Anger over judge’s race remarks not excuse to ignore problem of rape


Judge Mabel Jansen’s Facebook posts regarding rape and black culture have predictably made her position as a high court judge untenable.

The barrage of criticism that has followed her remarks was inevitable, especially in a country so sensitive to anything with a whiff of racism.

But the fact is, she missed it. Completely. By connecting rape with blackness she is guilty of generalising and racial profiling. Our anger is justified.

Should not blind us to legitimate issue
That said, we should not allow it to blind us to the other legitimate issue in this saga – rape – and the fact that Jansen has seen the data, examined the evidence and listened to many horrific stories.

By all accounts, many of the cases before her before have involved unimaginable sexual violation for woman and child victims.

These cases are not exclusive to Jansen’s courtroom. We hear about them or read about them daily. Many of us know victims.

Yes, the fact that a preponderance of cases before Judge Jansen may have had black men as suspects is an issue which needs unpacking.

But race aside, the reality is that many South African men are misogynists and a danger to women.

Terrible stigma
As South Africans we already carry the terrible stigma of being the rape capital of the world. In fact, South African women and girls live with the ever-present fear of being accosted by a sexual predator.

This fear is so pervasive and debilitating that women try to organise their whole lives around avoiding any spaces where predators could be lurking – which is just about anywhere or everywhere.

Making things worse is that many of these rapists are repeat offenders.

And, according to Rape Crisis, about one in five of them is HIV positive. This means that rape is not only an inhuman violation but a significant factor in the spread of HIV.

We will fail ourselves bitterly along with the vulnerable members of our society if we allow this saga only to be about Jansen’s racial biases. It is about a nation that has lost its moral compass.

Double jeopardy of black women
If we confine our reaction to the race element alone we will further enforce the double jeopardy of black women whose daily struggle is not only against racial discrimination but the ever-present threat of gender-based violence.

Organisations like the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) have demanded the dismissal of Jansen and the reviewing of court cases under her involving black men.

The gains to be made from such an action are short term and will not deal with the problem of rape.

Granted, rape is a worldwide problem, but it is one that is more prevalent here than anywhere else.

So while African culture is by no means guilty of sanctioning rape it has certainly not done enough to curb it. Culture is a codifier of our values and norms. It is also socially constructed to modify behaviour. Rape is one of the worst forms of deviant behaviour in our society.

If ever we needed the much-talked about African solutions to African problems it is now.

Frank conversations
African men are the custodians of a rich cultural heritage and it is time they have frank conversations among themselves regarding the scourge of rape.

Bearing in mind that rape is also often committed by multiple offenders, there is clearly something amiss in the conversations men are having with each other.

So while the public uproar against Jansen continues, let the opportunity for self-introspection not be missed.

And while we fault Jansen, have we demonstrated equal empathy for the victims who make up her case load?  If not we cannot exonerate ourselves for that lack.

As Christians we have a moral duty not to cherry pick issues, as the world often does, but to address all social concerns of which rape is big one. May we not be carried along but remain steadfast in who we are.


  1. I am always impressed with your deep insight into sensitive matters as well as your ability to articulate the truth of such a matter in such a way that it (the truth) merely needs to be unleashed in order for it to defend itself….which it is easily able to do…Blessings….missed your preaching this year at the MMC Karoo….

  2. Having voluntarily involved myself in the Eastern DR Congo since 2004 (a country where e.g. Goma is known as the rape capital of the world), rape is a very serious and endemic cultural problem. Women suffer of all sort of disease, fertility problems and serious mental anguish. As a community worker I have written and reported on this cultural problem, as had others in lengthy reports. We cannot fight racism with racism, denial with denial, or unrighteousness with unrighteousness.

  3. OK; so racism is not allowable and perhaps the judge should have shut up. But what are the facts? Is it a fact that most of the rapes committed by black men? If this is actually the case, then surely the judge was correct in naming the problem. In today’s world it seems to be a crime to call a spade a spade; but how does society tackle a problem if we are all afraid to spell it out? It doesn’t do any good to sweep fact under the carpet – crying “RACISM” won’t make the problem go away!

  4. Rona van Niekerk

    According to the 2011 census, the population of SA is:
    African: 79.2%
    White + Coloured: 8.9% each
    Indian: 2.5%
    Other: 0.5%.
    You would therefore expect the number of convicted rapists to fall into the same proposrtions, ie there would be more Black rapists because the Black population is the highest. Only if the proportions are different to those of the entire population, could you make any sort of statement about trends, and then only if you had used some kind of statistical analysis to eliminate random errors. Whether or not this would be a useful exercise is open to debate. However, if the analysis was widened to include educational levels, rural and urban dwellers, and the like, it might provide a useful pointer to show where efforts could be targeted to aleviate the problem. Nonetheless, we live in a fallen world, and ultimately change is only possible for those who have given their lives to the Lord, and who choose to live His way.