Cops condemn mob justice

2009-11-16 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG townships have recently experienced a surge of vigilante attacks by community members who have resorted to taking the law into their own hands in an attempt to safeguard their neighbourhoods. However, police say mob justice is just another form of crime.

“We appreciate and encourage communities taking a stand against crime, but not in the manner in which they are doing — taking the law into their own hands. If communities apprehend a suspect, they should hand them over to the police. The harming of suspects will not be condoned,” said SAPS spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram.

In less than two weeks, three mob attacks were reported in the Plessislaer area alone.

The latest incident last Saturday claimed the life of a man and left another one seriously injured in the Dambuza area. The injured man was taken to Edendale Hospital where he is in a serious but stable condition.

On November 2, another man was beaten to death in the Gomora township in the Plessislaer area. The mob attacked the man after he allegedly stabbed and killed a mentally disturbed man.

On October 31, two men were saved by police from an angry mob that attacked them with bush knives. The two men were accused of having stabbed and killed a community member. Police battled to control the angry crowd, which swelled to between 300 and 500. Plessislaer police had to call for backup from the Pietermaritzburg (Loop Street) police station and the dog unit. The attack left the victims fighting for their lives.

According to a report by Brandon Hamber of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, vigilantism is not new and has a long history in South Africa.

Hamber blames the “culture of violence” on the apartheid regime.

“… the current levels of violent crime and its multiple manifestations have been built on the legacy of the civil conflict of the past … The structural violence effected by the state through inequalities of resource and life chances in the past, coupled with repression, politicised all forms of social existence (housing, education, jobs, wages, the delivery of services, etc). The result is that the socially sanctioned use of violence to solve problems has saturated South African life.

“This manifested itself most dramatically in the 1990-1994 period prior to the first democratic election and is continuing to play itself out in the post-apartheid era.”

While a nationwide survey by Market Research Africa in 1997 indicated that there was considerable support for vigilantism among black South Africans, Hamber said the same can be said with white communities.

“Within the wealthier areas in South Africa, vigilantism is being carried out in another form. The lack of faith in the criminal justice system by many wealthy South Africans has lead to increasing numbers of citizens turning to private security companies for their policing needs.”

He said vigilantism is the “poor man’s version of private security, and the poor are hit hardest by crime”.

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