President Jacob Zuma on Thursday joined the growing campaign against rape in South Africa, saying the country faced ongoing violence against women and children and that it needed to stop.
"We have to build a caring society in which the rights of all are respected, especially the rights of women and children," Zuma said during an anti-rape campaign event in Mitchell's Plain outside Cape Town.
The campaign, themed "say no to rape", is being organised by non-governmental organisation Lead SA to rally South Africans behind the fight against women and child abuse.
Sexual offences courts to reopen
More than 64 000 cases of rape were reported to the South African police last year. Zuma said that while the statistics showed a decrease in other crimes, and a 70 percent overall conviction rate, the high levels of sexual offences were concerning.
"We have taken a decision to reopen the sexual offences courts so that those arrested can be dealt with before they cause further harm. We re-emphasise that men have a role to play in the fight against rape," Zuma said.
He said the courts would continue to deal harshly with perpetrators of violence.
"During the last financial year, the sexual offences unit secured over 363 life sentences with a conviction rate of 73 percent for crimes against women and children."
Bredasdorp rape 'a tipping point'
South Africans from all walks of life were galvanized into action and launched massive anti-rape demonstrations following the horrific gang rape and murder of a Bredasadorp teenager earlier this month.
Anene Boysen died allegedly after an attack by five men. She was reportedly found by a security guard badly mutilated and left for dead. She later passed away in hospital after identifying one of the men who attacked her.
Zuma, who deviated from his prepared speech on Thursday, told a hall packed with school children that the police were committed to rooting out all forms of crime.
He also warned against the use of drugs by young people. "They undermine yourself; you get addicted to a wrong thing and it won't take you anywhere. They undermine your life and you will never succeed in anything. Stay away from drugs."
The learners read a pledge committing to uphold the Constitution and abide by the laws of the country, and to respect the right of others irrespective of age, gender, race or sexual orientation.
Yusuf Abramjee, who heads the Lead SA campaign, called on South Africans to "stand up for yourself and other human beings", adding that the "say no to rape" initiative would be targeting all South Africans
"The horrific rape of Anene Boysen proved to be a tipping point ... We call on you, Mr President, to be at the forefront of this campaign."
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the campaign was important for the department.
"We cannot allow a situation where our children are made vulnerable to violence and abuse. In the last few weeks our country has been forced to wake up to a realisation that rape and abuse against women and children is a serious problem," Motshekga said.