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Sex assault on baby casts harsh light on South Africa rape crisis

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Thursday morning's South African front page headlines screamed out the latest scandal: For a final exam, high school drama students were asked to dramatize the rape of a baby using a broom and a loaf of bread.

But outrage over the drama test was swiftly eclipsed by a more shocking story that emerged Thursday. A 6-week-old baby girl from Galeshwe township, west of the diamond-mining town of Kimberley, was fighting for her life after being raped.

The girl's 24-year-old uncle was arrested over the attack, which occurred Tuesday. Township residents had surrounded the suspect and threatened to kill him, according to local media, until relatives intervened to save him.

News of the alleged rape came as South Africa, with one of the highest rates of rape globally, was marking 16 days of activism against rape and violence against women, launched by President Jacob Zuma on Monday.

Western Cape provincial police Chief Arno Lamoer said he was sickened by the problem, saying there have been dozens of rapes reported in the Western Cape province alone since Zuma launched the campaign.

“If men don’t stand up, nothing will change," Lamoer told Eye Witness News. "A 2-year-old was the youngest victim in this province. I don’t even want to refer to the 6-week-old baby in Kimberley. This is totally unacceptable.” 

The 6-week-old baby had to have extensive surgery in Kimberley Hospital and was in intensive care in a critical but stable condition, according to an official from the Health Department.

The girl's mother had put the baby to bed and was watching television in the next room when the child was abducted, according to local media reports.

Relatives of the infant said they heard the baby crying in a shack in the backyard, a local newspaper reported. "When I got there, the baby was lying naked on the bed and there was a lot of blood. She was crying,” a relative told the Diamond Fields Advertiser.

The incident follows several other cases of child rape in recent days: a Soweto school teacher charged with raping a 10-year-old boy during a detention; a ward councillor from the ruling African National Congress accused of raping his 10-year-old daughter.

Rapes of infants and children are disturbingly common in South Africa. In 2001, a 9-month-old girl known as “Baby Tshepang” was raped by her mother’s boyfriend in Upington in the Free State. The attack generated worldwide headlines and South African playwright Lara Foot turned the incident into a play, "Tshepang."

South African students were given an extract from the play during their dramatic arts examination Monday and asked to explain how they would dramatize the rape of a baby using a broomstick and loaf of bread, ”to maximize the horror of the rape for the audience.”

Amid a general outcry over the question, Foot released a statement saying it was "totally inappropriate and frankly appalling."

"Given the history and statistics of rape in this country, it is imperative that the matter is dealt with, but dealt with sensitively and responsibly," she said.

The department of Basic Education defended the question. Spokesman Elijah Mhlanga told a Durban newspaper, the Mercury, that final year high school students knew about the rape of babies in South Africa.

“By the time pupils are in [the final year of high school], they have begun to be faced with the realities of adulthood, often beyond the security of their homes and the school system. They will, through media and cinema, have been exposed to many horrific images and reports,” Mhlanga said.

However, the department also said the question might be excluded from the exam results if it is determined that some students were traumatized.

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Twitter: @latimesdixon

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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