KAGISO, Aug 5 — Thousands of angry South African protesters Thursday hunted down miners without permits, sealing makeshift shafts and burning houses, after the mass rape of eight women last week west of Johannesburg.

Police minister Bheki Cele has said informal miners commonly known as “zama zamas” — believed to largely be undocumented foreigners — were likely behind the attack on July 28 in the town of Krugersdorp.

Armed with machetes, golf clubs and hammers, mobs of residents on Thursday moved from one area to another on the fringes of the town’s Kagiso township, trying to smoke out miners operating illegally in informal shafts.

AFP reporters at the scene saw residents torching a house thought to belong to a gangmaster.

Local television footage showed protesters using boulders to close makeshift mine shafts in a Kagiso district known as Soul City.

Police kept a distance and fired stun grenades from a helicopter to disperse the crowds.

Later in the evening, authorities said the situation had stabilised and 29 undocumented people had been arrested on charges of illegal immigration.

Police said a murder and public violence investigation was opened after the body of a man was found near the area in the morning.

It was not immediately clear if the death was linked to the protests.

‘Zama zamas must go’

In an incident that has shocked the nation, which is usually numb to violent crime, a gang of gunmen forced their way into a music video shoot near a mine dump in Krugersdorp.

They robbed the crew and raped eight young models who were part of the cast.

Authorities have arrested more than 100 people since the assault — most of them migrants for being in the country illegally, according to an AFP tally.

“The zama zamas must go, they are attacking our sisters,” 39-year-old protester Daniel Nzuma told AFP.

Residents in the town around 30 kilometres (18 miles) west of Johannesburg blamed poor policing for the deepening illegal mining crisis.

Kagiso police “have failed”, said Nzuma.

“The army must come and assist the police in this area to protect the community.”

Police kept a distance and fired stun grenades from a helicopter to disperse the crowds.

South Africa’s commercial hub of around six million is built around mountainous dumps of soil and cavernous pits left behind by generations of mining companies that extracted gold during the 1880s gold rush.

Armed gangs of informal miners run rampage and battle for control of the abandoned shafts to exploit any remaining gold. — AFP