Zuma urges 'unity' to tackle South Africa rape crisis

South African President Jacob Zuma used his annual state of the nation address on Thursday to call for "unity in action" to end the scourge of rape, which plagues the country.

"The brutality and cruelty meted out to defenceless women is unacceptable and has no place in our country," Zuma told parliament, just days after the rape and disembowelment of a 17-year-old girl shocked the nation.

"The brutal gang rape and murder of Anene Booysen and other women and girls in recent times has brought into sharp focus the need for unity in action to eradicate this scourge."

The teenager was found at a construction site after her attackers reportedly slit open her stomach, took out her intestines and broke her legs.

Booysen was buried at the weekend after dying in hospital. Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral.

A sober Zuma said he had instructed law enforcement agencies to treat these cases with the "utmost urgency and importance."

"Such acts will not be tolerated."

Around 65,000 sexual offences were committed in South Africa last year, according to official figures.

But police estimate only one in 36 rape cases is reported.

Activists complain that only a fraction of reported cases result in sentencing.

Zuma said that was improving, with family violence, child protection and sexual offences units securing 363 life sentences in the last financial year and a conviction rate of over 70 percent.

But the scale of the problem is bewildering.

An estimated 28 percent of South African men have committed rape, according to data from the Medical Research Council of South Africa and the International Centre for Research on Women.

Based on statistics from Gauteng -- which encompasses Johannesburg and Pretoria -- researchers have shown that almost 89 percent of reported rapes involve black women, who are predominantly poor.

arb/bm