JOHANNESBURG — Growing up in South Africa’s most famous township, Soweto, during the apartheid regime, I can vividly recall spates of abductions and rapes of schoolgirls in the 1990s by gangsters dubbed as “jackrollers,” loosely translated as “forceful abduction of young women.”
Prowling like lions searching for their prey, armed with spades, “pangas” (knives), and guns, driving “gusheshes” (township lingo for old BMW 3 Series 325i or e30 models), the fearless jackrollers would pounce at schoolgirls during school hours, disrupt teaching lessons and abduct the victims.
They entered classrooms, picked girls and dragged them into the gusheshes, drove them to secluded areas where they would take turns in raping them. Although almost every type of schoolgirl was victimized, their key targets were often girls who refused to date them.
The gangsters also had no respect for the anointing, as it is understood that they also targeted girls at The Salvation Army Girls Home in Killarney in Soweto on Christmas Day in 1990.
Most of these young girls would be raped and impregnated. This gave rise to the high rate of teenage pregnancy. This is despite it being a taboo for a young woman to wed after they had lost their virginity or with a child born out of wedlock. But due to the fact that the situation was beyond their power, they entered their matrimonial home with these scars. Their dignity and purity would be stolen from them. This made attending school unbearable for girls during that era. They did not feel safe.
The same scenario would unfold in their homes while families gathered around the table having dinner. Their meal would be disrupted by unruly and ruthless youngsters. Mothers, fathers and children feared these gangsters. Some of the fathers would be forced to helplessly watch the jackrollers take turns raping their daughters. Homes with boy children who were not part of these groups would be targeted as well. In what appeared to have been crime perpetuated by hatred, boys would be forced to witness the rape of their sisters.
They were helpless and had no power to fight back and rescue their children or sisters from the jackrollers. This trend spiraled to other townships around the country. Although to date it is unclear who was the mastermind behind the jackrolling, reports allege that such barbaric acts were orchestrated by the apartheid government to cause turmoil in the Black townships. Jackrolling was also termed as a state-sponsored criminal gang that was used to target political activists in Soweto during the 1990s. This violence among Black residents was also known as Black-on-Black violence.
Brief background of the jackrollers
A paper titled “The Era of the Jackrollers: Contextualizing the rise of the youth gangs in Soweto” — compiled by Steve Mokwena, a former CEO of the Youth Commission in 1991, and presented at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation Seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg — explains that the violent gang culture emerged “in the period following the township unrest of the mid-80s.” According to the paper, it operated in the years 1987 to 1988 in the Diepkloof area under the leadership of Jeffrey Brown.
“The original Jackroller gang was made up of a tight network of less than 10 associates. The gang was led by Jeff Brown, who within months of his arrival in Soweto, earned the ‘status’ of the most feared man in the township. The most notable practices of the Jackrollers were rape and abduction, car theft and bank robbery. But as the abduction of women became fashionable, anyone who did it could be called a jackroller, and jackroll became a commonly used verb in the township vocabulary,” explained the paper.
Victims of the jackrollers
The paper clarified that when jackrolling first emerged, the victims were carefully selected. Initially many of the victims were women who were thought to be out of reach because of their class and status. “Such women would be called by derogatory names such as ‘amahaiza,’ township lingo for snobs.”
One of the incidents that the paper records occurred at The Salvation Army Girls Home in Killarney in Soweto:
At 2:10AM on Christmas Day 1990, a gang of approximately twenty to twenty-five boys broke into the Salvation Army Girls Home in Killarney, Soweto. After attacking the night-watchman they broke the doors of the home and proceeded to make their way to the girls’ dormitories. Brandishing an assortment of dangerous weapons, the boys threatened to kill the matron who they then stabbed with a sharp instrument. Amidst the turmoil and the panic, the boys selected their victims, who were then taken to various venues where they were raped.
Based on the notoriety of the jackrollers and their negative impact on society, a few years later (1999), after South Africa had attained its freedom, a drama series titled “Yizo-Yizo” detailed these gruesome episodes of the past and aired on national TV network SABC. The drama series gained popularity as almost everyone knew that it depicted the truth of what had happened during the apartheid area.
Are churches of today experiencing a neojackrolling?
This gangsterism style of rape dwindled when South Africa gained its freedom on April 27, 1994. Yet, rape is coming to a rise in a different dimension. Many homes are affected by fathers and brothers who are victimizing and raping their own wives, mothers, daughters and sisters.
Most of these victims often find solace in churches. However, what is now appalling is the reported recurring incidents of rapes that women and children suffer at the hands of some of the clergy.
