Johannesburg - For months they would lie in wait at dumping areas around Joburg, dressed in worn-out and dirty overalls pretending to be peasants.
In the early hours of the morning, late at night, in the freezing cold or in pouring rain, Warrant Officer Morake Khoali, Captain Maria Mokhele, constables Leutsoa Mofokeng and Jerry Khambule, from the Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit in Vereeniging, would be there.
They would roam around, pretending to be looking for items around the rubbish dumps, while they were in fact hoping to catch two men travelling in a minibus taxi and raping women at dumping sites around the Vaal area.
The men’s first rapes of the day were between 3am and 6am.
Any woman who was by herself on the road and who flagged down their taxi between those times was their target.
Their second rapes of the day took place in the evening; the last woman in the taxi was their victim. They would park their taxi and take turns raping the woman and leave her there naked, or throw her out while the taxi was moving.
Their reign of terror continued for eight months, from January 2008.
The officers were frustrated when their stakeouts at the places where the rapes were committed never bore any fruit and, in the meantime, the rapes were getting out of control.
They were unable to focus on anything else. They never rested. They neglected their families. They slept at their offices and out at dumping sites. Their informants didn’t have any information. None of the victims had managed to take the registration number of the minibus taxi; all they had was a description.
Another problem was that women were being raped in Orange Farm, Lenasia, Ennerdale, De Deur and Evaton, and it was therefore not known where exactly the rapists were operating from.
As the rapes mounted, the officers approached the taxi industry for help.
“We got a lot of problems there, some taxi bosses did not want to help,” Khoali recalled.
One taxi operator stepped forward, though. He told the police that he knew the taxi they wanted and what its normal route was.
Just as the police were getting excited about the lead, they arrived at the office to hear that the men had just raped their 52nd victim.
With the information from the taxi informant, the last victim and her father, who is also in the taxi industry, the police were able to make an arrest the next day.
By the time the matter went to court, 27 of the women were willing to proceed with the case and the others had withdrawn the charges, saying they did not want their families to know about the rapes.
The trial lasted three years and the State had more than 200 witnesses.
On March 13, 2012, Boitumelo Galubetse was sentenced to 780 years and 51 life sentences, while his friend Bongani Madlala got 49 life sentences and 780 years.
The victims, their parents and the community were so touched by the dedication of the officers to the case that they threw a party on Saturday to thank them.
Malekhotla Mofokeng, a mother of one of the victims, had tears in her eyes as she described the journey from when her daughter was raped until the matter was finally completed.
“It was a difficult and painful journey we were on and we thought it important, as parents and victims, to show gratitude,” she said.
Khoali said this was one of the most difficult cases he had ever worked on. “There were times when I did not go inside the court because it was too painful. The victims would be crying while testifying and the accused would be sitting there, laughing at them.
“On the other hand, the lawyers would be attacking them… it was too painful to watch. I thank God that we got them before they killed anyone,” he said.