The Sandy Hook massacre Dec. 14 captured headlines in South Africa. But for that country and the rest of the continent, tales of horrific violence are nothing new. Many African nations — with their stunning diversity in landscapes, language and culture — are feeling a new optimism, politically and economically.

But for others, the problems are ongoing. The Central African Republic struggled with rebel fighting and a refugee crisis — a continuing tragedy across several nations — and Nigeria saw more attacks on Christians. Unrest in Libya, Syria and the Sudan have taken countless lives. Meanwhile, Arab Spring in Northern Africa is a factor, mixing hope with concern. And January saw the French invasion of Mali to stem the advance of Islamist groups into the south of the country.

In South Africa, violence has taken many forms. The new year saw wildcat strikes in the wine region, similar to the country’s deadly miners’ strikes in the last half of 2012. Meanwhile, South Africa is often called the rape capital of the world, with local police recording some 60,000 rapes in 2012, although authorities suspect it’s more like 600,000, wrote BBC correspondent Andrew Harding on BBC.co.uk. on Jan. 10.

“Rape is in our culture. It’s part of the whole patriarchal culture,” businesswoman and activist Andy Kawa, who was the victim of a gang rape, told Harding. “It’s an everyday thing. It happens in homes. There’s silence because of fear, because the perpetrator, most of the time, has the power,” she said.

Rape in many countries in Africa has taken center stage, as activist groups, armed with horrific statistics, campaign to educate and find solutions to a problem that few in government or law enforcement want to acknowledge.

More than 400,000 women were raped in a 12-month period in 2006-07 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a new study by three public health researchers from the Intl. Food Policy Research Institute, Stony Brook U. in New York and the World Bank.

But the continent can’t be painted with one brush, and some regions are emerging from their violent past. Botswana, Gabon and Mozambique have been ranked the most peaceful countries in Africa on the Global Peace Index, while Rwanda and Uganda have shown strength in overcoming decades of political and violent struggle to set a course to prosperity.