Half of South Africans think reports of Hamas rapes were ‘propaganda’, survey finds

One in four told poll that rape can be justified in wartime


Demonstrators gather during a "#metoo unless you are a Jew" protest outside of United Nations headquarters in New York City on December 4, 2023. (Photo: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Rape can be justified in wartime according to one in four South Africans, a new survey has found.

Nearly half believe that reports of Hamas’s rapes and killings were propaganda, according to the poll commissioned by volunteer group Women’s Action Campaign SA (Wacsa).

The report’s authors criticised the “muted” response to the October 7 atrocities from the South African government, which notoriously decided to take Israel to the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide. 

The Wacsa poll surveyed 808 South Africans from a representative sample over one week in February.

Forty per cent of those surveyed said that the reports of Hamas’s atrocities on October 7 were Israeli or Western propaganda, while one quarter (20 per cent) believed that victims “brought it on themselves” by being complicit in Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Over half (56 per cent) had not heard of Hamas, but there was a divide between what men and women knew of the group; 66 per cent of women had not heard of them compared with 48 per cent of men.

Sixty-two per cent did not know about the terror group’s attack on Israel on October 7.

Twenty-nine per cent agreed with the statement, “Rape is always a horrific act but, during wartime, when people are dying, in that context rape can be justified as means of attacking and weakening the enemy”.

Despite these findings, the majority (79 per cent) of the respondents said that rape was unjustified when presented with a generic paragraph about the attack.

Nearly all of the respondents (97 per cent) agreed that rape and gender-based violence were profound problems in general.

Wacsa, the group behind the survey, called on the South African government to put the same pressure on Hamas for its crimes of sexual violence as it had done on Israel at the ICJ.

“Wacsa believes that compassion is not a binary choice,” the group of women behind the survey said.

Wacsa said a “muted response” was inappropriate “in a country itself being plagued by high levels of gender-based violence.” According to UN Women, the rate of violence against women and girls in South Africa is among the highest in the world.

Wacsa spokesperson, Angie Richardson, said “The survey reveals deeply unsettling attitudes and underscores the critical need for education, dialogue and accountability measures to protect all people from these horrific acts, regardless of gender, race, religion or politics.

“The burden of proof for rape has been raised impossibly high for Israeli women.

“Failing to condemn Hamas’s horrific atrocities and blaming victims simply condones the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war,” Richardson said.

“We are encouraged by the recent comment from Minister of International Affairs Naledi Pandor, who told parliamentarians that Hamas must be investigated for war crimes. However, we hope the South African government will pursue this with the same enthusiasm as in its ICJ case against Israel,” said Richardson.

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