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The backlash against illegal miners in South Africa is gathering pace as local residents formed mobs to beat them and destroy their camps in retaliation for the gang rape of eight young women filming a music video last week.
Miners’ camps were torched and roads around the townships of Munsieville and Bekkersdal outside the town of Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, were barricaded with rocks and burning tires as residents protested against the presence of illegal miners.
Many of the miners are migrants from other African countries, and the reaction has raised concerns over xenophobia, with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday condemning the violence.
Around 80 men were arrested last week, mostly illegal miners, after eight women were raped up to ten times each on July 28 during the filming of a gospel music video at a mine dump in the township of West Village was attacked by heavily-armed men. Police said they were investigating 32 counts of rape as well as robbery.
Local residents enraged at the incident torched illegal miners’ camps in the neighboring Kagiso township on Thursday, and attacked miners whom they stripped naked and beat before handing them over to the police.
Police officers stand next to alleged illegal miners known as Zamazamas after they were rescued from residents who attacked them in reaction to the recent Krugersdorp mass rape, in Krugersdorp, a mining town in the West Rand, South Africa Thursday
Arrested illegal miners who have been stripped naked and beaten wait to be transported to a police station near Krugersdorp, South Africa, Thursday
An apprehended illegal miner is taken to police to be transported to a police station near Krugersdorp, South Africa, Thursday,
Community members burn materials abandoned by illegal miners in Krugersdorp Johannesburg,
Angry residents carry in illegal gold miner to surrender him to police near Krugersdorp
A resident attempts to extinguish a fire after a shack belonging to a man, who is suspected of helping illegal miners in the area, was set on fire while residents protest against illegal mining and rising crime in the area in Kagiso on Thursday
Local neighbours try to put out the fire in the destroyed shack that was set alight by rampaging mobs of vigilantes
‘We need to distinguish between legitimate protest and criminality, addressing the concerns and grievances of communities while acting to prevent loss of life and destruction of property,’ Ramaphosa said.
‘We can all understand the public outrage in Kagiso sparked by the gang rape of eight young women last week and we all deeply and sincerely share in the pain of the victims, their families and the neighboring communities,’ he added.
Kopanang Africa, an advocacy group against xenophobia in South Africa, has warned that the recent events in Krugersdorp were dangerously fueling anti-migrant sentiment.
‘Unfortunately, because some of … the illegal miners would be undocumented migrants, this has created an element of xenophobic politics where people say all illegal immigrants must go and all foreigners must leave the country,’ said Kopanang Africa spokesman Dale McKinley.
He said some people were taking advantage of the legitimate concerns of the community to further their own agendas.
‘When the protests started, we started seeing political formations that have clear xenophobic policies taking advantage and making irresponsible and immature statements for their own purposes,’ he said.
Researcher and analyst Ziyanda Stuurman told The Associated Press that communities’ frustration at the deterioration of policing and their living conditions contributed to their anger.
South Africa suffers from rising poverty levels, 35 per cent unemployment, an electricity crisis, stagnant economic growth and the third highest crime rate in the world.
‘People are living in incredibly tough economic conditions and they feel desperately unsafe, and an issue like this sparks those emotions that have been there for a very long time,’ Stuurman said.
An apprehended illegal miner sits on the back of a pick up truck and pleads for mercy near Krugersdorp, South Africa, Thursday,
Residents of Kagiso block roads with burning tires and rocks, during a protest against illegal mining and rising crime associated to the mining in the area, in Johannesburg, South Africa
Kagiso residents try to apprehend illegal miners (not pictured) in a makeshift mine shaft
A suspected illegal miner is apprehended by Kagiso residents and handed over to police during a protest against illegal mining in the area
Community members look on after apprehending illegal gold miners, beating them and stripping them naked before police arrested them near Krugersdorp
Illegal gold miners are placed in a police van after community members beating them and stripped them naked before handing over to police near Krugersdorp
She likened the situation to the social unrest and riots in South Africa in July last year, where more than 400 people in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces died.
South Africa’s national police commissioner and other senior government officials are expected to hold large community meetings in Kagiso and Krugersdorp over the weekend to discuss illegal mining and crime in the area.
The zama zamas, as the illegal miners are known, illegally venture into old, closed-down mines where they burrow into the rock to try gold ore and other precious metals.
Many die when long-disused tunnels collapse, and others who strike gold are often murdered by jealous rivals.
A resident of Krugersdorp speaking on condition of anonymity told News 24 that news of the sexual violence last week came as no surprise.
She said: ‘[Zama zamas] have long terrorised residents and we hear gunshots at night. It’s not something new. It is an old and ongoing problem that petrifies us all.
‘Women have previously been raped and dragged into the bush. The zama zamas are an old problem, but now we’re at a place where it’s destructive and dangerous.’
South Africa has the third highest crime rate in the world, according to World Population Review, having ‘notably high rates of assaults, rape, homicides, and other violent crimes.’
One of the teenagers who was among the eight models viscously gang-raped by the armed gang of illegal miners has described the horrific attack and told how she and her sister had their virginity ‘stolen’ by the men.
Nombosino, 19, whose name has been changed, and her 21-year-old sister had accepted a £15 a day job to model in a gospel music video when they were ambushed by the gang near an abandoned gold mine close to Krugersdorp on July 28.
The teenager, who feared for her life at the hands of the heavily armed gang, told how the men raped the black and Indian women but left the three white women who were among the 22-strong production crew alone.
The models and crew, the youngest of whom was 19 and the eldest 37, were raped up to ten times each over several hours by the criminals.
Angry residents protest against illegal mining and rising crime in the area in Kagiso on Thursday August 4
An alleged illegal miner (centre) is cornered by community members while they protest against illegal mining and rising crime in the area in Kagiso
Community members stand around an injured illegal gold miner near Krugersdorp, South Africa, Thursday, Aug 4
A man who was mistakenly assaulted by the community members, whom they initially believed to be an illegal miner, in Krugersdorp Johannesburg
Nombosino told local newspaper City Press: ‘We were excited when a local girl who runs a modelling agency told us about the photoshoot and promised us R300 each (£15) at a farm in Krugersdorp.
‘Then it was decided to shoot another part at a mine and the place was beautiful then as we were about to film the last scene men began running at us firing gunshots in the air.
‘They ordered everyone to lie down and more men came running out and they all had guns and they started searching us taking our phones and clothes and cameras.
‘During the search they began touching our private parts and one forced me into a car and that was when the first man raped me. I started bleeding as a second man came.
‘He saw the blood but raped me anyway and I asked him to tell the others not to rape me and had to lie and say I had just lost my baby as they picked is off one by one’.
Nomboniso said her sister, 21, who has not been named, was then put in the car with her.
Nomboniso said she sat on her sister’s lap to try and protect her but two men took her out the car and dragged her to a hole in the ground.
The 21-year-old sister told City Press: ‘The two men started raping me. They had guns and threatened to kill me if I didn’t do as they said. I started bleeding and that helped me.
‘It was a very traumatic experience which lasted about four hours for all the girls and one of the ladies was raped in front of us’.