Cape Town - The rise in vigilantism has been blamed on the breakdown of proper policing and the time it takes for justice to be meted out by the courts.
Within one week, eight people were allegedly murdered by community members meting out their own justice across the province.
On Tuesday the bodies of four men – brutally beaten and set light – were found in an informal settlement in Samora Machel, Nyanga.
It was alleged that the men had been involved in robberies and breaking into houses in the area.
Police spokesperson Novela Potelwa said the police were called out to the Fanenze informal settlement in the Vlei area, where four badly burned bodies were found.
Potelwa said the identities of the men were still unknown, and that Samora Machel detectives had initiated murder investigations, with police management warning that perpetrators of mob justice would face the full might of the law.
Samora Machel Community Policing Forum (CPF) spokesperson Bongani Maqungwana said the incident was a shock to the forum because they have been preaching to the community that vigilantism or mob justice was not acceptable and people must refrain from it.
Maqungwana called on the police management to deploy more officers to deserving stations like Samora Machel and others situated in the Cape Flats, “because that is where crime is increasing daily”.
The discovery of the four bodies comes four days after four others were allegedly beaten by a mob and thrown into a stream that runs across the Covid-19 informal settlement in Driftsands, Mfuleni on Saturday. The police were still searching for their bodies.
In March, four people were killed during mob justice attacks in the city, among them an unidentified man whose body was discovered burnt beyond recognition and dumped inside the garden of a local primary school in Browns Farm, Philippi.
Provincial CPF board chairperson Fransina Lukas condemned the rise in vigilantism and pleaded with communities not to resort to illegal action but to rather work with the police through CPFs and other community-based structures.
Lukas called on the police to strengthen relationships with local CPF structures in an attempt to prevent such incidents from happening.
She said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) must be aware of community concerns about the granting of bail and the request for harsher sentences for perpetrators.
Speaking on the resurgence of vigilante justice in Cape communities, Guy Lamb, a criminologist at Stellenbosch University’s political science department, said while it may seem as if the attacks had once again flared up, the truth was that they never stopped.
“There is also a sense of meting out instantaneous punishment because the South African criminal justice system does not, and also the visibility of the punishment is not necessarily there,” said Lamb.
Lamb said people living in high-crime areas were very aware that conviction rates were particularly low for violent crimes, especially in communities where violent crimes were rife and trust in the police was low.
Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz said they noted with concern that the tendency to vigilantism was a sign of a non-responsive police force in which communities have lost trust.
Fritz said they nevertheless condemned all forms of vigilantism and called on community members to join accredited neighbourhood watch structures to keep their streets safe.
“Citizens should resist the tendency to take the law into their own hands,” said Fritz.
Anyone with information that could assist in the investigations is urged to contact the Crime Stop number 0860010111, or the MySAPSApp.