The church, which is supposed to be a safe haven for vulnerable women and children, has become unsafe. This is due to numerous incidents of sexual crimes reported by the media and crime statistics released by the Minister of the South African police, Bheki Cele.
This is a critical time in the religious sector in South Africa because the dignity and human rights of the people and their beliefs are being trampled on in the name of religion. This despite the country having celebrated 28 years of its freedom on April 27 and the entire African continent gearing up for the Africa Day annual celebration on May 25.
Some clergy have defiled the church. A highly reported case is of a South African- based Nigerian pastor, Timothy Omotoso. He is facing 63 charges of rape, human trafficking and racketeering. Police allege he abused the victims while they were 14 years old and trafficked over 30 girls from his church to his house in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal to sexually abuse them.
Some other cases of rape and murders include the mysterious death of Rebecca Nong from the Alexandra township, who was allegedly gang raped by a group of Ghanaian pastors when she was 19 years old in January 2018. The victim died few days later, from what was suspected to have been food poisoning. The mother of the victim, Nthabiseng Nong, had bemoaned that police did not record a case of gang rape.
Another is the case of Ghanaian Pastor Angel Maninoo Nyamekye, who had allegedly raped a 15-year-old minor inside the church premises of the Kingdom Prayer Ministry in Chiawelo, Soweto.
Several similar complaints were lodged against Nyamekye with the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities received similar complaints about Nyamekye. The CRL Rights Commission is a Chapter 9 Institution that investigates the commercialization of religion in South Africa. Nyamekye was also linked to the case of Rebecca.
A Congolese national, Pastor William Emeka from Bronkhorstspruit in Mpumalanga province, was recently sentenced to 37 years in prison for the rape of five congregants. It has been reported that Emeka was found guilty of 19 counts of rape and three counts of sexual assault.
Pastor Sibusiso Gerald Nyathikazi from northern KwaZulu-Natal was found guilty on two counts of rape and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by the Ulundi Regional Court. His rape victim was 19 years old.
It has been reported that Pastor James Devine Thubakgale of Devine Deliverance Church in Seshego in Limpopo received a third life sentence for rape, assault and “calling a congregant a witch.” He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 10 years’ imprisonment on two counts of rape and common assault and four months for the witch remark. The incidents took place between 2010 and 2017.
According to media reports when the third life sentence was handed down, Thubakgale was already serving two life sentences for the rape of minor girls in 2011 and 2012. This was after being jailed by the Mankweng Regional Court on Sept. 30, 2020. His victims were mostly below the age of 16.
Another reported conviction is of Pastor Freddie Jafta from Dysselsdorp in the Western Cape. He was convicted on various charges of rape and sentenced to 25 and 15 years’ imprisonment by the Oudtshoorn Regional Court. His victims were twins and minors when the incidents happened.
Pastor Lucky Mfanivele Magagula was sentenced to two life terms for three counts of rape, five counts of exposing children to pornography, six counts of sexual assault, and four counts of exposing genitals to children and sexual grooming.
It is reported that Magagula was pastoring a church in Benoni. His victims were a three-year-old girl and two other girls, aged eight and nine.
South Africa crime stats
Crime statistics dating back to 2008/2009 financial year presented by Cele to the Portfolio Committee on Police demonstrated that 69,197 sexual offense crimes and 46,647 cases of rape were recorded. For the 2017/2018 financial year, 50,108 incidents of sexual offence crimes were recorded and 40,035 cases of rape. The figure captured rapes by different perpetrators of crimes.
Sexual abuse of women and children is not an outcry for South Africa alone but for the entire world. The United Nations had recorded in 2020 that 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged at the recent second Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide that despite the summit’s efforts to curb the scourge of violence against women and children, it continues unabated.
“Not a day goes by without a story in the newspapers, on television or online about a woman or child that has lost their life or been abused in the most horrendous manner,” said Ramaphosa. “Data from the SAPS shows that sexual offenses and rape increased by 13% between 2017/18 and 2021/22. Between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, there was a 52% increase in the murder of women and 46% increase in the number of children murdered.”
Ramaphosa believes that everyone, including himself, religious leaders, ministers, premiers, athletes, artists, educators, business leaders and many others should participate in various dialogues, outreach and awareness-raising activities to fight against crimes directed at women and children.
He said different mechanisms and budgets have been put in place to address gender-based violence.
Detailing rape and murder cases that called for a nation outcry and sparked mass marches around the country, from 2019 to 2022, Ramaphosa said, “There have been so many more women killed by men.”
