South African police are investigating the discovery of at least 21 bodies suspected of being illegal miners and found near an active mine in the town of Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg. The gruesome find comes just a few months after a brutal gang rape in the same area shocked the nation.
According to police, 19 bodies were discovered on Wednesday afternoon and two more were discovered on Thursday morning. Police said they suspect that the bodies were moved to the location where they were found, which is a privately-owned mine.
“We can confirm that this morning our search and rescue team went back to the scene and, as they were searching, they discovered two more bodies. They retrieved them from an open (mine) shaft,” police spokeswoman Brenda Muridili said Thursday.
The grim discovery is the latest in a series of incidents related to illegal mining in the Krugersdorp area. In July, eight female members of a film crew were raped and robbed at an abandoned mine in the area, where they were working on a music video shoot. The incident sparked violent protests against illegal miners in surrounding communities.
Last week, rape and robbery charges against 14 men, who are also suspected of being illegal miners, were withdrawn after police couldn’t link them to the rapes through DNA evidence. The men were arrested during police raids on the abandoned mine where the rapes took place.
South Africa is rife with illegal mining, with miners known as “zama zamas” prowling the many closed and abandoned mines in and around the Johannesburg area in search of gold. On the western outskirts of Johannesburg is the mining town of Krugersdorp.
The police view illegal mining gangs as dangerous because they frequently carry weapons, engage in bloody turf wars with rival organizations, and are frequently armed. The trade is thought to be dominated by illegal immigrants from the nearby nations of Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
The 14 men who had their robbery and rape charges dropped are accused of entering South Africa unlawfully and are facing immigration charges.
Survivors tell CBS News about horrific gang rape
In August, CBS News correspondent Debora Patta met four of the young women who survived the ordeal.
They were accompanied by their mothers, who fought back tears as they listened to their daughters recount the horrific ordeal. CBS News changed their names at their request to protect their identities.
“Some of us tried to run,” Bontle, 19, said. “But you know, we weren’t able to, because they were shooting.”
“And there were men spreading all over,” interrupted her elder sister Amanda. “They were expanding, maybe 15 or more of them.”
The women said they were encircled by the attackers, who wore balaclavas and forced them to lie face down in a deep pit. The male members of the crew were stripped naked and held captive in a separate area.
The women told CBS News the attackers took turns with all eight of the women, who were tortured and brutalized for more than three hours before their captors fled.
“We were crying, you know, some of the girls. They were also screaming while they were raping them,” said Bontle.
“And in front of our eyes,” continued Amanda, “the other one, they raped her in front of us.”
- Nine arrested after bridge collapses in India, killing 134
- Somalia Mogadishu bombings: Twin blasts kill 100 in capital
- Haitian politician shot dead, as violent gangs and political turmoil push country to the ‘edge of collapse’