For years, South African courts have been divided on whether the doctrine of common purpose can apply to rape -- and in particular, whether someone can be convicted of rape even if they did not physically participate in the crime. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court handed down a ruling which aims to settle the matter.
Even by South African standards, an old crime at the heart of a new Constitutional Court ruling was particularly shocking.
On 20 September 1998, a group of young men in Tembisa, in Gauteng, went on what was described as a "well-orchestrated and meticulously calculated" rampage: invading and robbing nine homes, stabbing at least one occupant, and raping eight female occupants.
In some cases, they gained access to the homes by posing as police. Some of their victims were raped repeatedly. One was 14 years old; another, visibly pregnant.
In 1999, seven men were found guilty of housebreaking, robbery and multiple counts of rape. Several of these rape convictions were determined on the basis of applying the doctrine of common purpose.
The doctrine of common purpose holds that when two or more people agree to commit a crime together, liability for the resulting actions is shared...