He said since then, the nation has been horrified by the brutal violence that took the lives of many.
Innocent children, he said, have fallen victim to heartless criminals.
“Just as the country was reeling from the news of a gang rape of a group of women in Krugersdorp, we were confronted with the news of the murder of 4-year-old little Bokgabo Poo, who was dismembered and her body parts thrown into a field,” said Ramaphosa.
“Just as babies are not being spared, even the elderly have become targets of violent men. We have in recent times seen a spate of rapes and killings of elderly women, our mothers and grandmothers that are meant to be respected and treated with dignity. These horrors defy comprehension. There are really no words for them.
“They tell a story about our society that is deeply disturbed. It is a story of a nation at war with itself. These barbaric acts are a shameful indictment of the men of this country. It is not women who are responsible for ending such crimes; it is men. As a society, ending violence against women and children cannot be anything but our foremost priority. This is about the lives of our country’s women and children. There can be no greater urgency.”
Although South Africa has been dubbed a hub of crime, according to world statistics on sexual violence cases, Wisevoter reports that Botswana is leading across the world. It has allegedly recorded 96.87 rapes per 100,000 people, followed by Lesotho, 89.29; Grenada, 88.87; Sweden, 87.97; Eswatini, 82.73; South Africa, 70.22; Saint Kitts and Nevis, 56.4; Panama, 53.98; Iceland, 46.3; and Suriname, 43.3. According to Wisevoter, these are the 10 countries with the highest recorded rape statistics in the world, with four Southern Africa countries.
Despite media reports on sexual violence toward children and women by clergy being more prevalent in South Africa, there are few cases reported in Botswana and Lesotho.
Rapes in Lesotho
The rape trends in Lesotho have always been related to “ho shobedisa,” (abduction) of girls or young women, often by their peers who wish to marry them. After they have been raped, they fear to return to their parents or their villages. This is because the entire community gets alerted of such incidents. Therefore, instead of returning home, they prefer to remain in forced marriages either with a boyfriend they did not intend to marry or young men who only wanted to abuse them. Although such marriages are not founded on love, they often last because usually young men from the village would not want to marry a girl who is not a virgin.
Research conducted by Sechaba Consultants, an Indigenous Basotho nongovernmental organization, and Tulane University for the United States Agency for International Development Regional HIV/AIDS Project for Southern Africa records that sexual violence is common in Lesotho.
“The survey data found that 61% of respondents reported having experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives,” wrote the researchers. “Forty percent reported experiencing some form of coerced sex and 50% experienced assault. Twenty-two percent of the sample reported being physically forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.”
According to this report, in Lesotho, the charge of rape is only considered in cases where the woman is a virgin — not to woman who is not a virgin or married or was seen drunk. Therefore, such women suffer in silence as their voices are not heard. There is a high rate of HIV in Lesotho and women, especially virgins. Girls and women who are virgins are said to be high victims because they are raped by men who are infected with the virus. Apparently, men who are living with HIV are said to believe that they can be cured by raping virgins.
The report states:
The local definition of rape is sexual assault by strangers upon virgins. Sexual assault by someone the woman knows and sexual assault upon a sexually experienced woman are not considered rape. A woman’s decision to disclose an assault is dependent on the type of perpetrator; disclosure is more common if the perpetrator was a stranger. Community members are typically not supportive of women who report having been sexually assaulted and often blame the woman for causing the assault.
Few women who experienced sexual violence sought out existing services. Many women choose not to report sexual violence to the police because they face harsh and accusatory questioning from the male officers.
Wisevoter reports that Botswana is the country with the highest rape rate in the world, with 96.87 cases of rape being reported per 100,000 people:
The rate of sexual assaults in Botswana is so high that it is more than double the global average of 35 cases reported per 100,000 people. This alarming figure has been attributed to a plethora of factors such as the prevalence of alcohol abuse, gender-based violence, and a lack of adequate sexual education within the country. The government has taken strides to address this issue by implementing laws against gender-based violence, reforming outdated attitudes toward sexual assault and introducing comprehensive sex education in schools. However, reports suggest that there remains much work to be done in order to reduce the still alarmingly high rates of rape in Botswana and bring it closer to international standards.
A previous study by the Botswana’s Women’s Affairs Department, a department within the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, explained that almost 70% of the women interviewed had experienced gender-based violence at least once in their lifetime.
“Nearly 30% experienced violence over the last year,” the report said. “We can extrapolate that more than 200,000 women had their rights violated at the very moment that we are working toward attaining human rights for all.”