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South African society, its culture and its institutions have been profoundly affected by the institutionalised dehumanisation imposed by the apartheid system as well as the levels of force used, on the one hand, to enforce these policies and, on the other hand, to resist them. In this way, the system traumatised an entire nation. Every person in South Africa has been affected by the violence, structural and physical, of apartheid in one form or another. At its worst, this continues to play out in a profound disrespect for human life and the integrity of individual human beings and an attitude of impunity where the consequences of violence are concerned, which in turn causes more violence. An important part of constructing a new shared morality is South Africa’s constitution, which enshrines the right to gender equality. But in the daily reality of many people this remains nothing more than an aspiration, and most commentators agree that interpersonal relations in South Africa remain marked by extreme gender inequality.The circumstances described above should be considered together with other factors in order to provide a comprehensive explanation for South Africa’s high levels of sexual violence. Situational factors such as poverty and drug abuse are inadequate on their own as explanations; it is only when these factors are seen in the context of the massive and institutionalised violence perpetrated against South Africans by the apartheid system that we can begin to understand why sexual violence is so pervasive across population groups. A failure to recognise that South Africans will carry the scars of apartheid for generations to come is naïve, dangerous and counterproductive to the project of building a new egalitarian value system and to transforming our institutions in accordance with those values.Political transition and sexual violenceIn order to understand rape in South Africa today, we need to understand its prevalence and nature in the past. That, however, is very difficult, as rape statistics from the apartheid era – particularly those for non-white populations – cannot be viewed as reliable. This is due to many factors, some of which are the following: Prior to South Africa’s democratic transition, police resources were concentrated in white areas, with policing in black areas being predominantly targeted towards political control. Township residents had little faith in a ‘justice’ system that was at the same time being used to oppress them. As a result, apartheid-era crime statistics are biased by under-reporting. Worse still, complainants ran the risk of being seen as colluding with security forces. Writing about sexual violence in 1994, Armstrong quotes an informant as saying that during apartheid ‘no black woman would go to a police station … just to be seen near a police station might mean that you would be perceived as an informer, your home would be burnt down and you would be killed.’ Furthermore, gender-based violence was seen as a potentially divisive problem that could be used politically against black men and thereby divert attention from the pressing issue of racism. It is also quite likely that even when black women reported being raped – to predominantly white police officers – many were not taken seriously and their reports not recorded. Before 1993, marital rape was not a crime and none of these assaults would have been included in any statistics. Under apartheid, the territory that is today South Africa contained a number of nominally independent homelands and self-governing territories, each with their own police force. In total, prior to 1994, South Africa had 11 different police agencies, with widely varying competencies in the collection of crime statistics. Crimes reported in the so-called independent homelands were not included in national figures. Poor record-keeping makes it impossible to even estimate pre-1994 levels of rape in those areas.