It had been a long, pleasant evening for South African delegates to the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, with dinner, clubbing and drinks.  Eventually, long after midnight, the group dispersed to their hotel rooms.

But Salomé Isaacs, an Aids activist from Bela Bela in Limpopo province, decided she needed to discuss the conference programme with another delegate, Cape High Court judge Siraj Desai. Around 3am, she sent him an SMS to that effect, she later said, and then went to see him in his room.
What exactly happened there is a matter of some dispute, but very shortly afterwards, Radio 702 in distant Johannesburg received a call from Isaacs's husband.  It was around 2:30am in Johannesburg, and a distraught Mark Isaacs asked for a reporter. When told there was nobody available, he told the DJ on air that his wife had been raped by Desai in Mumbai. He claimed to have phoned his wife regularly throughout the night because he had a sense of foreboding.  He also claimed to have phoned Desai several times, urging him to admit the act and ask for forgiveness. 

In Mumbai, Desai was arrested.   He proclaimed his innocence, saying through his lawyer that he was being framed because of a previous conflict with the family. By the next morning, the story was all over the local and South African media – probably the juiciest sex scandal in South Africa for many years.

Only the very early reports withheld the identities of the two people involved, as is normal in rape cases.  By the end of the first week of coverage, only was not naming them. Joe Thloloe, the channel's head of news, said the lonely stand was not silly. "If the majority of the media does wrong it does not mean we will follow," he said.

After some time of intense media attention, Isaacs withdrew her charge, but insisted she had been raped.  Some months later, Desai was acquitted in Mumbai.

Additional materials:

Read one of the first reports, as published in the Johannesburg Star.

Here's a transcript of what Mark Isaacs told Radio 702.

Read how Isaacs withdrew the rape charge, while insisting it did happen

Read two reports and an editorial from the Mail&Guardian.

Here's Anton Harber's take on the episode: Editors must do more than just wring their hands.

Some questions to consider:

  • Should the media have named Isaacs and Desai?
  • Did it make any difference that the incident occurred under a foreign jurisdiction?
  • What do you think of the role of Mark Isaacs?

Discussion from 2004

Discussion from 2005