South Africa: Rape and Violence Against Women at the Durban Train Station

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1 May 1994

Regina Nyanda lives on the pavement of Umgeni Road, outside the Durban train station. She has been there for more than twenty years. Regina can hardly walk, and she suffers from epilepsy. During the day she sells used plastic chemical containers to make a living and to send money for her children to go to school. At night, she barely sleeps because she is afraid that local thugs, known as tsotsis, will come and steal from her or attack her in her makeshift bed and rape her.

Several hundred women live in the informal settlement on the pavement outside the Durban station, vulnerable to attacks by the tsotsis, who are especially dangerous on the weekends when they get drunk. Women reportedly take turns sleeping at the end of the bench outside the station because they know that the woman at the end is likely to get raped. The site of the two portable toilets on the other side of the settlement is another particularly dangerous area. When Regina recently saw a young girl being dragged by a tsotsi into one of these toilets, she shouted at him and told him she would call the police, hoping to frighten him away. She can't call the police because there is no telephone, and she believes the police would not come even if she could call them.

Although the police station is only a few blocks away, the women living on Umgeni Road say that police do not patrol this stretch of the pavement, leaving the women to their own defense. Anastasia, a seventeen year old girl, was dragged off and raped on April 29, 1994. Her rapist told her that he would kill her if she tried to report him. A few days later Anastasia saw him again, attacking another girl across the street. The tsotsis have reportedly dragged children away from their mothers to rape them. They know that the women who live on Umgeni Road are without protection.

For the first time in history South Africa has a democratically elected government which can legitimately exercise authority and protect fundamental human rights. There is now an opportunity to reorder the priorities of the South African police to address violence against women more effectively. The new South African Bill of Rights sets forth in Section 8(1) the right to equal protection of the law, as does Article 7 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All women are entitled to police protection from rape and other violence, yet around the world poor women and particularly homeless women are especially vulnerable to attack.

The new Government of National Unity faces a challenge with respect to violence against women. The National Institute of Crime Rehabilitation has estimated that a woman is raped every 83 seconds, that is more than a thousand rapes each day. Gang rape is rampant, comprising an estimated one out of every four rapes. The illegitimate rule of apartheid government has engendered disrespect for authority and a climate of violence in which rape is committed with impunity.

The women who live on the pavement outside the Durban train station need housing. The new government of South Africa has indicated that housing is a high priority, but it cannot provide housing for everyone overnight. Meanwhile, there are immediate actions the government can take to ensure the safety of those who are forced to live on the pavement. A regular police patrol on the pavement of Umgeni Road would help stop rape and other violence against the women who live there.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the police officials listed below and call on them to provide effective protection for the women who live on the pavement of Umgeni Road outside the Durban train station. Ask them to institute a regular patrol, to investigate reports of rape and other violence, and to arrest those responsible. Please send copies of your letters to the South African embassy in your country and to President Nelson Mandela. Congratulate President Mandela as the first democratically elected president of South Africa and urge him to take action on behalf of the women at the Durban station, to demonstrate to the police and the public that the new South Africa will not tolerate rape and other violence against women and will give meaning to the right of equal protection of the law.

South African Police
District Commissioner
P.O. Box 10816
Durban 4000
South Africa
The Minister of Police
c/o The Commissioner of Police
Private Bag X94
Pretoria 0001
South Africa
President Nelson Mandela
Union Buildings
South Africa