For years, South African women and men have gone to Rustenburg Local Municipality in droves, attracted by its location at the heart of the world’s largest platinum group metals repository. Opportunities in mining have caused the population to balloon, making the town northwest of Johannesburg the fastest-growing municipality in the country.
But while employment has been abundant, it is largely men who have benefited.
Nearly 90 percent of Rustenburg’s mineworkers are men, while women, who have likewise flocked to the town from rural South Africa and nearby countries, struggle to find jobs. A Doctors Without Borders report released Tuesday suggests that this imbalance has carried insidious consequences: “Many females in Rustenburg may be financially dependent on men …[making] women less likely to report violence by a partner they depend on.”
Doctors Without Borders surveyed 800 women between 18 and 49 years old in Rustenburg late last year. Although 1 in 4 said they had been raped in their lifetime, only 5 percent had reported the incidents to a health worker.
When measured against the town’s population, these results suggest that about 50,000 (mostly migrant) women in Rustenburg have been raped — “shocking but not uncommon statistics in South Africa,” the report said.
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Interpol findings in 2012 labeled South Africa “the world’s rape capital,” a title also associated with India and Congo, but reliable numbers are unavailable because a vast majority of rapes are believed to be unreported.
Many women in Rustenburg are deterred from reporting sexual violence by the stigma surrounding it, the Doctors Without Borders report said, while others do not know that sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies can be prevented through immediate medical care after rape has been committed.
“It is difficult to access sexual and reproductive health services, because I do not have money for transport,” said one woman surveyed. “I am unemployed.”
The report stressed the need to change attitudes that currently dissuade women from reporting sexual violence.
Eight out of 10 women surveyed said those who have been sexually assaulted may be called names; nearly as many said sexual violence victims may be ostracized and ignored by other members of society.
As a result, many choose to remain silent about assaults, the report said.
[South Africa, once called ‘the world’s rape capital,’ is running out of rape kits]
Earlier this month, four young women held a silent anti-rape protest during a speech given by South African President Jacob Zuma. Zuma was acquitted of rape charges a decade ago, a case cited by the signs held by the women in the photo above.
“Remember Khwezi,” said one, using the pseudonym of Zuma’s accuser.
“Khanga,” said another, noting the traditional garb that Khwezi wore during the alleged attack.
“Khwezi is all of us,” Simamkele Dlakavu, one of the protesters, told the Guardian. “She is representative of all of us. She [represents] a failure of the justice system.”