“These Women, They Force Us to Rape Them”

Rape as Narrative of Social Control in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Authored by: Helen Moffett

Categories: Statebuilding
Sub-Categories: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
Country: South Africa
Region: Sub-Saharan Africa
Year: 2006
Citation: Moffett, Helen. "'These Women, They Force Us to Rape Them': Rape as Narrative of Social Control in Post-Apartheid South Africa." Journal of South African Studies 32, no. 1 (2006): 129-144.

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South Africa has the worst known figures for gender-based violence for a country not at war. At least one in three South African women will be raped in her lifetime. The rates of sexual violence against women and children, as well as the signal failure of the criminal justice and health systems to curtail the crisis, suggest an unacknowledged gender civil war. Yet narratives about rape continue to be rewritten as stories about race, rather than gender. This stifles debate, demonises black men, hardens racial barriers, and greatly hampers both disclosure and educational efforts. As an alternative to racially-inflected explanations, I argue that contemporary sexual violence in South Africa is fuelled by justificatory narratives that are rooted in apartheid practices that legitimated violence by the dominant group against the disempowered, not only in overtly political arenas, but in social, informal and domestic spaces. In South Africa, gender rankings are maintained and women regulated through rape, the most intimate form of violence. Thus, in post-apartheid, democratic South Africa, sexual violence has become a socially endorsed punitive project for maintaining patriarchal order. Men use rape to inscribe subordinate status on to an intimately known ‘Other’ – women. This is generally and globally true of rape, but in the case of South Africa, such activities draw on apartheid practices of control that have permeated all sectors of society.