By Wendell Roelf
BREDASDORP, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa's women's minister called on Tuesday for the toughest possible sentence for two men accused of raping and murdering a teenage girl, a crime that shocked a nation hardened by some of the world's highest rates of sexual violence.
At a hearing in the sleepy town of Bredasdorp, 130 km (80 miles) east of Cape Town, Minister of Women Lulu Xingwana hugged and offered condolences to the family of murdered 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was left to die on a building site 10 days ago after being raped. Her stomach had been slit open down to her genitals.
"We are saying to the court today there must be no bail for these criminals and monsters," Xingwana told reporters.
"We expect the toughest and the harshest sentence that can act as a deterrent to other criminals that abuse and kill our women and children," she said.
Her unusual intervention follows widespread condemnation, including from President Jacob Zuma, of a crime that has brought attention to the shockingly high levels of violence against women and children in South Africa.
The incident has echoes of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus late last year, although so far there have been few signs of the mass protests against the violence that gripped India.
A crowd of 100 people protested outside the magistrate's court in Bredasdorp, carrying placards saying "Show no mercy to rapists" and "No bail to murderers".
"As an activist I strongly push that there should be no bail for these monsters. What would they do if this happened to any of their family members?" said Faraah September.
The magistrate ordered the pair, who hid their faces from television cameras and photographers in court, to remain behind bars until February 26 when the bail application will be heard. The suspects face a maximum life sentence if found guilty.
Police freed a third man arrested after the incident due to lack of evidence linking him to the crime, but said they were investigating whether there were others also involved.
South Africa has the highest number of reported rapes per capita of any Interpol member country with more than 64,500 reported in 2011/2012 in a population of 50 million. Even when suspects are caught only 12 percent of cases end in conviction, despite government attempts to beef up its justice system.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Jon Hemming)