South Africa: Motherwell - Serial Rapist or Gender-Based Violence?

Three bodies found in the Port Elizabeth township have prompted claims of a serial rapist or killer, but the police say this is not the case, leading to questions of ongoing violence against women.

Over the past few months, there have been a series of stories alluding to the hunt for a serial rapist in Motherwell in the Eastern Cape. It comes after the discovery of the bodies of three women who had been raped, stabbed multiple times and left half-naked and dead in various open fields in the township.

According to South African Police Service (SAPS) spokesperson Priscilla Naidu, the media misquoted her and have taken the allegations of a serial rapist or killer out of context. She says the discovery of the bodies is a coincidence.

"There is no serial rapist. These bodies were found in different places and at different times. There is a specific criteria used to classify a serial rapist," she said.

Residents from the Ramaphosa area in Motherwell held a community meeting in October after hearing claims of a serial rapist operating in the township. The meeting attendees resolved that, to curb crime in the nearby open fields, residents would chop down bushes and begin to occupy the vacant fields by building residential shacks. A resident who asked to remain anonymous said: "We are tired of the crime in the area, we are taking back our area from thugs."

Motherwell is one of the largest townships in Port Elizabeth, with more than 29 residential areas. It is home to large factories, the motor industry and many open fields.

According to the 2011 census, the area has a population of 140 351 people of whom 52% are women. Residents in Ramaphosa are largely factory workers and domestic workers, with a handful of professionals.

Crime statistics

Recent crime statistics for 2018-2019, provided by Minister of Police Bheki Cele, rate sexual violence at 4.6% and murder at 3.4% of total cases reported to the police nationwide.

The statistics indicate a rise in sexual offences and Crime Stats SA places Motherwell as one of the top 10 worst precincts for attempted murder in 2019.

According to Crime Stats SA, more than 364 crimes have been reported in Motherwell so far this year, with an alarming 95 of those crimes being sexual offences. Rape cases come in at 82 and murder at 68 cases.

According to Cele's recent crime stats report, the SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit has officially registered more than 504 cases nationwide and only 315 of those cases have allegedly been resolved.

"The age group of the crimes are between 16 and 60, which is every age group," said SAPS spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge.

Police position

The SAPS could not confirm whether or not there was a gender-based violence crisis in Motherwell, but have since released a statement to the press about the alleged "serial rapist" claims. In the statement, they plead with residents to help the police with any information regarding the three cases and have called on community members, especially women, "to be extra careful and not to walk alone at night".

The statement denounces the "serial rapist" claims, saying that the police are waiting for the results of the DNA tests, which could implicate one or more suspects.

Motherwell is dealing with a huge gender-based violence crisis. Following the recent nationwide outcry - with protests on the streets of almost every city and university, as well as on social media, for lost and kidnapped women and children - the government's response was a commitment to ending gender-based violence with an allocated R1.1 billion and a policy on dealing with such violence.

But residents in Motherwell are pessimistic. "There is a crisis in Motherwell, but nobody wants to admit this," said an SAPS employee who asked to remain anonymous.

With the population growing daily in the area as land occupation increases, residents have resorted to mob justice to deal with crime, which ranges from petty theft to house robberies and rape.

"Street committees and the police are not effective, hence residence are enforcing mob justice. We are just tired of the crimes here," said another resident.

The residents of Ramaposa have yet to erect shacks in the open fields, but say those living in the houses nearby have agreed to keep a close watch for any suspicious activity.

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