Hundreds of South Africans chanting “enough is enough” have gathered at a building site where a 17-year-old girl was mutilated and left to die after being gang-raped.
Their tribute on Friday was testimony to how the killing of Anene Booysen has prompted soul-searching in a country where many people have become oblivious to rampant sex crimes and violence.
People marched in a procession to the site in the sleepy town of Bredasdorp, 130km east of Cape Town, where they placed flowers and candles by a simple wooden cross.
Booysen was found by security guards lying only a short distance from her house after partying at a nearby bar last Friday (February 1). She later died in the hospital.
Her foster mother, Corlia Olivier, recounted the moment when she saw her daughter dumped amid the gravel and grass, her stomach slit open down to her genitals.
“I heard her saying ‘Mommy help me, Mommy help me’ and I rushed over…and just saw her guts hanging out,” Olivier told reporters, tears welling up in her eyes.
President Jacob Zuma expressed “shock and outrage”, calling for the harshest possible sentences for the killers and a concerted campaign “to end this scourge in our society”.
Meanwhile, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay said on Friday: “The entrenched culture of sexual violence which prevails in South Africa must end.”
South Africa has the highest number of reported rapes per head of population of any Interpol member country.
Even when suspects are caught, only 12 percent of cases end in conviction, and sexual crimes – even in the most serious cases – seldom spark much beyond editorials and anguished radio phone-ins.
The Womens’ League of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is trying to mobilise the public into something akin to the mass protests against anti-female violence that broke out in India after the New Delhi attack.
On Friday, Cape Town radio station KFM started broadcasting a “bleep” every four minutes as a reminder to listeners that another South African woman will, on average, have just been raped. Social networking site Twitter saw the hashtag #stoprape trending in South Africa for most of Friday afternoon, with users expressing outrage over continued gender violence in the country.
“The brutality and the slaughter of this young teenager is beyond belief “
– Police commander, Maree Louw
At the Bredasdrop building site, religious leaders and politicians linked arms with Booysen’s relatives as they sang hymns and laid a wreath by the cross, adorned with a single pink ribbon.
“I still hear her footsteps,” Olivier said, turning to accept a vase of flowers from an elderly couple, as a stream of well-wishers arrived to offer condolences.
Maree Louw, the commander of the local police station, said the murder was one of the worst cases she had seen in a long career.
The first police officers on the scene have been receiving trauma counselling.
“The brutality and the slaughter of this young teenager is beyond belief,” Louw told the Reuters news agency.
Like many towns in South Africa’s Western Cape, Bredasdorp, with a population of 35,000 people, has its problems with drug and alcohol abuse but Louw said most people would go to bed at night with their back doors open and windows unlocked.
Booysen managed to reveal the name of one of the attackers, a family friend, before dying. Three men in their early 20s have been arrested and are expected to appear in court on Tuesday on charges of rape and murder.
They face the prospect of life in prison if convicted.
Under a constitution drawn up after the end of apartheid in 1994, Nelson Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation” abolished the death penalty.