No Beer, No Rape?

By Huub Brand Borren

Say you are the head of police in one of the most criminal areas in the world. Every day about 1000 women are being raped, of which 30 percent are under age. The percentage of women that are raped is the highest in the whole world (33 percent). What do you do? Andy Mashaile, head of the police in Gauteng, came up with the solution: Ban illegal drinking. 

Gauteng, the economic and political heart of South Africa, is on top of many lists, but none where it can be proud of: Gauteng scores particularly high on unemployment, inequality, murder and rape rates. That these problems are interlinked and very hard to tackle becomes especially clear in the poor townships around Pretoria and Johannesburg. Most of the people in these areas have electricity, clean water and sanitation.  However, they do not have the money to send their kids to proper schools, the means to protect themselves against crime, or the opportunities to get ‘proper’ jobs.

Andy Mashaile has put rape on top of the list of problems he wants to solve. However, rape happens mostly inside homes and within the social circle, moreover less than 10 percent of the victims files a police report. Therefore, it is impossible to prevent rape by conventional means. The only way to prevent rape is by tackling the reasons that cause the high rates. According to Andy Mashaile, illegal drinking is the main reason for the high rates and consequently, it must be stopped.

Less than 10 percent of rape victims file a police report.

For a large part of the men it is too expensive to drink in normal bars and thus they drink in illegal bars, called Shebeens. Here they drink home brewed beers, which cost about 0,50 euro per liter. The unemployment rate in the townships is about 50 percent and, therefore, it is custom to go to the Shebeens every day. At a certain point these men go home and will cause trouble, influencing the rape rates in the townships. Consequently, prohibition sounds like a solution, but the question remains whether it will have a significant influence.

Andy Mashaile tries to stop a problem by preventing the causation, but it is highly debatable whether the police can prevent (illegal) drinking. History shows that prohibition does not have a large influence on consumption. Look at the prohibition during the 1930s or today’s ‘war on drugs’. The only way to prevent drinking and to bring down the rape rate is by a holistic approach. In South Africa the rape rate is especially high due to widespread frustration. There no w­­­ork in the townships and there is a lack of opportunities. Frustration, together with alcohol and a violent environment is the real reason behind the problem.

Andy Mahsaile can only succeed when more opportunities are created. Preventing (illegal) drinking is one part of the solution, but not the entire story. To truly succeed, a much broader approach is needed, including cooperation with politicians, companies, social workers and schools. A mere prohibition of alcohol sounds noble, but it is disputable whether it will have any effect on the rape rates in South Africa’s townships.

Photo: Angie Travels

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