Page last updated at 07:00 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 08:00 UK

Tackling South Africa's rape epidemic

Two friends of footballer Zakhe were raped and murdered for being gay

By Nikki Jecks
BBC News

The trial of three of the men accused of the rape and murder of one of South Africa's leading sportswomen, the openly gay football star Eudy Simelane, starts in South Africa on Wednesday.

Thirty-one lesbian women have been reported raped and murdered in homophobic attacks in South Africa since 1998.

But according to Triangle - a gay rights organisation - only two cases of "corrective rape" have ever made it to the courts; there has been only one conviction.

"This is a sad fact in this country generally, women are very reluctant to come forward," says Sharon Cox from Triangle.

If we do get sentences in these cases it will be a great step forward
Sharon Cox, Triangle

"Corrective rape" is the term used to describe the rape of a lesbian woman by a man to either punish her, or "correct" her behaviour.

Ms Cox says rape is power is South Africa.

"The thinking is, all it takes is one good man to cure you of being a lesbian," she told the BBC's Newshour programme.

Triangle says it deals with up to 10 new cases of corrective rape every week.

Support groups claim an increasingly aggressive and macho political environment is contributing to the inaction of the police over attacks on lesbians and is part of a growing cultural lethargy towards the high levels of gender-based violence in South Africa.

But with the possibility of convictions in the Eudy Simelane case, and another case ongoing in Cape Town, Ms Cox is hopeful of change.

"If we do get sentences in these cases it will be a great step forward for human rights, for women's rights and for gay and lesbian rights."

Gang rape

South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world.

Anti-rape protesters in South Africa
South Africa has the highest incidence of rape amongst Interpol states
1 in 4 men admit to rape
Nearly 150 women are raped every day
More than 54,000 cases of rape were reported in 2006
Based on reports by the Medical Research Council, Interpol

More than 54,000 cases are reported to the police each year.

Among men in their early twenties it has become almost a game.

There is even a term for the man who leads the process - he is know as the "marhasimani".

"A marhasimani is someone who goes to the club, buys a woman a few beers, then with his friends, he would take that woman and go away and have sex with her," one young man told the BBC on the understanding of anonymity.

Another of the group sitting in a bar in the city of Kempton Park, north-east of Johannesburg, explains how it works.

He says the friends hide under the bed until the first man is finished and has left the room, then they take turns having sex with the woman, pretending to be the first man.

"The room is dark and the girl is not even going to notice if it's the second guy sleeping with her," explains another friend in the group.

When they are challenged to admit that what they are doing constitutes gang rape, they all deny it.

It's not about her, we bought her drinks, you know

"It's not about her, we bought her drinks, you know how drinks are expensive," says one of them.

"We can't say it's gang rape because, OK, I know sometimes we have to drug the girl and everything, but it does not happen all the time," says another.

"Most of the time when it does happen, the girl is taking some drinks, but she is quite aware of what is happening."

In a report earlier this year, the charity Actionaid spoke to 23-year-old Zakhe, who had two friends raped and killed, and was threatened with rape herself.

"They tell me that they will kill me, they will rape me and after raping me I will become a girl. I will become a straight girl," she said.

At the heart of these different manifestations of rape are deep-rooted cultural stereotypes - that men have ownership over women and are of greater importance.

These are views based on traditional values and gender roles that have been enforced in homes and villages in the past and have been largely unchallenged.

Sense of entitlement

Dumisani Rebombo is a former rapist who now speaks openly and with great remorse about his crime.

Dumisani Rebombo
If you have silence in communities, I think that silence is very loud
Dumisani Rebombo

He was just 15 when he raped a young woman in his village with two of his friends.

He admits giving in to peer pressure: "I did it to prove that I was a boy but also wanting to be accepted.

"It's not something that I enjoyed… Immediately I was engulfed with guilt and fear."

Mr Rebombo now works for the Olive Leaf Foundation, an NGO working with men to prevent rape.

He believes that the problem is partly societal - that boys are raised with a sense of entitlement, and the belief that they can to do whatever they want with women.

"Boys are socialised to be tough, to be macho."

The other problem he says is the lack of willingness for anyone to challenge these assumptions.

"You could have as many good men as bad, but if you have silence in communities, I think that silence is very loud."

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