Warning: Story contains description of sexual assault
Eight models have been gang-raped at gunpoint by a group of up to 80 men who ambushed the cast and crew of a gospel music video shoot in the wilds of South Africa.
The production team was reportedly offloading equipment and setting up at an abandoned mine when the armed gang attacked, on the outskirts of Krugersdorp, a small town near Johannesburg, on July 28.
According to police, the gang forced their way into the video shoot and raped eight women aged between 18 and 35 from the cast.
"The crew of 22 people — 12 women and 10 men — were busy filming a music video when they were allegedly attacked by a group of armed men clad in blankets," Police Commissioner for Gauteng province Lt. Gen. Elias Mawela in a statement.
"The suspects ordered everyone to lay down and proceeded to rape eight of the women and robbed everyone of their belongings before fleeing the scene.
"The crew was robbed of all their video equipment.
"Police are investigating 32 counts of rape."
More than 80 men suspected of the gang rapes of eight women and the armed robbery of a video production crew appeared in court on Monday, the Washington Post reports.
The men were reportedly arrested at an abandoned mining site for being in the country illegally following the rapes and robbery near the disused mine. Their DNA is reportedly being tested and they have not yet been positively linked to the crimes, National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola said.
According to the Sunday Times South Africa, a gang of illegal miners dressed in Basotho blankets, stormed the film shoot and opened fire with their guns.
When women from the cast tried to flee, they were encircled and raped one by one.
A 19-year-old victim said she told her attacker that she had suffered a miscarriage in a bid to avoid being raped further, according to the Sunday Times report.
"I had no way out but to lie, because they were picking us up one by one. There were others who were raped by six to 10 men," she said.
Her 21-year-old sister, who was raped in a ditch, said the girls' ordeal lasted four hours.
The woman who had organised the models for the shoot said that she tried to protect them from the rapists and she was violated first.
She said she felt responsible for the girls because their parents had entrusted her with their safety.
"I was blaming myself, thinking that if it hadn't been for me, these girls wouldn't be there," she told the outlet.
"I felt responsible and I wanted to take all the pain so that they wouldn't touch the girls.
"The first person who was raped was me. The first time, they took me to the bush and the second time, they took me to a hole where no one could see us. They kept telling the younger boys to rape us and they'd hit them and force them to do so.
"The young boys would then take us, one by one, to the bushes. The last time they raped me was in front of the other group."
Even the men were stripped naked and robbed of their personal belongings, Police Minister Bheki Cele told reporters on the sidelines of a conference of the ruling party in Johannesburg.
According to Cele, laboratory studies of DNA samples from the victims will be used to identify their perpetrators. Some of the arrested suspects are expected to face additional charges of illegal immigration and illegal mining.
"It looks like they are foreign nationals, basically they are zama-zamas," Celo said, referring to people who illegally exploit mines in the country.
Speaking to News24 on condition of anonymity to prevent reprisals, a resident of West Village in Krugersdorp said that the attack did not come as a surprise.
"They have long terrorised residents and we hear gunshots at night," she said.
"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 is an old problem, but now we're at a place where it's destructive and dangerous."
The villager said the illegal miners fought among themselves for the unlawful ownership of the old mine and residents who used it for recreational and other purposes.
"There are lots of killings and fights between and they fight and kill each other," she continued.
"Each morning you see their bodies at the roadside. It will never stop."
President Cyril Ramaphosa told a press conference that he had ordered the police minister to make sure the perpetrators were "apprehended and dealt with".
The recent attack has angered community and women's organisations, who say that such incidents are rife around Krugersdorp.
"We are going to demand that the police station should be placed under administration because the community has reported many crimes committed by the zama-zamas but nothing has been done," Zandile Dabula, secretary-general of Operation Dudula, an organisation that protests against illegal immigrants in South Africa, told AP.
The organisation was reportedly part of the Monday protest outside the Krugersdorp courthouse.
"It is clear that they are failing to deal with crime in this area so they should be placed under administration," Dabula said.
Rape is grossly under-reported in South Africa, but on average one such crime is reported to the police every 12 minutes in the country.
Where to get help
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact href='https://safetotalk.nz/' target='_blank'>Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7:
• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email firstname.lastname@example.org
• For more info or to web chat visit target='_blank'>safetotalk.nz
Alternatively contact your local police station - href='http://www.police.govt.nz/contact-us/stations' target='_blank'>click here for a list.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it's not your fault.