South African President Thabo Mbeki and South African activist Charlene Smith have been battling it out in that country’s press this month over just how serious of problem rape is in that country. Smith said that Mbeki is in denial about the true extent of the problem, while Mbeki responded that critics like Smith are racists who want to portray black Africans as savages.
The backdrop of this was an official report showing a minor drop in South Africa’s sky high rape rate. According to official South African statistics, the rape rate declined from 115.3 per 100,000 in 1994 to 113.7 per 100,000 in 2003/04.
Smith and others questioned those statistics and charged the drop is the result of “massaged” statistics. Frankly, that’s rather moot since 113.7 rapes per 100,000 population is unbelievably high. To put it in context, in 2000 the U.S. rape rate was just barely over 32 per 100,000. As a whole, South Africa has a rape rate three-and-a-half times as high as the United States. That is a mind-bogglingly high rate and does, as Smith claims, demonstrate just how crime-ridden South Africa is.
Mbeki responded with an article on the African National Congress web site saying,
She [Smith] was saying our cultures, traditions and religions as Africans inherently makes African man a potential rapist . . . [a] view which defines the African people as barbaric savages.
In fact Smith never said anything remotely like this and never mentioned race at all in her critique. instead she criticized the government for failing to take rape victims seriously, noting numerous problems with the way that rape allegations and rape victims were treated.
Mbeki seems to be using the same script here that he used to defend his atrocious policy of denying that HIV caused AIDS and refused for too long to allow pregnant women to be given anti-retroviral drugs. The script goes like this — find someone white who is making the criticism and then claim it’s all about colonial oppressors trying to disparage blacks. Who cares, after all, if black women are the major victim of South Africa’s out-of-control crime rates?
After all, what sort of government is pleased that rape rates fell from 115.3 to 113.7 per 100,000 over a 10 year period? That’s not progress, that’s dereliction of duty.
Mbeki says crime reports are racist. Mail & Guardian, October 6, 2004.
Mbeki slammed in rape race row. The BBC, October 5, 2004.
Rape has become a way of life in South Africa. Charlene Smith, Sunday Independent, September 26, 2004.
Mbeki blasts crime stats critics. Sapa, October 1, 2004.