Johannesburg - Sarah didn’t see the man who took her daughter - like the rest of the congregation, she had her face to the ground.
But she did hear her daughter resist, as they pulled her from the rest of the worshippers and dragged her into the surrounding darkness.
Moments earlier, the incident had begun as a robbery. Four men, armed and wearing balaclavas, had appeared at the spot in Durban Deep, Roodepoort, where every Thursday night members of the Apostolic Church of Zimbabwe gathered and prayed.
The men told the congregates to lie on the ground and cover their heads with their robes. They took the men’s belts and bound their hands.
They then demanded cellphones and money.
And as they walked among the worshippers, they began picking out young women. It is not clear how many women were taken. Some say four, others say as many as seven.
The problem, say the police, is that they believe many of the women chose not to come forward and report the rape. But one of the women picked that night was Sarah’s 12-year-old daughter.
“They hit my child because she refused to go with them,” Sarah says. Sarah’s daughter and several other women were taken into the surrounding bushes and raped.
This incident happened in June, and it is one of the many rapes that have occurred in this part of the West Rand, where illegal mining is said to fuel lawlessness.
Rape and violent crime have become such a problem that nine months ago, Durban Deep residents marched on the Roodepoort police station.
But the problem persists. In the recently released SAPS crime statistics, incidents of rape for the area covered by the Roodepoort police station had increased by 21.5%, for 2017/2018.
There were 79 reported rapes for that period. Nationally, South Africa had seen an increase in rape of 0.5%. Over the same period 106 sex offences were reported, an increase of 19% from the previous year.
Just three weeks ago, residents said there was another rape in the area, and a man was stabbed when he attempted to intervene.
The rapes have been blamed on gangs of Basotho, who about a year ago moved into the area. The Basotho are involved in illegal mining in the area and residents claim they are forced to pay protection money to the newcomers.
“Everybody is scared of them, even the police say it is unsafe,” said a resident, who didn’t want her name used.
The problem, according to Roodepoort police station spokesperson Sergeant Juliet Mogale, is that residents are reluctant to report crime.
“Many are not South African citizens and they fear they will be arrested if they come and report a crime.”
She said police had been trying to encourage victims to come forward and open cases. “We have even distributed pamphlets in Durban Deep.”
She said the initiative had encouraged community members to report rape incidents. “But there were cases where they didn’t know what happened in court and couldn’t understand why the suspect was still wandering around.”
Mogale said the police were also encouraging victims to come to the station so that they could see a social worker for trauma counselling.
The Basotho are often blamed for the rising crime in the area, but the rapes that occurred that night at the church gathering appeared to have been committed by another ethnic group. The church members recognised their attackers as being Zimbabwean Ndebele-speakers.
The open piece of veld where the church members gathered is no longer used at night. The congregation has foregone these vigils even though they are an important tenet of the church. The plan is to get security.
Durban Deep is also changing. Recently, many of the zama zamas (illegal miners) have been leaving the old disused underground tunnels in the area, to mine in the far East Rand. There is more gold there, they say, and it is easier to mine.
For Sarah, it means she has fewer miners to sell to, and high transport costs prevent her from following them to the new mining grounds. Sarah will be staying put, in a house not far from where her daughter was taken from a place of worship and raped.
The Saturday Star