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Joburg remembers Rhodes Park victims

Two pink rose bushes stand side by side on the edge of the lake.

The water is still. Two white doves symbolising peace and harmony wait patiently to be set free from a cage.

The tranquillity on this sunny Monday morning (October 17) belies the tragedy that unfolded at the spot in Rhodes Park, Kensington, exactly a year ago when a gang of armed thugs brutally attacked two couples taking a late afternoon stroll after a church service.

At the end of the ordeal, a woman had been raped and two men, aged 25 and 32, lay dead after they were tied by the gang and thrown into the lake to drown. The second woman managed to escape unscathed but the horrific incident of that day has left her emotionally scarred for life.

On Monday tears flowed and emotions ran high when the two survivors, relatives of the victims and members of the media gathered for a wreath-laying ceremony led by City of Johannesburg’s Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Social Development, Cllr Nonhlanhla Sifumba, in memory of the dead and in support of the survivors. Ward 66 councillor Carlos da Rocha, police investigating Warrant Officer Bruce van der Schyff and Merita Ground from the Gauteng Safety and Security MEC’s office have been pillars of support for the survivors.

In her address, MMC Sifumba said the purpose of the gathering was to remember the young men and honour their partners who, in the face of such unimaginable tragedy, had shown resilience and strength. It was an emotional ceremony, especially coming as it did the day before three men accused of the heinous crimes were due to appear in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court.

The MMC called on Johannesburg communities to reclaim open public spaces.

Fighting back tears, MMC Sifumba apologised for opening up old wounds. She had to stop the proceedings several minutes after one of the women was overwhelmed by grief. After composing herself, she lauded the two women for their strength and resilience.

“You are women of substance. You chose to be survivors instead of being victims. You’ve remained resilient. I salute you. This is a very emotional day for all of us. Two young lives were lost in an attack that angered South Africans from all walks of life. I’m sorry for opening old wounds but we’re here to show our solidarity with the families,” the MMC said.

Security around the park has been stepped up since the incident. The local Pick n Pay supermarket has also been supporting the 24-hour security project. The MMC pleaded with the community not to let their guard down.

“[You] must come out into the park again. The more people we have in the park, the more eyes we will have,” MMC Sifumba said, adding that the Rhodes Park community involvement in the policing was the blueprint for other public spaces. 

Ground praised the survivors for their “outstanding strength and honoured the affected families for “the pain, anger and resentment this has brought to you. I salute your courage, for being strong enough. I thank the SAPS for their endurance during the investigation,” Ground said.

The trial has been set down for Tuesday October 18 to Friday October 28.

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