On Tuesday last week a woman was admitted to a private psychiatric clinic in Johannesburg. She repeated over and over the single phrase: “Orange police are bad, blue police are good.”
She had been gang raped the previous night by four men, alleged to be Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officers.
The 44-year-old woman, a well-known anti-rape campaigner, was on her way home when she was stopped by uniformed officers in a marked JMPD vehicle, said her daughter. It was about 9pm on Monday.
The officers asked her for a driver’s licence, before pulling her out of her car and dragging her behind a bush on the roadside. She was raped at gunpoint.
Her attackers then wiped out her mouth and shoved a tissue in her vagina and rotated it with a stick.
Before leaving the scene, the attackers threatened to kill her family if she reported the rape. When the assailants left, the woman called a family member who rushed her to the emergency unit at the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg.
After being discharged, she had a breakdown and started chanting, “Orange police are bad, blue police are good.” She was taken to a private psychiatric hospital where she is being treated.
The JMPD’s patrol vehicles have orange markings, the South African Police Service vehicles have blue signage.
Despite the threats, the woman reported the rape to the police the following day.
Responding, the JMPD has questioned whether the attackers were officers in their unit – and how many people were involved.
“The rape at gunpoint of a women by two men allegedly dressed in metro police uniforms last week, is currently being investigated … At this stage, we cannot confirm whether the suspects were indeed JMPD officers,” superintendent Wayne Minnaar said in a statement this week.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) interviewed the woman’s family soon after the attack and initiated its own probe after the matter was referred from the police station. Ipid, unlike the JMPD, confirmed that “police officers” were involved.
“The complainant was stopped by JMPD officers who were in uniform and whose vehicle was parked along the N1. They asked for her driver’s licence and she was dragged to the nearby bushes where she was raped at gunpoint by four police officers,” Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini told the Mail & Guardian last week.
In his statement, Minnaar suggested that the suspects were driving in an unmarked vehicle.
“We also reiterate that JMPD only makes use of unmarked vehicles -during special operations, and that officially marked vehicles are used for normal patrol duties,” he said.
The woman’s daughter dismissed this, saying her mother’s activist track record meant she would not have been fooled by a cloned vehicle.
“My mom is a prominent rape activist. Only a law-enforcement officer or an accident would have made my mom stop,” she told the M&G this week.
“She would never have slowed down for an unmarked vehicle.”
The family also pointed to the attempts to remove traces of semen after the rape. “These individuals have some sort of knowledge as to how a rape kit is conducted. You cannot destroy forensics in such a manner. However, the attempt to do so says more [about] the perpetrators than anything else,” said a family member.
Asked how the case would affect the public’s trust and willingness to co-operate with the JMPD, officials from Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba’s office referred the M&G to the JMPD’s statement.
The woman’s family is outraged by the metro police response, accusing it of attempting to “cover up” the truth.
“Almost everything in the JMPD statement, except for the fact that it happened, is a lie. It’s a poor cover-up but nonetheless an attempted one,” a close family member said on condition of anonymity.
Asked whether the unit had questioned any of the officers on duty near the scene that Monday night, Minnaar said: “I unfortunately don’t have any further information.”
Ipid has subsequently contacted mobile operator MTN for access to its CCTV footage, after it emerged that it has cameras placed near the crime scene.
The woman’s family has also dismissed the JMPD’s claim that it offered victim assistance after the ordeal.
“The department has also offered to ensure that the victim receives counselling from specialist organisations such as Powa [People Opposed to Woman Abuse], and further support her in her journey through the criminal justice system by assigning a social worker to assist her and her family,” Minnaar’s statement read.
The woman’s daughter said: “JMPD seems to be in the business of lying. The city is assisting the victim? My mom is in a psychiatric unit … My father’s medical aid is paying for it.”
The Sonke Gender Justice organisation, which campaigns against gender violence and assists victims of abuse, said it was not unusual for police to be implicated in rape and abuse, but most often in the case of sex workers.
Policy development and advocacy co-ordinator Marike Keller said trust in the police by victims of sexual violence was “incredibly low”.
This was the case “especially among rape survivors and domestic abuse survivors. That’s because of the insensitivity that police show to survivors and lack of trust that the case will be resolved. Also, once a case is reported, they don’t contact the survivor to update them on the case,” Keller said.
This was also, in part, because of authorities’ failure to prosecute and convict rapists and abusers.
“Conviction rates are incredibly low. If you compare the number of [rape] cases [against police] reported and the ones that result in convictions, it’s about 4%. That’s according to an independent study,” Keller said.