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Indian rape victim's case hits home in South Africa, where 28 per cent of men have raped

News of the 23-year-old's death prompts a groundswell of anger and a good deal of introspection about why South Africa has some of the world's highest incidences of rape.

JOHANNESBURG // Reaction to the death of a young Indian woman who suffered organ failure after being gang raped reverberated beyond Asia to South Africa - a country battling its own epidemic levels of sexual violence.

News of the 23-year-old's death prompted a groundswell of anger and a good deal of introspection about why South Africa persistently has some of the highest incidences of rape in world.

An estimated 28 per cent of South African men have committed rape, according to data from the Medical Research Council of South Africa and the International Centre for Research on Women.

That compares to 24 per cent of Indian men according to the same data.

Official statistics show there were almost 65,000 sexual offences in South Africa last year, but police estimate only one in 36 rape cases is reported. Based on those figures it is possible that 2.3 million South Africans were victims of sexual offences.

So South Africa is all too able to empathise with the victims of horrendous acts of sexual violence. In addition it also has a large Indian population.

"Here rapists attack everyone - from babies up to grannies and we sit and do nothing. A revolution is taking place in India," said Pinkie Khoabane, a social commentator. "We need the good men to stand up," Mr Khoabane said.

In November, six South African village boys, including one aged 10, were charged with rape and the murder of three other children, in a case that hardly made the newspapers.

South African president Jacob Zuma's 2006 rape trial, at which he was acquitted, and the filmed gang rape last year of a 17-year-old girl with a mental age of four were notable exceptions, and both sparked a national debate. But analysts say that the general resignation about sexual violence has partly to do with who the victims are.

Based on statistics from Johannesburg and Pretoria, researchers have shown that almost 89 per cent of reported rapes involve black women, who are predominantly poor.

Some 58 per cent of the victims were unemployed and 15 per cent were under the age of 11, according to figures published in the journal Crime Quarterly.

The same data showed 16 per cent of reported rape cases in South Africa involve gang rape.

In a heated Twitter debate on Saturday, Zwelinzima Vavi, head of the union umbrella group Cosatu, which is part of the ANC-led tripartite alliance that governs the country, angrily dismissed claims sexual violence was caused by poverty or apartheid.

"No one can tell me that raping a three-month-[old] baby or 87-year-old granny or burning a library or vandalising a school, is caused by poverty," he wrote. "Poverty can't lead to an erection when seeing a 90-year or three-month-old."

He added: "Yes, apartheid humiliated, dehumanised and made people feel valueless - its existence in the past is no excuse for current moral degeneration."

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