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Sunday, June 6, 2010

South Africa: Wealth and Woe

When you think of South Africa, what comes to mind? Do you think of fantastic rugby, Nelson Mandela, breathtaking safari's or the apartheid policy? Maybe now you have begun to associate the country with the World Cup, set to begin on Friday.

As with all major international events it always causes the media to take a closer look at the country in question. We all remember the unprecedented coverage of China in the run up to the 2008 Olympics. However, I've yet to anything approaching the same amount of coverage on this interesting African nation.

Many people in Africa look to the South as a beacon of economic hope. It has the largest GDP of any nation on the continent and the 17th largest stock exchange in the world. It also is the leader in industrial output and mineral production on the continent. Of course, the gap in income between the rich and poor is great. Unemployment stands at 24% and slums are widespread in urban centres.

However, and possibly resulting from the levels of economic devastation crime statistics in South Africa are undeniably shocking. Homicide rates in South Africa are the 9th highest in the world and more people live with HIV/AIDS in South Africa than anywhere else on earth.

However, undoubtedly it is the rape statistics in South Africa make for the most shameful and depressing reading. In South Africa a woman is more likely to be raped than learn to read in her lifetime. One quarter of South African men have admitted rape and half of those have offended repeatedly.

Even more frightening are the rates of rape among children. In a country ravaged by AIDS, it is a somewhat commonly believed myth that a cure for AIDS is to have sex with a baby or child. Indeed, according to Childline one in four girls are raped by the time they are 16. Most man start to rape in their teens (73%) according to a survey carried out by the South African Health ministry and gang rape dubbed locally as 'jackrolling' is common by schoolchildren and seen as a form of male bonding. A Government Minister has even come out as saying that South Africa is indeed the rape capital of the world.

It is clear that attitudes towards women in South Africa must change. As with all of the worlds major issues a clear solution is difficult to come by. However, many South Africans point to an important social issue which they feel is linked to this epidemic, gender encoding. Rape is used by man in South Africa to assert their dominance over all social groups. Indeed it is often men with some degree of social standing that commit these rapes. Until these men learn that masculinity involves protecting, not controlling women then I fear that the women of South Africa will remain brutally suppressed.

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