Mob attacks illegal miners after rapes shock South Africa

Residents in Krugersdorp take to the streets after eight women were raped in an attack blamed on illegal miners.

Protesters carry placards as more than 80 men suspected of gang raping eight women and carrying out an armed robbery of a television crew appear in court in Krugersdorp near Johannesburg [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

Thousands of angry residents in the South African city of Krugersdorp attacked a group of illegal miners with machetes, golf clubs and hammers after a gang rape last week shocked the nation.

The mob set fire to their camps in Krugersdorp’s Kagiso township on Thursday and barricaded roads with rocks and burning tyres during a protest against the miners’ presence, whom they blame for high levels of crime in the area.

Some were stripped of their clothes and whipped by residents, while others were chased out of their camps and beaten before being handed to over to the authorities.

Police kept a distance and fired stun grenades from a helicopter to disperse the crowds.

“We want support from the police because the illegal miners are terrorising us. We cannot simply walk around the neighbourhood at night because they rape us,” said Nhlanhla Felatsi who took part in the protest.

Eight models were raped on July 28 when a television crew filming a music video at a mine dump in the nearby township of West Village was attacked by heavily armed men.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said informal miners – commonly known as “zama-zamas” – were likely behind the shocking assault.

Police officers and locals stand next to alleged illegal miners known as ‘zama-zamas’ after residents shut down their camps over the mass rape [Reuters]

‘Pull up their socks’

More than 80 suspects appeared in court on Monday. Police said they are analysing DNA evidence and investigating 32 counts of rape. But residents accuse local authorities of inaction despite warnings the illegal miners were operating in the area as part of a larger crime racket.

Krugersdorp, a mining city on the western edges of Johannesburg, is populated by armed gangs battling for control of abandoned shafts to exploit any remaining gold.

The trade is believed to be dominated by immigrants who enter illegally from neighbouring countries Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

“We are not fighting only against the zama-zamas, but we are fighting against the entire crime. Our police must stand up, our police must pull up their socks,” said Kabelo Matlou, a local government official.

The retaliatory attack by Krugersdorp’s residents comes at a time when South Africa is seeing an surge in xenophobic attacks sparked by locals blaming foreigners for crime in their areas.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has blasted vigilante groups for harassing and attacking migrants, likening their behaviour to strategies adopted by the apartheid regime to target Black people.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies