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Correspondent Monday, 14 October, 2002, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
AIDS: A South African horror story
Men drinking
Allan Little

South Africa is in the grip of an unprecedented increase in the most despicable crime - baby rape. Allan Little reports for BBC Two's Correspondent on the devastating phenomenon and talks to the individuals involved in a case that shook the world.

Some surveys suggest that up to a third of South Africans believe in an ancient and bizarre "cure" for AIDS.

This "cure" involves having sex with a virgin in the belief that it will cleanse the body of venereal diseases like AIDS.

It was this belief which led to the rape of an eight-month-old baby called Tshepang in Louisvale, South Africa.

Wanda and Tshepang
Wanda will have some careful explaining to do in the future
In October 2001, "Wanda" a 16-year-old mother left Tshepang with her grandmother Poppie and went to a local bar.

Poppie, who was already drunk, put her to bed with Tshepang's four-year-old cousin and then fell asleep.

In the early hours of the morning, the grandmother woke and found that the baby had been raped.

Six arrested

Initially, the police detained six local men as suspects, but after four months, a DNA sample found at the scene of the crime eliminated them from the investigation.

David Potse - Panas
Panas refused to take an AIDS test
In July 2002, David Potse, otherwise known as "Panas", was convicted for Tshpang's rape and indecent assault.

The evidence was found in a match of DNA from semen found at the scene of the crime and from a testimony from Panas' girlfriend who had been with him and witnessed the rape.

The judge, who sentenced Panas to life imprisonment plus 18 years for indecent assault, said he deserved the death penalty had it still existed.

The six original suspects, later cleared of any involvement in the rape, made it clear how the myth has taken hold in elements of South African society.

Radio advice

Radio information is widely misinterpreted
One of them revealed how local radio programmes are widely misinterpreted.

He told Correspondent: "A man listens to what's being said about the world - I heard about the small child and how the sickness goes away."

"It's said that if you are sick and have AIDS - you can rub the disease off on a baby," another added.

These comments are firm convictions for too many people in South Africa.

Prof Heinz Rode,  Red Cross Children's Hospital
Prof Heinz Rode: "People seek desperate ways of curing themselves"
Professor Heinz Rode, of the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town is clear where the problems lay.

He said: "The government policy precludes the free circulation of anti-retro viral drugs to people with the disease.

"As a result, people seek desperate ways of curing themselves. The reality is that witch doctors have spread the idea that if you have sex with a virgin, you can cure yourself of AIDS."

In a country with the world's highest incidence of rape, even baby rape victims are not allowed life saving anti-AIDS drugs.

To compound matters, there has been no government-backed information campaign about the devastation and reality of Aids.

With witch doctors still commanding a great deal of respect in South Africa there is widespread concern that the belief in this myth is putting every child in South Africa at risk.

AIDS : A South African Horror Story: Tuesday 15 October 2002 on BBC Two at 2320 BST
BBC Scotland Monday 21 October 2002 on BBC Two at 2320 BST

Reporter: Allan Little
Director: Cliff Bestall
Co-Director: Pearlie Joubert
Editor: Karen O'Connor
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

The original six suspects
An alarming South African myth
Isp. Marina van der Merwe
"She didn't make any sound -she couldn't even cry"
Grandmother Poppie
"I picked her up and took her into the light - there I could see she had been raped"
Prof Heinz Rode
"People seek alternative ways of curing themselves"

Key stories

Case studies




See also:

04 Apr 02 | Africa
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