the tip of the iceberg of sexual violence in South Africa.

However, between apartied and when the ANC took over, what changed precisely concerning punishing rapists? It seems about the same. Rapists tend to be young men, and many rapists today were either not alive doing apartied or were most likely young children. It would seem the present lack of enforcement of rape laws is much more of a reason for the high number of rapes in South Africa than a system that expired third years ago.

And this brings up a few questions.

  • Why did the article by the NCBI seek to reach back to the pre-ANC time (apartied) when sexual violence against black women is still not being addressed by the legal authorities?
  • Why is the current sexual violence level blamed on policing decades ago but not on contemporary policing and law enforcement? That is what will deter rapes today, not the fact that the system over thirty years ago was also lenient.

Apartied, Zulu Culture, Kenyan Culture, Rwanda Culture, Ethiopian Culture, Hmong Culture, Zeltal Culture, or Romani Culture?

The following is an example of an extreme form of rape common in Ethiopia.

Rape is a very serious problem in Ethiopia, and the country is infamous for the practice of marriage by abduction, with the prevalence of this practice in Ethiopia being one of the highest in the world. In many parts of Ethiopia, it is common for a man, working in co-ordination with his friends, to kidnap a girl or woman, sometimes using a horse to ease the escape. The abductor will then hide his intended bride and rape her until she becomes pregnant. As the father of the woman’s child, the man can claim her as his wife. Subsequently, the kidnapper may try to negotiate a bride price with the village elders to legitimize the marriage. Girls as young as eleven years old are reported to have been kidnapped for the purpose of marriage. – Wikipedia

And in Rwanda, as is found in the following quotation.

Bride-kidnapping is prevalent in areas of Rwanda.[30] Often the abductor kidnaps the woman from her household or follows her outside and abducts her. He and his companions may then rape the woman to ensure that she submits to the marriage.[31] The family of the woman either then feels obliged to consent to the union,[32] or is forced to when the kidnapper impregnates her, as pregnant women are not seen as eligible for marriage. The marriage is confirmed with a ceremony that follows the abduction by several days. In such ceremonies, the abductor asks his bride’s parents to forgive him for abducting their daughter.[32] The man may offer a cow, money, or other goods as restitution to his bride’s family.

Bride kidnapping is not specifically outlawed in Rwanda, though violent abductions are punishable as rape. According to a criminal justice official, bride kidnappers are virtually never tried in court: – Wikipedia

However, this practice is not just limited to Africa, as is explained in the following quotation.

Bride kidnapping (hence the portmanteau bridenapping[2]) has been practiced around the world and throughout prehistory and history, among peoples as diverse as the Hmong in Southeast Asia, the Tzeltal in Mexico, and the Romani in Europe. Bride kidnapping still occurs in various parts of the world, but it is most common in the Caucasus and Central Asia. – Wikipedia

What do all of these countries or regions have in common? None of them were subjected to apartied.

This brings up the question as to why the first thing people have tried to gravitate towards to explain the high number of rapes in South Africa is the “legacy of apartied.” This appears to be a reflex that rapes that are conducted by non-whites must somehow be blamed on whites. This is something I cover in the article Is It Still Rape If the Rapist Is Not White?


It is highly doubtful that South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world. Most likely, South Africa, like Botswana, simply has the most accurate record-keeping in Africa. Most African nations have incomplete statistics on rape and many other measurements. If the rape statistics were accurately kept, it is a virtual certainty that South Africa and Botswana would dramatically drop in the listings, and other African nations would supersede them. If this were to occur, there would be a problem promoting the idea that the very high levels of rape in Africa are all due to the legacy of apartied in a country where the vast majority of Africans do not live and have never visited.