A high-profile South African anti-rape campaigner has hit back at President Thabo Mbeki after being called racist.
“The president clearly has a problem with . . . sex and sexuality and that is delaying South Africa’s capacity to effectively deal with sexual violence and HIV/Aids,” said Charlene Smith.
At the weekend, Mr Mbeki said she, and other journalists, saw black people as “barbaric savages”.
He was angry about criticism of figures which showed a drop in levels of violent crime such as rape and murder.
Some commentators said the statistics did not make people feel safer in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of rape and murder.
Ms Smith, who was raped herself in 1999, wrote a newspaper article titled: Rape has become a sickening way of life in our land.
She denied being racist and said the president was “in denial”.
Mr Mbeki has been criticised for failing to take action to curb the spread of Aids, at a time when more than five million South Africans are HIV positive.
He has previously questioned the link between HIV and Aids.
In his article for the African National Congress website, Mr Mbeki wrote:
“She was saying our cultures, traditions and religions as Africans inherently make every African man a potential rapist . . . [a] view which defines the African people as barbaric savages.”
But Ms Smith said that if Mr Mbeki called all his critics racists, then the word would lose its meaning.
Opposition leader Tony Leon said that Mr Mbeki’s comments had been another “own goal in the fight against rape, HIV/Aids and crime in South Africa.”
“It is all too easy for the president to dismiss fears of crime when he is surrounded by bodyguards and 24-hours surveillance,” said the Democratic Alliance leader.
“Ordinary South Africans have to live with the grim reality and are tired of the government’s denials and excuses.”
Mr Mbeki said the government was not being given credit for fighting crime, with the murder rate now the lowest since the end of apartheid.
He said that crime was the kind of issue that many whites used to confirm their views that black people could not run the government.
“Crime in our country provides them with the most dramatic evidence of that decline, the evidence that they are right to foresee a hopeless future for our country, the proof that sooner or later things will fall apart,” he said.
“The psychological residue of apartheid has produced a psychosis among some of us such that, to this day, they do not believe that our non-racial democracy will survive and succeed,” he said.