A dog would have been treated better than Anene Booyson, her neighbors said.
The 17-year-old South African girl was gang raped then mutilated to death in Bredasdorp, a tiny, rural town about two hours southeast of Cape Town, authorities said.
It’s the kind of story that happens too often in South Africa, where a provincial official said violence against females is “systemic.” Some 71% of women report having been victims of sexual abuse, the government notes.
But for whatever reason — perhaps the sheer brutality, perhaps a new awareness to the matter — the rape and killing of Booyson has been different. It has stirred outrage in Bredasdorp and, in fact, throughout South Africa, from people shocked that a young woman like Booyson could suffer so much.
“I don’t know what we must do, but we must do something,” said Sophia Europa, from Bredasdorp, fighting off tears. “Otherwise, there is no use giving birth to a baby boy if men treat women lower than animals.”
A security guard found Booyson’s body February 2 at a construction site not far from where she lived, police Capt. F.C. Van Wyk said.
Booyson’s injuries were so severe that her family asked authorities not to give details, said Faiza Steyn, a Western Cape Health Department spokeswoman.
Booyson’s aunt, Wilma Brooks, said Booyson lived long enough to identify one of her attackers. Brooks and Albert Fritz, Western Cape provincial minister of social development, said the accused man had been a family friend.
“He was a lovely child to have in the house,” Brooks said. “He was her friend, and it’s just incomprehensible.”
That individual and two others have been arrested, said Fritz, who added that more arrests could be coming. Two of those arrested have been charged with murder and rape, the same charges the third will face, Fritz said.
Chanting “No violence! No violence,” scores in Bredasdorp marched in the streets toward the crime scene. While statistics show that rape is common in South Africa, residents say such violence typically doesn’t come to this rural community. Fritz called the attack “very uncharacteristic of the town.”
Fritz noted a few factors that may have played a part in the attack. One is the trend of urban gangs infiltrating the countryside, sometimes doing initiation acts like “drawing blood,” Fritz said. Another is the relationship between alcohol and violence, with special attention paid to shebeens, bars where drinks flow freely and illegally. Lastly, Fritz said that many perpetrators of such crimes don’t have fathers — and, in some cases, any adult male role model — in their lives.
There’s no denying that sexual violence is not new to South Africa. But Fritz said that may change with Booyson’s death.
“This … murder of this incredibly young beautiful woman has become a tipping point,” he said.
Every four minutes a local radio station broadcasts a ping — a reminder that a person is raped in South Africa, on average, every four minutes.
Terry Volkwyn, the CEO of Primedia Broadcasting, said this initiative quickly stirred an “absolutely overwhelming … outpouring of rage and emotion.”
“We all know the statistics, and we read them,” Volkwyn said. “But when you’re sitting listening to the radio … when that little beep sound drops all the time, eventually after about an hour, you can’t believe … there goes another one.”
President Jacob Zuma has weighed in amid the outcry.
“The whole nation is outraged at this extreme violation and destruction of a young human life,” he said. “This act is shocking, cruel and most inhumane. It has no place in our country. We must never allow ourselves to get used to these acts of base criminality to our women and children.”
Zuma called on the courts to “impose the harshest sentences on such crimes, as part of a concerted campaign to end this scourge in our society.”
This week, a group of women — some of whom did not even know Booyson — buried a cross in the dusty sand of a construction site in Bredasdorp where police say the girl was raped.
The funeral for the teenager will be Saturday. But people in her hometown, and elsewhere in South Africa, are vowing that she will be remembered for a long time to come.