On Friday, from 6am to 6pm, Talk Radio 702 and its three sister stations in Gauteng and the Western Cape sounded a beep every four minutes.
They occurred during interviews or advertisements, interrupting whatever was airing at the time. The response was phenomenal, discussion of it trending on social networks, and drawing international attention from news networks abroad.
The idea behind the four-minute beeps was to sharply raise public awareness of the frequency of rape in South Africa. Based on police statistics, with an estimate of non-reporting factored in, the stations calculated a sex attack every four minutes on average.
The statistical accuracy of the guesstimate aside, it was powerful. It was a particularly disgusting rape and slaughter a week before that prompted it. Seventeen-year-old Anene Booysen of Bredasdorp was gang-raped, then mutilated most terribly, and left to die.
It stirred widespread revulsion, including presidential dismay. It was a horrid act – as was the rape and murder of five-year-old Nosihle Zondo at Highflats near Ixopo in December.
Gruesome details of this emerged in this newspaper on the same day as Booysen’s attack. Nosihle’s rapist was 23. He stabbed her, dumped her body in a pit toilet, and received two life terms for his depravity. It is literally happening all the time, a plague on the nation.
Professor Rachel Jewkes of the Medical Research Council is right, the key lies in the way boys are brought up to be men. Abhorrence at rape should be taught in the family and should be reinforced at schools.
But this is a long-term, cultural correction. The immediate issue is what to do now about males who will not hear “no”. Certainty of being caught, the toughest possible punishment, public co-operation and unflagging activism against rape may reduce it until society can reshape its outlook on those males who simply help themselves.