Statistics can seem impersonal and devoid of emotion.
But when I spoke to Rachel Jewkes at the South African Medical Research Council, it was impossible not to be staggered.
"For each of the 54,000 rapes reported to the police each year, another nine are not," she says.
What can explain half a million rapes a year?
Ms Jewkes argues that the country has been "severely traumatised" by the intense violence of apartheid and the explosive pace of social change since its demise.
Added to this, "apartheid destroyed family life".
The pass law system that put men in urban hostels and kept families fatherless in the countryside left a gigantic legacy of hurt and abuse.
A legacy of violence
The violence of the era was at its most extreme in the big townships like Khatlehong.
South of Johannesburg it is Soweto's ugly little brother and home to Lungile Bhutelezi.
Mr Bhutelezi showed me the front garden of his family's house where a friend had been shot and streets where the bullet holes are still evident.
Surrounded by violence, he became violent himself - to his mother, his sister and his girlfriends.
If a women would not have sex "you just clapped her... and tell your friends, she wouldn't, so I just clapped her... it was the norm" , he says.
But Mr Bhutelezi, exposed to the first wave of men's workshops and campaigns, is now a changed man - a caring father, who devotes his spare time to working with other young men.
The same small steps are being taken north of Johannesburg, in the predominantly white suburbs.
Race is no barrier to sexism and sexual violence.
I spoke to Bearnard O'Riain founder of the pioneering men's group Mural, and to Mauritz, a young Afrikaner professional, both of whom are helping themselves and other men tackle a past as emotionally grim as Lungile's.
Mauritz describes a childhood in which "a rugby ball is put in your hands at birth", and expectations are of tough and taciturn young men.
In his case this helped created an abusive emotional life in which, sex was a form of "power game".
An argument breaks out between a young couple on one of the minibus taxis that ferry commuters in and out of Cape Town.
It is packed with people going home to the townships on the Cape Flats after a day's work in the city.
At first the passengers are silent.
Then, as the man becomes more aggressive, the women on board start yelling at the driver to stop the bus and throw the man out.
One woman takes more direct action and bravely sits between the warring couple.
In fact, the couple were acting and they belong to a campaign group, the Sonke Gender Justice Network.
Their improvised drama was designed to kick off a conversation with the commuters; for 10 amazing minutes the cab hums with debate.
How is it that South Africa can find the resources to change?
Dean Peacock, co-founder and co-director of Sonke, returned home after a decade working in the US men's movement, because, "there was a sense of possibility, a sense of transformation".
At a workshop he attended he recalls an older man challenging a younger man who said he would insist on sex with a girlfriend.
"With our struggle we demanded a set of rights. We won those rights, but with those rights come responsibilities."
Mr Peacock argues that the legacy of the struggle against apartheid is "people know that you can bring about dramatic social transformation in a relatively short space of time".
South Africa's progressive constitution and political leadership also make a difference: "one might fault President [Thabo] Mbeki for his Aids denialism", but he has been "unequivocal" about the importance of gender transformation, he says.
At a crossroads
However, President Mbeki's time in office is coming to a close.
One of the leading contenders to replace him is Jacob Zuma, the former deputy president.
Last year he stood trial for the rape of a family friend.
His supporters turned out en masse at the court house, verbally attacked his accuser, broke the law by revealing her name, and sang "burn the bitch, burn the bitch".
Mr Zuma was eventually acquitted.
But many in South Africa wonder whether a leader who allows his supporters to act in this way could plausibly maintain the government's commitment to gender transformation.
Whatever the outcome of the struggle for the leadership of the country, the struggle to stop violence against women will carry on at the grassroots.
The problems of sexual violence, like the problems of apartheid, will have to be solved by South Africans together.