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Xenophobia should not influence mass rape probe

Police have been deployed to the West Rand to oust undocumented foreign nationals in the wake of a mass rape incident that occurred at a nearby mine dump. File image
Police have been deployed to the West Rand to oust undocumented foreign nationals in the wake of a mass rape incident that occurred at a nearby mine dump. File image
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The horrific gang rape of eight young women near Krugersdorp on the West Rand last week shocked a country all too accustomed to brutal acts of  gender-based violence.

The assailants are alleged to have been illegal miners, known as zama zamas.

Residents in the area say they have long lived in fear of criminals based in the abandoned mines, but had scant help from police.

That has changed as a result of the rapes which gained the attention of not only the SAPS top brass but also police minister Bheki Cele, never one to shy away from the limelight.

Cele has urged action against the zama zamas, most of whom are in SA illegally, and this week has seen multiple police units comb the area, flushing out and arresting suspected illegal migrants.

It is unclear if any of the more than 130 people so far arrested are indeed suspects in the rapes.

Illegal mining is nothing new.

Long the bane of mine owners and local communities, it has been largely ignored by the authorities.

It is a sorry fact that law enforcement in SA is haphazard and sporadic.

We fear that once the publicity dies down, illegal mining, which is a highly dangerous activity conducted by desperate people, will continue much as usual.

Meanwhile, there is room for concern.

Even if those arrested are in SA illegally, they have rights which we hope are not being violated in the rush to make arrests.

That most of the zama zamas are from neighbouring states is hardly surprising.

For more than a century SA was the largest producer of gold in the world and more gold has been extracted here than the joint output of all the other mines on the planet.

Much of this back-breaking labour was done by migrant workers from neighbouring states.

That makes it all the more distasteful that there is a note of xenophobia creeping into the West Rand proceedings.

This is not only unacceptable, it is dangerous.

HeraldLIVE

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