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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006, 00:06 GMT
Zuma case reveals SA rape problem
The alleged rape victim enters court
The alleged rape victim was smuggled into court...

The rape trial of Jacob Zuma has highlighted widespread problems with the way South Africa's justice system deals with rape allegations, reports Justin Pearce in Johannesburg.

Former Deputy President Jacob Zuma arrived at the Johannesburg High Court in a motorcade of four black cars with flashing lights, shortly before his trial for rape was due to start on Monday.

The woman who has laid a charge of rape against him had arrived much earlier, at 0700, and was hurried into the court building with a headscarf covering her face.

She spent the next three hours waiting in a secret location inside, to avoid what was expected to be a hostile crowd.

The woman, a 31-year-old Aids activist and long-time family friend of Jacob Zuma, is being guarded by a witness protection programme and has been in hiding for the three months since charges were laid.

Those Zuma supporters who had arrived early jeered her as she walked in.

One man compared Jacob Zuma to former US President Bill Clinton: "Both presidents who were accused by a woman."

Denial

One friend of the alleged victim who spoke to the BBC suggested South African society is in denial where rape is concerned.

"We keep quiet and want to push everything under the carpet when it is a case of rape - I think this is such a case."

Jacob Zuma's convoy being mobbed by his supporters
... While Jacob Zuma's convoy was mobbed by his supporters

But alongside the several hundred people chanting slogans in support of Jacob Zuma outside the court, there was also a smaller and more orderly demonstration of about 40 women and a scattering of men, holding placards with slogans like "Against her will - against the law".

"We are trying to send a message of support to survivors of sexual violence - to draw attention to social and legal problems around sexual violence in South Africa," said Carrie Shelver of People Opposing Woman Abuse (Powa), one of the organisations participating in the demonstration.

A woman is raped in South Africa every 26 seconds, according to Powa's estimate.

Only one in nine rapes that takes place in South Africa is ever reported - out of the reported cases, only 7% lead to a conviction, Powa says.

Outdated law

Ms Shelver says much of the problem had to do with South Africa's Sexual Offences Act and the way the justice system deals with women who bring accusations of rape.

The law uses a narrow definition of rape, and court procedure often requires the woman to prove that she did not provoke the rape.

RAPE IN SOUTH AFRICA
Women's rights activists
A woman raped every 26 seconds
40% of rapists known to victim
7% of reported cases lead to conviction

Source: People Opposing Woman Abuse
"She will be put on a stand and attention will shift to her sexual history," Ms Shelver says.

South Africa's Sexual Offences Act dates back to 1957: the days of apartheid when the country's rulers were not only all white, but also all male.

Much has changed since then, at least on the surface, even if social attitudes remain conservative.

A third of parliamentarians, the deputy president and several of the most prominent cabinet members are women.

The post-apartheid constitution specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, yet the old Sexual Offences Act remains in place.

Waiting for leadership

New draft legislation has been passed back and forth between government departments and parliamentary committees since 1998.

"The delay is depriving people of justice," says Joyce Maluleke, director in the Justice Department's gender directorate.

Ms Maluleke agrees that under the current laws governing rape cases, "victims become more accused than the accused".

She blames the drawn-out process in passing the new legislation on the number of different government departments involved, including justice, police and social development.

"The new act will ensure the victim is protected," Ms Maluleke says. "Those who wish to testify in camera will be able to do so."

"The accused also has a right to be protected, but not at the expense of the victim," she adds.

Asked when the new draft will finally be passed into law, Ms Maluleke replies: "The bill is completed. In terms of when... that just needs a leadership decision."


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