Vigilantism illegal and dangerous, warns expert
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DURBAN - SECURITY expert Johan Burger said the increasing vigilantism where armed residents were trying to protect their properties from looters was dangerous and unlawful.
Burger, a former police officer who is now with Institute for Security Studies, told the Daily News on Tuesday that as much as he sympathised with residents, he felt that what they were doing was illegal and dangerous because it could lead to bloodshed.
He was reacting to scenes of locals, especially in formerly white suburbs, who had formed human shields to protect malls from being attacked and looted.
Burger said the danger was that if looters forced their way through the armed residents, shooting may occur, which would lead to the loss of lives.
He added that previously the riot act had allowed people to shoot to kill when defending property, but the Constitutional Court had since outlawed that.
Scores of people, apparently from predominantly black townships around Durban, were believed to be flocking to plush suburbs to loot. This was apparently after looting malls in the townships.
“As much as we sympathise with the residents who are protecting their malls and property from looters, they must know that should they decide to thwart looters by shooting at them they would be charged, since killing to protect property has been outlawed by the Constitutional Court,” said Burger.
Furthermore, he said those residents protecting malls should ensure that there were people inside, so that if a shooting occurred they would be able to defend themselves, because the law only allowed people to shoot if lives were in danger.
“It’s a dicey situation – people need to protect their property, but on the other hand the law doesn’t favour them that much.”
Burger also weighed in on the deployment of SANDF soldiers, and said he did not know how they would stop looting without using force since they were not trained in crowd control.
He said that in terms of the new law, if they (soldiers) shot looters it would be a crime, since they would be protecting property with no lives inside it.
While most political parties welcomed the deployment of the army, the EFF condemned it, saying the army would abuse people.
On Monday night a tense stand-off was reported between residents from the Bottlebrush squatter camp and Chatsworth locals who, together with security guards, prevented looters from getting into the Chatsworth Shopping Centre.
The same situation was also reported in almost all areas where armed residents tried to prevent looters from entering.
Speaking on Tuesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele warned residents not to take the law into their own hands.
The Black Lawyers Association (BLA), as part of the civil society movement in South Africa, watched “the callous and criminal pillaging and destruction of property with dismay and shame”.
“South Africans of all social and political denominations have worked hard to build a truly non-racial and democratic South Africa. While there remain deep chasms of economic inequality that ensure the existence of disenchanted members of the populace, the BLA is of the view that the best solution is to build constructively, as opposed to the destruction that we are witnessing,” said its deputy president, Bayethe Maswazi.
It further condemned the threats and intimidation of judges, particularly of the Constitutional Court. “We would like to remind those who are responsible for these threats to our judiciary that the judiciary is an essential ingredient for the rule of law; without it the society would descend to lawlessness. Even the victims of state brutality would have no protection.”
Maswazi said they called upon the government to do more to address youth unemployment.
“That would give the youth a stake in our social cohesion, which would prevent them from being easily mobilised to champion worthless causes.”
BLA also called on law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to “the ultimate might of the law with speed”.