Current South Africa President Jacob Zuma was acquitted of rape in 2006. The very fact that a case against him was even brought to trial is surprising. Only one in nine rapes are ever reported and only a fraction of those are brought to trial. During the trial, the judge allowed his supporters to gather outside the courthouse and chant “burn the bitch.” When testifying, Zuma acknowledged a sexual encounter but stated that as the woman was dressed “provocatively” in traditional dress, “it was against Zulu culture for a man to leave a sexually aroused woman unsatisfied.” Zuma also stated that he knew the woman was HIV positive but that he showered after the encounter and because he was healthy deemed this enough of a preventative measure.
Since his inauguration, Zuma has indicated an intention to make crime prevention a priority and has set up a ministry to promote women’s and children’s rights. But what is most necessary for South Africa is for men who are in positions of power to serve as role models that violence against women is not acceptable. Men in South Africa need to step up and take responsibility for the culture of violence and impunity and demand that their mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, wives and girlfriends are treated with respect rather than with abuse. And it needs to come from the top down. Yes, President Zuma, I am talking to you.