South African police are investigating cases in which two Zimbabwean women were killed, three raped while 25 people were kidnapped by a gang of criminals targeting mainly Zimbabweans travelling to that country.
The incidents occurred between May 30 and July 11 and victims who escaped reported the matter to police.
The gang, which includes a couple based in Musina, reportedly targets women travelling between Musina and Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province.
It is understood the matter is being handled by detectives from Olifantsfontein Police Station, east of Johannesburg.
Efforts to get a comment from South African police were fruitless yesterday.
However, investigations by The Herald established that the syndicate operates from Total and Engen service stations and a house in Musina, where they pounce on Zimbabwean hitch-hikers heading for Gauteng province.
The syndicate has claimed the lives of Olga Gwena (25) of Chitungwiza and Esther Mwenda (believed to be from Harare).
Indications are that Gwena was fatally assaulted while Mwenda was assaulted and burnt beyond recognition by the kidnappers before their bodies were dumped in the Germiston area.
The bodies were still at the Germiston hospital mortuary.
Six Zimbabwean men (all based in South Africa) believed to be members of the gang were recently arrested in connection with the matter in a pre-dawn raid at a flat in Berea and were positively identified by two of the victims.
They are Wisani Sithole, Godknows Dube, Bongani Ngwenya, Sibusiso Ndlovu, Malvin Ndaba and Nkosinathi Ncube. They are in police custody pending trail in Johannesburg.
The criminals reportedly use South African-registered private vehicles and touts to lure potential victims into their cars, whom they then kidnap and detain at various houses on reaching Johannesburg.
Sources close to police investigations said yesterday that members of the gang were very cunning and only showed their true colours to their victims on getting to Johannesburg. “The syndicate is using the same modus operandi and use Engen garage and a house in Musina as pick-up points. They usually arrive in Johannesburg from 2000hrs onwards.
“Most of the gang members are fluent in two vernacular languages spoken in Zimbabwe -Shona and Ndebele. However, from their accent, the victims agreed that their first language is Ndebele. Victims in all cases where robbed of their belongings and ransom was demanded. The suspects selectively prefer women and young men,” said the source.
The source said on getting to Johannesburg, the suspects turn violent and detain the victims after stripping them of various valuables, including money. He said they then demand money from the victims’ relatives to secure their release. He said the money, which starts from R2 000, was paid through various money agencies including Shoprite, PEP, Spar or Cambridge Stores.
Zimbabwe’s consul-general to South Africa, Mr Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro, described the incidents as unfortunate.
“It is unfortunate, sad and tragic that Zimbabweans can commit such heinous crimes against their own and that a perverted couple is making a living this way,” he said.
It is demeaning that our people can choose to do such crimes in a foreign land,” said Mr Mukonoweshuro.
“We are satisfied with the efforts of the police (SAPS) to untangle the crimes which are basically carried out on unsuspecting innocent travellers in Musina. They are then either tortured or subjected to extortion either in Musina or areas around Johannesburg,” he said.
Mr Mukonoweshuro said they were hopeful that the investigators would bring all the criminals to book.
He urged Zimbabweans travelling to South Africa to always use formal modes of transport (registered road passenger vehicles such as buses) and desist from carrying a lot of cash on them.
“Those who prey on innocent travellers use many tactics and may appear to be genuine on first sight,” he said. “People should be documented and always use the correct channels for travelling no matter how cumbersome the process may seem. Lives should not be sacrificed for any perceived expediency,” said Mr Mukonoweshuro.