The gruesome mob killing of six suspected criminals by the Zandspruit community has again opened up debate about the high level of violence in our society.
According to the police, at about 2am on Wednesday, a group of about 200 people went out to search for boys who were allegedly robbing the people of Zandspruit. About nine boys were forcefully taken to a field, where they were mercilessly assaulted. Six of them died and the others were taken to hospital. Community leaders in the area have implicitly condoned what happened, arguing that crime is high in the area and that the community has resorted to taking the law into their own hands because police are failing at their work.
A big complaint is that some of the offenders are arrested and quickly released. This simply infuriates the community, which is gatvol of crime and is not willing to understand that every crime-accused person is entitled to bail. Just because they are on the streets does not always mean they have been let off the hook
This is not the first time that something like what occurred in Zandspruit has happened in our townships, and the two main drivers are a fed up attitude about crime and the belief that the police are not committed to helping communities deal with a scourge that they are exposed to daily. This is something for the police to ponder.
Large numbers of recruits are being enrolled into the police service, but they are seldom seen by communities. Media reports of infighting in the highest echelons of the SA Police Service do not inspire confidence either.
Similarly depressing were comments by Police Minister Bheki Cele this week, who confirmed budget cuts for general crime fighting and an increase in the VIP protection budget.
But communities, even in their frustration, must not create a new wave of murderers. Some of these brutal instances of mob justice happen in front of children, creating lifelong trauma. Communities cannot eliminate criminality and violence with more violence.
They need to work on finding ways to apprehend criminals and hand them over to the police. At the same time, the criminal justice cluster needs to make sure that criminals are sentenced and kept behind bars. When criminals have a sense of impunity, they provoke and aggravate society, sometimes with fatal consequences.