n Acta Juridica - The dark side of the rainbow : violence against women in South Africa after ten years of democracy

Volume 2005, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1346
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2088



When considering violence against women in South Africa in 2005, one is confronted with an apparent contradiction. On the one hand, the levels of violence against South African women are alarmingly high. For example, during 2003-2004 a total of 52 733 cases of rape were reported to the South African Police Service. This constitutes a fifteen percent increase from the number of cases reported in 1994-1995. Although it is difficult to establish the national incidence of domestic violence, various localized studies indicate that it is an extensive problem. Recent South African research has furthermore found inordinately high levels of intimate femicide. These statistics represent the darker, malevolent side of the so-called 'Rainbow Nation', and lead one to question whether women are in this respect any better off than ten years ago.

On the other hand, the constitutional and legislative environment appears to be highly conducive to measures addressing violence against women, with the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution containing an explicit guarantee of the right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources. The Domestic Violence Act of 1998 is generally considered to be one of the more progressive enactments of its kind internationally. In addition, a draft Bill aimed at reforming the law relating to sexual assault has been introduced in Parliament.
This article aims to provide an overview of the development of the constitutional and legislative environment relating to violence against women, with specific emphasis on the role played by the courts in this development. It also identifies areas that may require further intervention in order to address the existing dichotomy between the relatively progressive nature of the formal legal dispensation and the practical realities experienced by women subjected to violence.

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