Viral video shows vigilantism, not xenophobia - police

Johannesburg - North West police said on Saturday a horrific video that has gone viral of a group of young men being necklaced and burnt alive in South Africa was in no way linked to xenophobic attacks and was not an attack on Zimbabweans as suggested on social media.

It was however, vigilantism in retaliation for a bar fight death in Sondela informal settlement in Rustenburg on 7 March.

"It has nothing to do with Durban and nothing to do with xenophobia," said Colonel Sabatha Mokgwabone, spokesperson for North West police.

"There is no way we can say the two are linked," he said, referring to attacks on foreign nationals in Durban this past week, the most recent being the petrol bombing of two Ethiopians in the container they used as a shop and sleeping quarters in Umlazi.

The shocking video was seized upon on social media on Saturday morning as evidence of the violence against foreign nationals this week as xenophobic tension in South Africa rises.

But the truth behind the footage is quite different. The video records an incident in Rustenburg in March and neither the victims, nor the alleged perpetrators are foreigners.

Sabatha said nobody seemed to pay much attention to police reports of the 7 March attack on the five youths in Sondela until public broadcaster SABC was given footage, and it went viral.

According to Mokgwabone, this is what is known by police of the events leading up to the attack on the five men, and what happened afterwards:

- On 7 March five youths were in a tavern in Sondela in Rustenburg and an argument started between them and a 30-year-old man.

- The fight was broken up and they were separated, but later, the five came across the 30-year-old man in the streets and started throwing stones at him and assaulting him with other "'instruments''.

- The 30-year-old man was taken to Tlhabane Clinic, but he was certified dead on arrival.

Durban police spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane said on Saturday that while the video had not been brought to his attention, police monitoring  the tense situation south of Durban had received no such report of a similar incident in the past week, debunking the belief that it was related to xenophobic violence in Durban.

"We need to be careful about these things because videos like these can cause a panic. As of now we have no knowledge of this incident."

- Some people in the area heard about the attack on the 30-year-old and "took the law into their own hands" according to Mokgwabone.

- They were surrounded, assaulted and set alight.

- The police were called eventually and all five were taken to hospital.

- Four had severe burn wounds. The fifth was not seriously physically injured.

- Police did not charge them all at the time because they were were so severely injured.

- On 9 March, one of the five, a minor, died as a result of his injuries.

- On 10 March, another one of the five died.

- Two were still in hospital, to Mokgwapone's knowledge.

- The fifth person has been arrested and charged with the murder of the 30-year-old man they allegedly had the bar fight with. He has appeared in the Rustenburg Magistrate's Court between three to four times and will return to court on April 28.

- Police also arrested one person in connection with assaulting and setting the men alight. He has made several appearances in the Rustenburg Magistrate's Court to apply for bail and will return to court on May 5. His charges are attempted murder and murder.

- The five men who were assaulted and set alight are South African. To Mokgwabone's knowledge, one of the men was buried in the Eastern Cape.

- The 30-year-old who was assaulted and stoned to death was South African.

Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, also a North West police spokesperson, said he had already clarified this before.

Delinking the crime from xenophobia made it not better though, he said.

People had to stop resorting to "mob justice" and "kangaroo courts" and let the police handle any crimes or suspicion of a crime.

The police's investigation may make different conclusions to those reached by the crowd who attacked the youths, he said.

"There are mothers and fathers who really should have taken a step up and stopped it,"said Ngubane.
In the video one woman appears to be trying to intervene, but she steps back into the crowd.

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