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Vigilante attacks ‘more severe’

Cape Town - Vigilante victims receive more severe injuries than people assaulted in “ordinary” interpersonal violent attacks, Stellenbosch University research has found.

The study, carried out between July and December 2012 at four health care centres in Khayelitsha, compared the injuries to people attacked by residents with those to people in “non-community” assaults.

Vigilantes broke this Nyanga man's legs and left arm and mutilated his head with a panga. Photo: Matthew Jordaan. Credit: INLSA

Researchers found that the 148 vigilante victims were worse off, with injury severity scores that were much higher than those harmed in other attacks.

Compared with 115 people injured in non-vigilante assaults, vigilante attack victims were more likely to be referred to tertiary hospitals and experienced “crush syndrome” more often.

Crush syndrome is characterised by major shock and renal failure after a crushing injury to skeletal muscle.

Almost 34 percent of vigilante victims were referred to tertiary hospitals, whereas only 22.6 percent of those involved in other assaults were.

About 26 percent of vigilante victims experienced crush syndrome, while there were no such cases in the other group. Survival probabilities were similar in both groups.

Most of those assaulted were men aged between 18 and 61.

Only a minority of such assault victims were females.

One third of cases among vigilante victims were referred for further investigation and management, compared with 22.6 percent of the other assault cases.

Lead researcher Dr Sharon Forgus said it was the first study to provide impartial estimates of the incidence and severity of vigilante assaults.

Forgus argued that collaboration was needed between doctors, residents, police and policy makers.

“Healthy community and police relations are essential to reach a balance where the law is protected, while allowing the community to organise and protect themselves,” Forgus wrote.

“This will mean disbanding those vigilante groups who violate human rights while allowing the police to supervise activities that operate within the law.”

The spate of vigilante attacks in Khayelitsha led to the appointment of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry by the premier, Helen Zille, to investigate complaints relating to police inefficiency.

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