Vigilante Terror: ‘Deep anger and resentment will spark mob justice’

2013-11-10 14:00

The people who are killed by mobs are the victims of “deep anger and resentment”.

They are the perfect scapegoats for communities battling poverty and inequality, says Dr Kelly Gillespie, a senior lecturer in the department of anthropology at Wits University.

“This isn’t a horrific individual act of brutal revenge killing or ‘black-on-black violence’, or a lack of education,” she says.

Gillespie has spent time researching what led residents to kill 14 men in “mob justice” incidents last year.

She says people around South Africa are deeply angry and resentful, particularly those in townships. This stems from a long history of dispossession, disenfranchisement and abandonment.

“A lot of what happens in ‘mob justice’ is that the deep anger and resentment gets launched on to the easiest targets, which are usually lesbians, criminals, foreigners and ‘witches’.

“They all share the status of being outsiders and people clearly pin their problems and anger on the outsiders. It’s an attempt to establish moral order in conditions of dispossession and a lack of dignity.”

Gillespie says the people in these mobs usually ask why they are continuously made to feel the burden of inequality – why don’t they have access to toilets, sage neighbourhoods or the kind of support they need to live decent, dignified lives?

She says the excessive violence of mob attacks are “an implicit critique of the conditions in which people are living”.

Instead of directing this at the state, apartheid history or private firms, people find easy targets.

“It’s an outlet of frustrations in such a way that it makes people feel like they are doing something, they are actually taking things into their own hands and making things better.

“But they are actually compounding the problem.

“The conditions of township life have to fundamentally change before townships stop being such violent places.”

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