JOHANNESBURG – A West Village father woke up on Friday morning and was about to start his day when he heard gunshots ringing in his West Rand neighbourhood.
This has become a common occurrence in the area near Main Reef road, where illegal miners, notoriously known as zama zamas, have for years been running riot.
This time, they allegedly raped eight women while they were shooting a music video near a mining dump. This, as the country prepares to officially launch the 2022 Women’s Month at Olive Conference Centre in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, on Monday.
It is believed that the filming crew, from The Red Button, were also robbed of their equipment during the harrowing ordeal.
During the incident, the group allegedly ordered the crew to lie down while they searched them.
The illegal miners then apparently whistled. It was the signal for about 10 other men wearing Basotho blankets and balaclavas to join them.
The zama zamas then allegedly began taking the women, one by one, into the open veld where they gang-raped them.
It is believed that this continued several times while the crew were allegedly also robbed of their clothes, cellphones, jewellery, handbags, equipment and other valuables, estimated to be valued at R1.5 million.
Thirty two counts of rape, as well as 22 counts of armed robbery, have since been opened at the Krugersdorp police station.
And while the harrowing ordeal has left the West Village man, who wished to be anonymous, shaken, he said that incidents like these had become the norm over the past few years.
“It feels like we are living in another world and like we are living in a civil war,” he told The Saturday Star.
The man, who lives in a complex about 2km away from the mine dump in question, fears for the safety of his family and neighbours as the zama zamas have been unleashing violence in the area for almost a decade.
“From around 2013, the illegal miners have started digging for minerals behind the complexes. When we contact the police, they say that they are too scared to intervene,” he said.
The man explained that they often see wrapped up dead bodies on the side of the road. He added that this was often a sign of more dead bodies near the mine dump.
“These zama zamas are not scared. They don't hide and they walk around the area carefree.”
He also believes that this latest rape and robbery ordeal is a statement by the illegal miners, who do not fear law enforcement authorities.
“Things got even worse during Covid when we were under lockdown and we often heard gunshots going off.
“When I run on the weekend, I often see dead bodies on the side of the road. We don't feel safe in our neighbourhood.”
The man and other concerned residents have held meetings with the Mogale City mayor Counsellor Tyrone Gray, as well as the police, and are still awaiting action to be taken.
Earlier President Cyril Ramaphosa called the incident “a manifestation of how gender-based violence spreads”. This was while he attended the ANC's policy conference at Nasrec.
He said the conference had to develop ways to support women and instructed “Comrade” Bheki Cele to leave no stone unturned in apprehending the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, Provincial Commissioner of Police in Gauteng, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela on Friday led a multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement agencies and security companies following the alleged gang rape and armed robbery incident.
The team comprised of officials from Crime Intelligence, Special Task Force, National Intervention Unit, Tactical Response Team, K9, Flying Squad, Highway Patrol, SAPS Airwing and Tracker helicopter as well as Department of Home Affairs and other private security stakeholders. The Airwing and the deployment of drone technology were assisting the ground forces to track the fleeing suspects.
The operation which was also joined by the Mogale City mayor and his team. This led to the arrest of 65 suspects for contravention of the Immigration Act, including one that is hospitalised for gunshot treatment. Two more suspects were fatally shot after allegedly pointing firearms during police operations. In addition, two unlicensed firearms, explosives as well as other items that belong to the victims have since been recovered.
The Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences is also investigating the 32 counts of rape. Police have also urged those who have information on the matter to contact the #CrimeStop toll free number on 08600 10111 or to send tip-offs via #MySAPSApp which can downloaded on any smartphone.