Zama-zamas entering a mine shaft after bribing a security guard on site. Screenshot from YouTube

South Africa: 82 suspects arrested after a mass rape

Dozens of black men ambushed a film crew at an abandoned mine near Johannesburg on Friday. They raped eight models between the ages of 19 and 35. As they fled, the police shot dead two suspects and 82 other people were arrested.

Published: July 31, 2022, 9:34 am

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    After a mass rape of eight women, the police in South Africa arrested 82 suspects. Officials were investigating at least 32 rape cases, police in the northern province of Gauteng said on Saturday. Some of the victims were raped by up to ten men, said Police Minister Bheki Cele. The group of perpetrators also committed an armed robbery.

    On Friday, heavily armed black perpetrators known as “zama-zamas” attacked the film crew and extras at an abandoned site in Krugersdorp, near Johannesburg. The crew had been filming a music video at the disused mine. The eight women who were raped were all models between the ages of 19 and 35. According to the police, the attackers also stole wallets, mobile phones and jewelry and then fled the scene. Police officers shot dead two of the perpetrators as they fled.

    What are ‘zama-zamas’?

    “Zama-zama” is a local South African Zulu language term which means “to try again” or “take a chance.” The term actually refers to illegal miners who work in discontinued mines. Since industrial mining conducted by large-scale companies has seen a decline in operations and profits, shafts are taken over by criminal networks that use hand tools and manual labour to extract ore.

    The mass rape is politically explosive, because it is estimated that 70 percent of zama-zamas are undocumented foreigners. South Africa has a history of xenophobic violence and the issue has become the focus of political campaigns.

    President Cyril Ramaphosa described the mass rape as “appalling”. Health Secretary Aaron Motsoaledi broke down in tears during a press interview on Saturday and the Minister of Police also feigned shock. But residents of Krugersdorp told local TV station eNCA they had been living in fear for months because of the zama-zamas.

    Sexual assaults are common in South Africa with its approximately 60 million inhabitants, especially the tradition of “Ukuthwala” a form of abduction that involves raping a girl or a young woman by a man and his friends or peers with the intention of compelling the girl or young woman’s family to agree into marriage. In fact, rape counselling centres (run mostly by concerned white women) were closed down because of political pressure. But when it involves foreigners, the issue becomes politically exploitable.

    According to police statistics, 10 818 people were raped in the first three months of this year alone. However, police believe the number of unreported cases is much higher because most cases go unreported.

    According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the first quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate in South Africa was almost 64 percent for those aged 15-24 and 42,1 percent for those aged 25-34 years. The growing joblessness is being blamed on foreigners. Because of the demographic, most jobless people are black since whites are a small minority in the country.

    About 23 000 jobs were lost in the mining sector between 2012 and 2019, according to data released by Statistics South Africa last year. Mining employment stood at 514 859 in 2019, down from 538 144 in 2012, with the sector facing more mass jobs cuts.

    Literally an underground existence

    An estimated 30 000 zama-zamas can be found underground at any one time. Above ground, networks operate to facilitate the unregulated and illicit smuggling operation, marked by extreme violence, corruption, and turf warfare. Rival zama-zama factions often kill for profitable shafts or trap one another in the mines to deter competition. Mine collapses and rock falls have so far killed hundreds. These deaths are almost never investigated.

    Zama-zamas gain access to the shafts by bribing low-level mine employees. Due to the entrance fee and security risks, they then stay underground for months at a time in some of the deepest mining shafts in the world (on average over 2km deep) and have food delivered at exuberant prices. The minerals they mine, usually gold, are sold to local and international smugglers.

    It is therefore unsurprising that the film crew would face an array of problems in venturing into an area fraught with extreme violence and frequent deadly turf wars, and where the police are either taking bribes or ignoring the scourge organised by criminal syndicates. These syndicates are responsible for billions of rands in lost tax revenue. In Gauteng, the violence in affected areas have turned mine sites into active war zones.

    “Illegal mining and precious metals trafficking are complex multilayered international phenomena. Criminal syndicates use elaborate schemes and extensive export routes to successfully sell stolen precious metals to international and local refiners and launder the proceeds with limited detection and subsequent impunity,” said Brigadier Hennie Flynn of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation at the ISS.

    A 2015 report estimated that about 10 percent of South Africa’s gold production – worth about R14 billion – was stolen and being smuggled out of the country.


    Members of Krugersdorp Sector 9 Community Policing Forum (CPF), a civilian body, have compelled the South African Police Service (SAPS) to arrest zama-zama’s. But often the arrests are done to appease the CPF and SAPS members have a casual attitude as can be seen in this video with the officer chatting with the uncuffed zama-zama suspects in 2019. Screenshot from YouTube

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