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5 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in South Africa

South Africa Student Work Activism
by Amanda Machado Mar 2, 2015

1. South Africa only trails behind Namibia and Botswana as the most economically unequal country in the world.

According to a new report by the World Bank, South Africa has the third highest income inequality in the world, only below Namibia and Botswana. The report used the Gini coefficient, a formula used by the World Bank, and other organizations to measure wealth distribution. Using the formula, a score of 0 signifies perfectly equal wealth distribution, while scores closer to one signify growing inequality. A rating of .4 is considered internationally as an “alert” for high inequality. In 2014, South Africa scored a .59.

South African cities also have the highest Gini coefficient numbers in the world: a 2011 report by the United Nations found that Johannesburg and East London topped the income inequality list with scores of .74. Bloemfontein scored a .74, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Durban all scored a .72, and Cape Town scored a .67.

2. The price of a coffee in Cape Town is equal to the average daily income for a third of the South African population.

As an international line of measure, the World Bank and the United Nations define poverty as living on less than US$2 a day. When the World Bank measured poverty in South Africa in 2009, they found that 31% of the country’s population lived on $2 a day or less. Poverty rates change based on province: over 70% of children in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape fall below the definition of poverty, while the Gauteng and Western Cape provinces have child poverty rates of 34% and 27% respectively. Poverty in the country also has a clear racial component: 67 percent of black children live below the poverty line in South Africa compared to only 2 percent of white children.

3. Surveys suggest that more than a quarter of South African men have committed rape.

A 2010 survey by the Medical Research Council found that one in three South African men admitted to committing rape. More than 75% admitted to committing other acts of violence against women. The survey questioned 487 men in the Gauteng province. In 2009, a similar study interviewed a greater representative sample — 1,738 men in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces — yet found similarly high numbers: one in four men admitted to raping a woman at least once in their lifetime. Almost half of these men admitted to committing rape more than once. 73% also said they committed their first rape before the age of 20.

The survey not only demonstrated shocking statistics of perpetrating crime, but also the disturbing beliefs that shape them: In the survey, more than a third of men and 29% of women agreed that, “A woman cannot refuse to have sex with her husband” and 22.3% of men and 8.8% of women agreed with the statement “If a wife does something wrong, her husband has the right to punish her.” 20.1% of men and 15.6% of women said that “In some rape cases, women want it to happen.”

According to statistics compiled by the Western Cape Government, a woman is raped in South Africa every four minutes. Every three minutes, a child is sexually assaulted. Intimate partner homicide is also a significant problem, accounting for more than half of the total female homicides in the country. Every six hours, a South African woman is killed by her intimate partner. According to the United Nations, South Africa’s female homicide rate is still five times the global rate.

4. By the end of the day today, South Africa will have 300 new cases of aggravated robbery and 47 new cases of murder.

Though crime has fluctuated in South Africa throughout the years, the 2014 crime averages are still disconcerting. Every day in South Africa, 189 people get mugged on the street, 53 houses and 51 businesses are robbed, 31 cars are hijacked, and 47 people are murdered. The murder rate is five times higher than the global average. The murder rate has a racial component as well: According to a police analysis, only 1.8% of murder victims are white.

Though crime comparisons around the world are difficult because of the varying quality of policing and record-keeping, many organizations consistently place South Africa as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. According to the United Nations, South Africa’s murder rate ranks it as the eighth most violent country in the world, and the most violent country on the African continent.

5. Its constitution is widely regarded as one of the most LGBTQ friendly in the world…and yet “corrective rape” happens frequently.

South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to include LGBTQ rights in its constitution. In 1996, South Africa banned discrimination against gay people and allowed equal employment protections for the LGBTQ population. In 2005, it was the fifth country in the world to legally recognize same-sex marriage. But many argue that these laws mean little in practice. The common practice of “corrective rape” — a term referring to when LGBTQ men and women are raped to “cure” their sexual orientation — most clearly demonstrates how behind South African society is in terms of achieving LGBTQ equality.

Official statistics on sexual offences do not ask about sexual orientation, so it’s difficult to know exactly how often corrective rape occurs. However, a report done by Harvard claimed there were more than 500 cases of corrective rape reported in Cape Town each year. A study by The Triangle Project and the UNISA Centre for Applied Psychology found that in the Western Cape, the fear of sexual assault is a reality for 44% of white lesbian women and 86% of black lesbian women. In many cases, these rapes end in severe injuries and often murder. Perpetrators are rarely arrested, much less prosecuted, and out of those that are, few are ever convicted.

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