Students’ mob justice

PHOTO: nokuthula khanyilePolice and mortuary vehicles at the residence where a robber was beaten to death on Monday. The dead man’s body did not seem to faze the students.
PHOTO: nokuthula khanyilePolice and mortuary vehicles at the residence where a robber was beaten to death on Monday. The dead man’s body did not seem to faze the students.

STUDENTS’ frustrations at crime bubbled over on Monday morning as a mob of about 100 turned on a robber at an off-campus residence and killed him. The enraged students lashed the robber with a sjambok and beat him with bricks and sticks before pouring boiling water on him.

The man was declared dead at the scene. His accomplice managed to escape after being chased by the crowd who wanted to beat him up.

The incident happened on Monday at about 8.45 am at the Gallway House Students Accommodation off St Patrick’s Road in Scottsville. The residence houses 130 students.

Alexandra Road police station spokesperson Captain Kholeka Mhlongo said the criminals had tried to rob the property manager at gunpoint before they were cornered by students. The two men had allegedly entered the office on the pretext that they were looking for accommodation. They then held up a caretaker at gunpoint, bound her hands with a cable tie and gagged her mouth with a cloth to prevent her from screaming.

“It’s unfortunate that someone had to die,” said the shaken property manager. “The two neatly dressed men came in like they were looking for accommodation for their children next year. I recently advertised for students’ accommodation online and I thought they had seen the facility there.

“One man came in first, and as he was about to sit down, he looked towards the door and the second man came rushing in and locked the door,” she told The Witness.

“Immediately I knew something was off and I started screaming.”

The woman said one of the cleaners who spotted what had happened alerted other employees and the students. “By that time, they were already strangling me. One had a gun to my head.”

She said the two robbers demanded that she show them where the money was kept. “They pushed me towards my room and one of them hit me on the face with the butt of a gun while the other one continued strangling me. I showed them the petty cash tin, but they still demanded to know where the safe was.

“At that moment, one of the students knocked on the door and shouted my name. The two men froze and panicked. They left the bag with the money and locked me inside the room.”

On their way out, the two men were met by an angry mob of students. One of the men waved the gun at the students, while the second man got away.

“I don’t know what happened afterwards. I was in a state of confusion and shock,” she added.

The students had to enter the room through a window to rescue the property manager and untie her.

Mhlongo said the man’s body was covered with “many wounds” and he had a gaping wound on the head. The man was found in possession of a gas gun. Police are investigating a case of murder and business robbery. No arrests have been made yet. Mhlongo said the suspect might be linked to a spate of other robberies committed in the Scottsville area in the last month.

When The Witness arrived at the scene, police were busy combing the scene for evidence and interviewing willing students. Pieces of the man’s T-shirt were scattered on the ground next to where his body lay covered under silver foil. Students passed the scene as if nothing had happened, and others were standing in groups a few metres away casually chatting.

Students who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity said they hoped that the incident would send a “strong message” to other would-be robbers. “We are not safe anywhere. We are not safe walking to campus, and we are not safe in our rooms.

“Students are robbed of their belongings on a daily basis and we are tired,” said one student.

“The police also don’t take us seriously. Our cases don’t get any attention. Just last month, I was robbed on St Patrick’s. I opened a case but to date I have heard nothing from the police,” said another female student.

The students said they had been “left with no choice” but to “retaliate”.

“We hope this sends a message to not only the criminals but the cops as well. We have had enough,” said another student.

The past months have seen an upsurge in robberies at student digs around the Scottsville area. Last month, students were held up at a residence on Dulwich Road. Another student was also robbed at gunpoint while walking along Coronation Road. The Witness has previously reported that police said there were two men on a motorbike targeting students.

Captain Mhlongo said four robberies were reported in October at student residences in Scottsville.


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