Vigilante Terror: Mass hysteria takes its toll

2013-11-10 14:00

All Mbulelo Mtati (22) wanted to do was to finish his matric exams, find a job and look after his family.

But on Sunday he made a fatal mistake. He put a school bag over his shoulder and set out to join a study group. A mob of women in East London’s Nompumelelo township surrounded him.

“They said he was carrying a baby in his school bag and started beating him up,” said his weeping brother Athenkosi.

“When I found him, he was in a pool of blood. He died like a dog. He was innocent.”

There was no baby in his bag: just his maths books and empty bottles, which he intended to sell to help his family with some money.

Mtati, known as Mbu to his friends, was the victim of mass hysteria – a false rumour about a syndicate abducting and selling children for R100 000. And it cost him his life.

Nobody will listen to the police who have publicly and vehemently denied the existence of a syndicate.

Pictures of beheaded children did the rounds on social networks and chat programmes.

This was followed by claims that babies were being snatched and sold for R100 000.

Terrified parents kept their children indoors. Others took to the streets, searching for anyone who looked suspicious.

Last Friday, two men were attacked in East London’s CBD. Their car was damaged and their lives were saved by police who helped them flee a mob.

But Mtati was not so lucky.

His brother said: “I don’t know how people can be so careless. Why did they not check the bag first before killing my brother? They should have checked their facts. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands. Look what has happened now. My mother cannot stop crying since the incident. We are poor. How are we going to bury him?”

Mtati’s friend Mxolisi Jitani said the young man had big dreams. “He was so excited about finishing matric and about his future prospects.”

East London police spokesperson Steven Marais said eight women, aged between 22 and 34, were arrested this week.

They appeared in court on Thursday and abandoned their bail applications because they were afraid the community would seek revenge against them.

“We are still investigating the origins of these unfounded and baseless stories. We warned people these stories were untrue. We are still saying no child has been reported missing,” Marais said.

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