Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
Southern Africa is getting tough on rape and other violent sex-related crimes as evidenced by landmark court rulings in Zimbabwe and South Africa in the last two weeks. Last week, Zimbabwe imposed an effective sentence of 230 years on serial rapist and robber Thomas Brighton Chirembwe, who raped 13 women.
South Africa this week imposed five life sentences and 284 years on a Randburg police constable convicted of rape, robbery and kidnapping by a Gauteng court.
The two rulings and that of yet another South African rapist, Moses Sithole, who is serving 2 410 years for 38 murders and the rape of 40 women, are the highest known sentences that have been made in the Southern Africa region in the last 10 years.
Analysts and legal experts say imposing stiff sentences would help curb incidences of rape, a violent crime that the region is battling with.
Women’s Action Group director Mrs Edna Masiyiwa said they and fellow lobbyists had for a long time been calling for such deterrent sentences for rapists.
“For Zimbabwe, the landmark ruling further reinforces Government’s commitment towards eradicating violation of women and children. As Zimbabwe we were lagging behind in imposing stiff sentences to sexual offenders, but we are happy to note that has since been rectified,” she said
Women and Gender Research Trust spokesperson Ms Sithembile Mpofu urged the judiciary to be consistent on similar cases where guilty verdicts have been passed.
“The two rulings here at home and South Africa should act a deterrent to would-be offenders that the wrath of the law should descend on them, regardless of where they will commit the crime.
“The precedent has been set. It will not matter whether one commits the crime in Zimbabwe, South Africa or anywhere in the region. It is clear that there is consensus in the region that rape should be wiped out completely,” she said.
Ms Mpofu, however, bemoaned lack of research to establish how many people were being sexually abused, saying the figures being released were the bare minimum of the actual offences committed.
Police say 3 421 people were raped between January and October alone in Zimbabwe, with the majority of victims being children.
Rape has become a regional problem that is being experienced in all the countries, with South Africa leading the pack.
According to the 2012 report complied by the Institute for Security Studies, someone is raped after every four minutes in South Africa. Last year alone there were 66 196 reported rapes leading to 4 500 convictions.
The Women in Law in Southern Africa Zambia Chapter recently reported that 20 women are raped every week in that country.
Countries like Angola, the DRC, Mozambique and Namibia are revamping their laws to ensure longer sentences for rapists.