One in four South Africans believes that rape is sometimes justifiable

It has taken a long time for the world to acknowledge the horrors of the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas on Israelis on October 7th but, slowly, information is coming out that is both shocking and of grave concern. On this International Women’s Day, the Cape Jewish Chronicle brings our readers information about the attitudes of South Africans to what happened on that fateful day.

See the article below regarding a significant survey commissioned by the Women’s Action Campaign SA.

We call on readers to share your thoughts or comments with us in the Comment Section at the bottom of this page.

Most South Africans think that rape and gender based violence are serious issues, but a concerning minority believes that sexual violence can sometimes be justified. This is one of the findings of a sobering national survey recently released.

The Women’s Action Campaign SA (WACSA) commissioned the survey to explore reasons for muted responses in South Africa to the sexual atrocities committed by Hamas militants in Israel on 7 October 2023, despite this country itself being plagued by high levels of gender-based violence (GBV).

Importantly, WACSA believes that compassion is not a binary choice. The Israel-Hamas war is complex, but it’s not hard to recognise and acknowledge both the devastating loss of life in Gaza and the horror and tragedy of Hamas’s brutal attack and sexual violence in Israel.

Key survey findings
● 1 in 2 South Africans knows someone who has been raped and/or experienced GBV.
● 97% agree that rape and GBV are profound problems.
● 90% believe that all rape victims should be supported, regardless of race, culture, religion or gender.
● 73% believe that rape is never justifiable; 25% say that it can be justified in wartime.
● 56% had not heard of Hamas and 62% did not know about Hamas’s attack on Israel.
● When presented with details, 79% believe it was an unjustified act of war and terror.
● 40% believe that reports of Hamas’s rapes/killings are Israeli or Western propaganda.
● 70% support prosecuting Hamas’s actions as war crimes and 54% believe that South Africa’s government should apply pressure to this end.

WACSA spokesperson Angie Richardson says that South Africa’s ongoing silence and denial of Hamas’s sexual atrocities are deeply disturbing. “The burden of proof for rape has been raised impossibly high for Israeli women.”

Outright denial, distortion of facts and disbelief continue, despite clear evidence
Evidence is mounting of unfathomably savage levels of mass rape, mutilation and other sexual violence against women, children and some men in the October 7 atrocities. A detailed investigation by the Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel found that Hamas militants  intentionally used sadistic sexual practices to spread humiliation and terror.

The International Humanitarian Law Centre believes there is clear evidence that Hamas committed war crimes by violating fundamental norms of international humanitarian law.

Some South African political parties and commentators have denied outright the October 7 atrocities. Others claimed that Israelis brought the atrocities on themselves. The WACSA survey highlights the dangers inherent in this rhetoric. WACSA calls on political parties, our government, civil society and human/women’s rights organisations and activists to publicly condemn rape and sexual violence wherever they occur. “We are encouraged by the recent comment from Minister of International Affairs Naledi Pandor, who told parliamentarians that Hamas must be investigated for war crimes. However, we hope the South African government will pursue this with the same enthusiasm as in its ICJ case against Israel,” says Richardson.

Silence, denialism, and victim-blaming
Internationally, media note that the Israel-Hamas war is being waged by organised, well-funded lobbies, with propaganda, protests and on social media, often by ideologues speaking to audiences primed to believe them. 

South Africans’ understanding of October 7 is limited, but a clear majority (79%) called it an unjustified act of terror when presented with a generic paragraph on the attack. Despite this, 40% believed that reports of Hamas atrocities are Israeli or Western propaganda, while 25% believed that the victims “brought it on themselves” by being complicit in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Richardson stresses that rape and sexual violence can never be justified or seen as deserved. “Failing to condemn Hamas’s horrific atrocities and blaming victims simply condones the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war.”

“The survey reveals deeply unsettling attitudes and underscores the critical need for education, dialogue and accountability measures to protect all people from these horrific acts, regardless of gender, race, religion or politics.”

Accountability and prosecution must follow condemnation
WACSA believes that we should all speak out whenever people are raped, sexually assaulted and abused, wherever they are – in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, the DRC, Mozambique, or Israel. “We’re alarmed that some South Africans view rape and sexual violence as acceptable in conflict, but the survey demonstrates that, overall, they strongly condemn all violence against innocents,” says Richardson.

Seventy per cent of South Africans would support prosecuting Hamas militants for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. More than half believe that government should apply maximum pressure to achieve this.

WACSA, therefore, calls on the South African government to go further than simply stating its condemnation of acts of violence of October 7. It must apply maximum pressure through international courts, the United Nations and through its close ties to Hamas leadership to ensure accountability and justice for victims and survivors and the release of all hostages still in Gaza. The majority of South Africans would support this.

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