Women’s rights groups in South Africa expressed outrage Thursday and criticized police for perceived failures after charges were dropped against 14 men accused of gang raping and robbing female members of a film crew at an abandoned mine in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg.
State prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence against the men to proceed with the case.
The men, believed to be illegal miners, were arrested during a police raid at the mine after at least eight women were attacked and raped while they were filming a music video in July.
Reports of the rapes sparked violent protests in townships around Krugersdorp as community members accused the small-scale miners working in the abandoned mine shafts of committing the crimes.
Lisa Vetten, director of Tshwaranang, which campaigns to end violence against women, and who has spoken to some of the victims, told the BBC that the dropped charges “will add to existing cynicism against police and courts in their handling of sexual violence cases.”
“Having this sort of thing happen can be a massive setback in believing or trying to believe that you can be safe again,” she told the BBC.
The protesters also descended on the abandoned mines, blocking the holes the miners use to go underground and burning their makeshift tents and belongings. Miners were apprehended, assaulted and handed over to the police.
Police Minister Bheki Cele called the rapes the “shame of the nation” and police initially arrested more than 80 men before charges were ultimately laid against 14.
However, the rape and robbery charges were withdrawn on Thursday and South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said DNA results could not link any of the men to the rapes.
“Upon consultation with the complainants in the matter, and evidential material currently at the disposal of the NPA, it became apparent that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution,” said NPA spokeswoman Phindi Mjonondwane.
The Commission for Gender Equality, an organization that advocates for women’s rights, called on the police to quickly relaunch an investigation.
“We are completely outraged at these latest developments, which means the police have no idea who committed this crime. They arrested the wrong people, so the real criminals are still out there,” said spokesman Javu Baloyi.
The Sisonke organization, which staged demonstrations at court during the suspects’ appearances, also called on police to act quickly to find those responsible.
Prosecutors said the 14 men are now only facing charges related to immigration offenses as they are suspected to be in South Africa illegally.
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.”
The men threatened to shoot the women if they refused to cooperate.
“Telling me that he will kill me and all those things if I don’t listen to him,” recounted Amanda. “And then I’m like, let me do as he says, because I don’t have a choice. And then he took me to somewhere, like… next to the hole.”