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Violence against South Africa’s women, children: verifying claims at a men’s summit

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  • At an August 2018 men’s summit, South Africa’s deputy president David Mabuza quoted statistics on violence against women and children.

  • Africa Check examined five of Mabuza’s claims, ranging from the number of women murdered each year to the share of child rape cases.

  • Three claims – related to femicide and child rape – were correct, while one was incorrect and one unproven.

Men from organisations across South Africa came together for a summit in August 2018 to develop a “men’s charter” and a “men’s sector strategic plan for positive social change”.

Opening the Takuwani Riime men’s summit in KwaZulu-Natal, deputy president David Mabuza called on men to take stock of the role they play in South African society. Takuwani Riime is a Tshivenda expression meaning “Let us stand up together”.

“We have to talk as men about the pain we’ve inflicted on women and children,” Mabuza said.

Here we weigh up five claims Mabuza made about violence against South Africa’s women and children. (Note: We tried to get clarity on Mabuza’s sources from his spokesperson Thami Ngwenya, but at the time of publication our request was unanswered. We will update this report when he responds.)


Our country’s femicide rate has been increasing over the last five years.



The South African Police Service records the number of women murdered in the country. When this data is compared with population estimates, a murder rate can be calculated.

The most recent data available shows that in the 2017/18 financial year, 15.2 out of every 100,000 women were victims of murder.

This is the highest the rate has been in the past five years and represents a 16% increase over the period.

South Africa’s femicide rate
Woman 18+ murderedFemicide rate/100,000

Source: South African Police Service and Statistics South Africa


One in five women experience physical violence from an intimate partner.



The most recent research on violence against women in South Africa is the country’s 2016 Demographic and Health Survey.

It’s a nationally representative household survey, used in a number of countries around the world. It provides data on a wide range of topics – population, health and nutrition.

South Africa’s 2016 survey included questions on whether women aged 18 and older had ever experienced physical violence by any partner.

The survey found that “one in five partnered women has ever experienced physical violence by a partner”. But this statistic cannot be applied to the whole female population, as Mabuza did in his speech.

The question relates to “women that were currently and/or previously in a relationship with a man in their lifetime”, Statistics South Africa told Africa Check.

They include “women who are married, divorced, separated, widowed, living or lived with a man as if married, had or have boyfriends or [a] fiancé”.

When considering South Africa’s total adult female population, Statistics South Africa said 7.7% of women 18 years and older experienced violence by a current or previous partner in the 12 months before the survey.

This means that one in 13 women in South Africa – not one in five – have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner. - Kate Wilkinson


41% of the [124,000 cases of rape in the last three years] were against children.



South Africa’s police recorded 124,526 cases of rape in the three years from 2014/15 to 2016/17.

In 50,988 of these cases, the victim was recorded as aged 18 or younger. This is 41% of all the rapes recorded in South Africa over the three years.

More recent crime statistics, for 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018, were released after Mabuza’s speech. These reveal an even higher share: 18,336 of the 40,035 rapes recorded, or 45.8%, were of children. - Gopolang Makou

Recorded child rape cases in South Africa
YearChild rapes reportedTotal rapes reportedChild rape as % of total rape

Source: Parliamentary reply, parliamentary presentation and police crime statistics

* In a 2017 parliamentary reply, the minister of police put the number of child rape cases in 2016/17 at 19,017. This was updated to 19,079 in August 2018. We have asked the police to verify whether this is the correct figure.


In the last year alone we’ve lost more than 2,000 women’s lives in the hands of men.



The police’s crime statistics for 2017/18 show that 2,930 women were murdered in South Africa from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018.

This was an 8.6% increase in the femicide rate - from 14 murders for every 100,000 women in 2016/17 to 15.2 murders per 100,000 women a year later.

But do we know how many of these women were murdered by men?

The police analysed their records of murders of women in the 2016/17 reporting year. This indicated that a suspect was identified and arrested in 1,834 of 2,639 recorded murders, or 69.5% of cases. Out of the identified suspects, 93.2% were male.

A researcher and doctoral candidate in criminology at the University of Cape Town, Anine Kriegler, told Africa Check she “wouldn’t be surprised if perpetrators of murders of women were more likely to be identified because it will more often be their current or former partner”.

“It’s generally not premeditated and it’s less likely to happen in the course of robbery, so it’s usually not a stranger. It’s probably often quite obvious who did it.”

But Kriegler pointed out that the police only analysed arrests, and not the number of convictions for murder.

“The police may well have identified the wrong suspect, and therefore gender. Guilt is ultimately decided by the court, not the cop.”

Kriegler said all that could be shown in the analysis was that “in 93% of female murder cases where the police identified a suspected perpetrator, the perpetrator was a man”. - Gopolang Makou


Only one in three murders [of women] are detected by the police



The police’s detection rate indicates how many investigations of the crimes reported to them are seen as “successful” - including those carried over from previous years.

An investigation is defined as successful when a perpetrator is identified, arrested and charged, when a case is withdrawn before a perpetrator is charged, and when a case is closed as “unfounded”.

The police’s latest annual report puts the detection rate for the murder of women older than 18 at 32.5% in 2016/17 and 30.9% in 2017/18. This is higher than the overall murder detection rate, recorded at 23.2% in 2016/17 and 22.5% in 2017/18.

In 2017/18, there were 2,783 new female murder cases recorded. A suspect was identified and arrested in 2,018 of these cases, giving a "success" rate of 72.5%. But the backlog of cases brought the overall detection rate down, Kriegler told Africa Check.

“Based on the number of new charges, detections, and incomplete cases, it seems that a larger proportion of femicides than murders overall are solved, and solved pretty quickly. This is unsurprising, given that these murders are so often at the hands of intimate partners.” - Gopolang Makou


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