/ 20 February 2006

Anti-rape groups in stats scrum

The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) in the Vhembe district of Limpopo last year joined forces on a project that claims to have reduced rape in the area by 7%. But social workers at four local victim empowerment projects say they have never heard of the project and other groups argue that the figures are higher than statistics suggest.

The Partnership with Churches project claims to have changed the landscape of rape by using church rallies to spread awareness about rape hot spots and to hand out pamphlets and T-shirts to about 57 000 people, in an area with a population of about 1,2-million.

The project won the top prize of R50 000 at the Impumelelo Awards, which acknowledges innovations that reduce poverty or address development issues. But, said Ndivhuwo Nthangeni, communications officer for the Mutale Victim Empowerment Programme: ”We have contact with other church organisations, but this is the first time I have heard of [the project].”

Recent statistics from the SAPS’s Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC) indicate that there has been no dip in the number of reported rapes. Statistics show that in the year 2002/03 the number of reported cases stood at 923, in 2003/04 there were 922 rapes and in 2004/05 the figures remained constant at 922.

Fiona Nicholson of the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme believes the figures are actually much higher. ”Those figures cannot possibly be credible,” she said. ”[We] see an average of more than 480 cases a year and we are only a small part of the Vhembe area. I trust the integrity of the CIAC national office but they rely on information typed in at various entry points and I don’t trust the information that they are given.”

Former human rights commissioner Ann Routier, who evaluated the project for the Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust, admited she did not double-check the figures presented to her by Partnership with Churches.

”I had no way of doing that,” said Routier. ”How do you double-check against the police who have the charges in their offices? Why would the churches be involved if it was a pack of lies? I think you must go to the source, which is the police.”

The reason for discrepancies between the CIAC figures and those presented to the Impumelelo Awards, said project initiator Captain Tshifhiwa Mutepe, are as a result of the CIAC statistics being calculated at the end of the financial year (which runs from April to March) while the statistics presented to the Impumelelo evaluations board were calculated from June 2004 to October 2005.

Attempts to get verification of the statistics from the police proved fruitless, but SAPS Vhembe area office spokesperson Superintendent Ailwei Mushavhanamadi said: ”The percentages do not correlate. They do not go hand in hand.” He said he could not provide proof of the Partnership with Churches’ claim, and said: ”Only national office can reveal statistics, but what I can tell you is that there has been a big decrease in rape.”

Nicholson said there is a fundamental problem with an award that seeks to champion a drop in rape reportage. ”It is common knowledge internationally that the vast majority of rapes are not reported. The normal purpose of campaigns, therefore, is to encourage women to ‘break the silence’ and report rape.

”Over the past year, for example, reported rape in the Thulamela district of Vhembe has increased by 11%. For us, this increase is a success indicator. It tells us our campaigns are working. What, then, did the ZCC/SAPS campaign do? Encourage women not to report? Or are they suggesting that the distribution of T-shirts and leaflets persuaded men to stop raping … ?”

Despite the row over statistics, Rhoda Kadalie, manager of the Impumelelo Trust, said that the Partnership with Churches project costs the taxpayer nothing and still holds value.

”These stats were given to the evaluator by the police. The stats are not so much the issue for us … the moratorium on stats, and the lack of computer facilities and expertise make a nonsense of the stats. What we judged them for was their ability to get the ZCC, one of the biggest churches, on board, then most of the other big Pentecostal churches joined. They blitzed their communities with T-shirts, pamphlets et cetera and made anti-rape messages central to their religious teaching and sermons. For churches that are very traditional and macho, this is a major achievement.”

But ZCC members, who did not want to be named, told the Mail & Guardian the church does not encourage the reporting of rape, particularly when members of the church are involved. They said the matter is usually dealt with internally by elders within the church.

Despite the furore over the awards, Nicholson said that, as recently as two weeks ago, a consultation was held between the safety and security forum of the police, NGOs and government officials where Captain Mutepe was still claiming to have ”reduced rape perpetrators”.