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South Africa: Kidnap, rape and murder of toddlers shocks Diepsloot

By Arwa Damon. Brent Swails and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu October 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two toddlers aged 2 and 3 were kidnapped, raped and killed in Dietsloop township
  • Their bodies were found in a public toilet building
  • Five men are on trial accused of kidnapping, raping and killing the two girls
  • South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world

Diepsloot, South Africa (CNN) -- In a country where several rapes are said to occur every minute, in a township where violence is commonplace, this was a crime that shocked the entire community of Diepsloot, South Africa.

Two girl cousins, aged two and three, were taken from their doorstep -- kidnapped in broad daylight.

And when Yonelisa and Zandile Mali were found a few days later in the township north of Johannesburg, the news only got worse.

The two girls had been raped and murdered, their lifeless bodies dumped in a public toilet in Diepsloot.

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Since that discovery October 15, five men have been accused of kidnapping, raping and killing the two little girls.

The suspects appeared briefly in court in Pretoria Thursday but the trial has been adjourned until November 1 while investigations continue, Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, told CNN.

Investigators are currently analyzing DNA evidence and awaiting official identification of the five men, he said.

A confession from one of the suspects was legally obtained and will be used in court, according to Simasiku, but the other suspects have not confessed to the alleged crimes. All five will defend themselves in court.

Residents of Diepsloot demonstrated outside Pretoria Magistrate's Court as the men made their appearance, voicing their anger over the killings.

The sprawling, densely populated township on the outskirts of Johannesburg is one of the most violent places in the country, making it a challenge for any parent to keep their child safe here.

But Yonelisa's mother, Thokozani Mali, tried her best. She was at home with the girls on the day they were taken, checking on them every five minutes as they played together.

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She discovered they'd vanished after going to check when all went quiet. Family, neighbors and the police joined a frantic hunt for the toddlers.

Ten days after their bodies were found, Thokozani finds it hard to talk about the loss of her only child.

"I am trying to be strong," she told CNN. "When I am sleeping, she always next to me, so when I think of that I feel like crying."

A box of the girls' shoes is outside her home, waiting to be given away to those in need. But for the moment, the pain is still too raw.

'Gruesome incidents'

South African President Jacob Zuma last week condemned the girls' murder, as well as the apparent torture and abuse of a young boy whose body was found in a field in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg.

"These gruesome incidents of extreme torture and murder of our children do not belong to the society that we are continuously striving to build together," he said in a statement.

"Whilst we appeal to the communities not to take the matters into their hands, we also want to urge them to work with law enforcement authorities to find the perpetrators and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law."

Arrests for rape are rare in South Africa, and only 6% of rape cases lead to convictions.

But rape itself is far from uncommon. South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world, with an average of 55,000 reported cases a year.

The true figure is likely much higher, though, since many victims stay silent, according to Prof. Rachel Jewkes of the South African Medical Research Council.

Surveys of adult women in South Africa's Gauteng province, which encompasses Johannesburg, Diepsloot and Pretoria, suggest that 25 women are raped for each one who reports it to the police, she said.

"If you take into account that rape is so under-reported, there are several rapes every minute in this country by our estimate," she said.

While some 60% of the women raped in South Africa are adults, about 15% are children under the age of 11, she said.

"We do see rapes of children of age 3 and 2 every year but obviously not that many," Jewkes said.

She has seen a disturbing increase in cases where those attacked are both raped and killed. About a quarter of girl children who are murdered are raped, Jewkes said.

The police station in Diepsloot has one of the highest rates of reported rapes in the country, she said.

She believes that to change this, authorities will need to tackle the root causes -- poverty, lack of policing, and the problem of men's attitude of sexual entitlement toward women.

CNN's Arwa Damon and Brent Swails reported in Diepsloot and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN's Karen Smith contributed to this report.

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