Truth is hard to establish in Diepsloot

2011-06-11 19:03

Truth is hard to establish and a sense of justice a hard thing to hold on to in Diepsloot.

The grey areas here between right and wrong are murkier than they are in places where there is the rule of law, proper lighting and doors which can be securely locked.

With no police around, with brutal crime levels, people are vulnerable in rickety shacks.

So they often take matters into their own hands.

Looming over Diepsloot is a half-built police station.

It is a symbol of the state’s attempt to bring law and order to this community – and its failure to do so.

There has been no building on the police station for over a year when the builder’s bank accounts were frozen as a result of an entirely separate dispute.Meanwhile, the nearest police station is Erasmia, about 12km away.

Late last year, the police opened a satellite office in the area.

It has helped, but it is too small and understaffed to deal with the levels of crime in this area.

The community have developed a system to assist each other: whistle, shout, and people will come running to help you.

 They will use numbers to overcome even armed groups of thugs.

They sort it out then and there, decisively and sometimes brutally, with the help of a bit of paraffin and the hysteria of crowds.

Sometimes the voluntary Community Policing Forum, which does patrols with the police, arrives in time to intervene and hand the accused over to the authorities.

If you want to condemn vigilante justice, you have to acknowledge that it is usually the only kind of justice available in Diepsloot.

It is hard to be righteous about due process when people know that it is beyond their grasp.

There is an indistinct line here between self-defence and vigilantism, and it is littered with the bodies of the innocent as well as the guilty.

» Harber is the author of Diepsloot (Jonathan Ball), an account of life in this settlement. He is the Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University.

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