Springs residents claim vigilante gang is targeting them, police say there's no proof gang exists

2019-05-29 15:51
Maria Sibanyoni stands on the spot where her son’s shack used to be. Vigilantes burnt it down last week. (Kimberly Mutandiro, GroundUp)

Maria Sibanyoni stands on the spot where her son’s shack used to be. Vigilantes burnt it down last week. (Kimberly Mutandiro, GroundUp)

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Residents of Kwathema, Extension Three, in Springs protested on Tuesday against a group of vigilantes who they believe are out of control. The protesters burnt tyres and blocked roads.

The protest follows events last Wednesday, when residents from other sections of Kwathema burnt down four shacks and harassed people in Extension Three. The vigilantes claimed that members of a gang called Boko Haram lived in Extension Three.

But police say there’s no evidence that the gang, apparently named after the West African terrorist group, even exists.

Tuesday’s protesters said they were alerted that the vigilantes would be coming back this week to finish their "operation cleanup" against the Boko Haram gang.

The vigilantes claimed that the Boko Haram gang travelled around on horseback and that it was behind the disappearance of children and other crimes, such as rape and theft reported in Kwathema and other townships, protesters said.

"The mob wreaked havoc, burning shacks. They beat up every young man they came across. Some victims were hospitalised. The thought of them coming back is terrifying," said Bongani Mathe, a community representative and resident of Extension Three.

Maria Sibanyoni, 62, said she was taking a nap at noon on Wednesday last week,  when he heard banging around her shack. Suddenly her door flew open and a group of people wearing masks and holding weapons stormed inside. They demanded to know where her 18-year-old son was. They alleged that he was a member of Boko Haram.

'They said l had given birth to a monster'

"I was too terrified to speak. They pulled me out the shack and surrounded me. Some threatened to stab me. When l asked them what l had done, they said l had given birth to a monster."

Sibanyoni claims they then set the shack in which her son slept alight. After realising that he was not in it, the vigilantes left. They also took a horse belonging to a neighbour, Moses Mthombeni, which was grazing outside the yard. The mob alleged that Sibanyoni’s son rode the horse during the alleged crimes.

The horse was later rescued by some residents, she said.

The vigilantes also burnt a shack belonging to Mthombeni. A baby sleeping inside one of the torched shacks was rescued by neighbours.

Both Sibanyoni and Mthombeni said cellphones were stolen during the raid.

Another resident, Nick Mbatha, said they had attacked his son and a friend, accusing them of being members of the gang. They also burnt a shack on his premises and everything inside it.

"The funny thing is that they were not sure whom they were after. They operated on rumours. Our sons are not members of any gang," said Mbatha.

'My brother is fighting for his life'

Khulumahakutengwa Mkize is currently at Polosong hospital after a shack was set alight while he was inside. He was accused of selling nyaope to the members of Boko Haram.

"My brother is fighting for his life. We do not know if he will survive," said Kwenzekile Mkize. He was badly burnt, she said.

A meeting was subsequently held between residents, police and a representative from the Kwathema council to try and resolve the matter. Another meeting was to be held on Wednesday.

Constable Media Khoza, of the Kwathema police station, said: "The community took the law into their own hands, causing instability and instilling fear. Those involved in promoting criminal activities will be harshly dealt with."

Khoza also said that no cases had been reported that were linked to the alleged Boko Haram gang and that there was no concrete evidence of its existence.

No arrests had been made, she said.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  crime
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