Veteran crime reporter Golden Mtika’s new documentary for the BBC takes a hard look at the rape epidemic in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. For the last 17 years, Mtika tells viewers at the outset of the 42-minute video report, he has been living with his wife and kids in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Diepsloot.
Diepsloot has been overrun with sexual predators who not only rape and assault women and children with impunity, but have the temerity to openly boast about their crimes. Nearly a third of men in Diepsloot, Mtika reports, have admitted to outright rape or using threats of force to coerce women into sex. Not surprisingly, many in the community are thoroughly disgusted with these sexual predators’ reign of terror.
“They will actually rape your girlfriend with you watching,” one man told Mtika. “If these people are dead, it’s fine,” one woman who is fed up with the rampant sexual violence says. “They rape us in front of our husbands. They say to them, ‘Watch how we will fuck her.'”
Desperate for justice, which the police and local government appear to be unable to deliver, some in Diepsloot have resorted to vigilantism as a response to the lawlessness. People believed to be perpetrators of rape are being captured by the mob and burned alive. In the middle of the day, the air in Diepsloot is filled with the smell of burning flesh. Bodies are seen lying on heaps of garbage as they smolder, surrounded by scores of onlookers, many of them children. Some are incapacitated, but still alive as smoke rises from their flesh and police arrive on the scene. However, the police, worried about triggering a riot among the masses, often do nothing and let the suspected rapists die. Other times they negotiate with the people in the mob and rescue the suspects.
“But even the threat of being burned alive seems to have done nothing to stop rapes in Diepsloot,” Mtika says. At one point, his report takes a surprisingly personal twist as he admits he is friends with a rapist, a man named David, whom he once saved from vigilantes. One of David’s rape victims appears on camera and the woman recounts the horrifying attack she suffered. “He started to push me, trying to force me,” the woman recalled. “I said, ‘No.'” She said she tried to close the door of her home, but he forced his way in. “He picked me up and threw me to the bed,” she said.
“After that …” her voice trailed off as she fought back tears. “I got HIV … AIDS after this happened.” That rape, Mtika explains, happened after he’d intervened with the vigilantes and convinced them to spare David’s life. So, Mtika sits David down on camera and grills him about his sexual violence.
David, appearing without anything disguising his identity, tells Mtika that he feels “OK” knowing that he infected the woman with HIV. He estimates that he’s raped “maybe 21 or 24” women.
Mtika asks if David thinks he’s infected any of his other victim’s. David gave this chilling response: “I know I have HIV, so I want to spread that HIV.” With a menacing look in his eye, David explains why he delights in this sort of depravity. “I feel good [about spreading HIV] because I can’t die alone,” he says.
Mtika then probes David for clues as to what might’ve caused him to engage in such barbaric behavior. David reveals that as a teen he was sodomized by police, and he’s now acting out the violence he was subjected to as a child.
As the documentary continues, Mtika conducts more on-camera interviews with men who freely admit to being serial rapists. One tells Mtika he has no qualms about his raping, and feels no sense of concern for the women he victimizes, because he has “no conscience at all.”
Mtika also talks with some of the vigilantes, three women who discuss their techniques for incapacitating and then torching suspected rapists as well as why they do it. One woman says she’s taken part in many “mob justices” because “I try to help the community. I have kids. I feel the pain.” Another vigilante worries, “One day it will be my daughter out there.”
The women admit, however, that mistakes have been made and some innocent men have been killed. When they kill an innocent man, one of the women tells Mtika, “The community must make donations to arrange the funeral … because it’s our fault for the family to have lost the person.”
Last month, Reuters issued a report ranking the 10 most dangerous countries for women. Interestingly, South Africa was nowhere to be found on the list. The U.S. ranked tenth on the Reuters list, but had Mtika’s documentary been released prior to that report being compiled, it’s not a stretch to wonder whether the final results of the report would’ve been different.
Below, watch the full BBC documentary. It’s eye-opening and disturbing. Or watch a nine-minute version of the film just below the full documentary.