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Nyanga residents are taking the law into their own hands, hunting down youngsters they claim are terrorising their community.
This comes as acts of vigilante necklacing in Khayelitsha and surrounding areas have claimed the lives of eight people so far this year.
Every evening for the past week, a group of men have gone door to door on the streets of Hlazo Village, around the Newlands hostels, searching for young men they accuse of mugging them on their way to work.
The men then beat the youngsters and demolish or sometimes burn their shacks.
Residents say the police have failed them.
“That police station might as well close down. They (police) don’t exist here,” said one resident who preferred not to be named.
“We beat to kill. That’s it, there’s no other way. We don’t want them anywhere here. If they don’t go back to the rural areas, we kill them.”
He said that if they didn’t find the youngsters at home, their families had to account for them because they were protecting them.
“As a parent, you can’t not know where your child is,” he said.
He said beating the culprits to discipline them was not an option.
“If we don’t kill them, they will come back for us with their thug mates. We burn their shacks because we don’t want them to have a place to stay here. We can’t have them influencing the younger ones,” he said.
Young males known to be involved in theft have fled the area. Residents say some of the youngsters have been badly beaten and admitted to hospital, while there are unconfirmed reports of at least one death.
On Friday, one of the youngsters left Cape Town for the Eastern Cape because of the threats made to his family.
“I heard they (the community) don’t even want to beat me. They just want to put a tyre around my neck and set me alight,” he told the Cape Argus.
He was lucky not to have been in his shack when residents arrived with knobkieries, knives and axes last Monday morning.
“They got to my place just before 3am on Monday. They found two of my friends and beat them up. The guy who lives in the shack next door tells me they were looking for me and a DVD player that a friend had asked me to keep for him. I’m scared. I’m also very worried about my family.
“They’re just hitting anyone now. Yes, I’m a thug, I’ve been on tik since 2005. I steal, but I don’t steal from people in my own community. I do my stuff outside the community. I don’t mug my own people.”
He said it was difficult for him to go to the police.
“I have to walk past the residents who are after me when going to the police station. I’m just going to go home and see when I come back whether or not they kill me,” he said.
Families of these youngsters said they fear for their and the young men’s lives.
Theophilus Mangoli, councillor for Ward 37, said he was aware of the problem and had intervened through the police. “The community is very angry. The crime rate is too high and it’s mostly because of these young ones, so I understand their patrols. But they have to be co-ordinated and there has to be accountability.”
Mangoli said he had a meeting with community leaders, police and patrollers at the police station on Thursday. “(Today) we will have another meeting where we will map the way forward regarding the patrols.”
Although he supports the patrols, he does not condone the beatings and burning down of shacks.
Mangoli said many of the children stole to support their drug habits.
“A good plan would be to close down the drug dens in the community. The community is well aware of where these drug dens are,” said Mangoli. “They live here, they see what happens. These youngsters get arrested today and they’re out within the next three days. I can’t dispute (the community) saying that the police don’t do their jobs, but not all police are like that.”
Relatives of the young criminals say they also feel as if they are under attack.
A woman, whose brother is the young man who left for the Eastern Cape on Friday, said she felt like a prisoner in her own home.
“I didn’t even sleep at home on Wednesday night. I went to a friend’s place just to get a little peace of mind.”
A woman who has also sent her son back to the Eastern Cape said she was scared for her life.
“They said they will do to me what they were going to do to him if they find out that I’m hiding him. They said they don’t even want to see a picture of him, I must burn it,” she said.
“I’m not protecting my son, he is a thug. He steals people’s phones. I’m always telling him to return them.
“The police don’t arrest these children, and if they do they are released the very next day.”
Residents seem torn about the mob justice in the area.
One man said the residents were doing the right thing.
“These boys harass us every morning on our way to work. No one is safe. In the middle of the night, sometimes, you hear screams of women being attacked. The police can’t do anything; the community is right in dealing with them,” he said.
One woman understood residents’ frustration, but said police needed to step in.
“The police don’t do their jobs. If they did none of this would be happening. These youngsters are causing trouble, but I don’t agree with the way they’re being beaten,” she said.
Police could not confirm the number of attacks, deaths or people hospitalised, but said they were aware of “acts of vigilantism” in Nyanga, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha.
Police spokesman Lieutenant- Colonel Andre Traut said communities would not be allowed to take the law into their own hands.
“Those who make themselves responsible for punishing members of the community become criminals themselves. They will be dealt with accordingly,” said Traut.