Sibongile Mafu

The biscuit thief

2013-11-28 11:44

It was the most bizarre beating I've seen in a while. A video surfaced this week of a man being repeatedly slapped across the face by another man, for allegedly stealing biscuits from a Mitchells Plain store.

The man was calmly (he may or may not have been high) sitting down, taking the slaps like a naughty little boy. It was disturbing, particularly how the blows were dealt and received. The man continued to slap this alleged biscuit thief, using both of his palms, dishing out alternate blows, as the petty criminal turned into the victim.

The storm that came afterwards from people who had read the story and watched the video was also something to behold. "The man deserved it. Stealing is crime." Perhaps it should be noted that assault is a crime too, but we'll look past that.

People then turned to the contents of what he stole, saying even though they were just biscuits, he shouldn't have stolen them in the first place.

Taking the law into their own hands

There were people who sympathised. He must have been really hungry, and wanted something to eat. A beating like that was not necessary, and quite barbaric.

The alleged biscuit thief and his subsequent assault had me thinking about the general way in which communities are starting to handle their own law enforcement. This assault is a small example of a bigger problem in this country, where people just don't feel like police can help them in these kinds of situations, so they take the law into their own hands, some literally, through slaps and beatings.

This punishment is dished out by one or more (usually organised) people, with the severity usually dependant on the severity of the crime. Rapists and murderers are set alight, or beaten to the point of death. Petty criminals are humiliated with beatings, and a lot of the time it is all recorded for the world to see.

The nature of this particular beating is interesting. Making this alleged thief sit down, and take it, filming it all. I can't imagine the shame, embarrassment and humiliation, all part of the punishment process, I'm sure. There were very few people around to witness the beating, but by filming it they made sure a lot more people would witness this man's mortification.

The local Community Policing Forum condemned the incident, and handed the footage to the Saps.

Vigilantism is not a new phenomenon, with stories continuing to come out of communities rallying together to sort the known criminals in their area out. But you wonder of its place in society now. Has the civilians relationship with the police disintegrated so much that they would rather turn themselves into murderers rather than going the legal route? Is it repairable? People are fed up and taking control of law and order in the places they live, sometimes violently, is the only way they can see true justice being done.

Real frustration

There are mother, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers taking to the streets to violently punish a criminal who has been terrorising their community.

It can only be a very real frustration and helplessness that would drive them to do that, and it will take a lot of hard work from law endorsement to gain that trust back.

And in the case of the biscuit thief, police aren't investigating the matter further as no one has opened a case. I don’t blame the biscuit thief for not wanting any more attention than he has already received.

This public shaming is punishment enough.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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