Durban — Crime analysts said vigilantism has to do with the failure of police to respond to crimes and it will increase in a society beset with social ills and an inherent distrust of the authorities.
The crime analysts were speaking after seven homeless men (amaphara), believed to be in their thirties, were fatally shot on Monday night in KwaMashu under a railway bridge near the M25 and Malandela Road intersection. The amaphara were alleged to be criminals who stole goods and sold them at the KwaMashu Hostel.
The men lived under the bridge, not far from the KwaMashu police station.
Crime analyst and senior researcher from the Institute for Security Studies Dr Johan Burger said vigilantism has to do with the failure of police to respond to crimes.
“We have seen serious and violent crimes rise drastically since 2012. This includes crimes such as murder and aggravated robbery.
“The issue is that members of the public who can afford it put in additional security measures and pay for private security services.
“The poorer communities unfortunately cannot afford security and resort to vigilantism as they have a belief that police can’t prevent crime from happening and can’t find criminals.”
Burger added that the only way to address this was for police to become more visible in poorer communities.
“Community members need to know that police are visible and will respond to crimes when they are reported. The other issue is that if a suspect is caught by a community, they want the assurance that police will have a quick response time when it is reported, as they fear police will not come or even come the next day. It is the response time of police that can lead to community members taking the law into their own hands and assaulting suspects they have caught.”
Chad Thomas, an organised and financial crime investigator from IRS Forensic Investigations, South Africa, said vigilantism “will definitely increase in a society beset with social ills and an inherent distrust of the authorities”.
“Add to this the limitations that state law enforcement has as a result of capacity and resource issues and you have a recipe for an explosion in vigilantism.”
Thomas added that there was not much the police could do as this was a long-term problem with many aspects that need to be addressed.
“In the short term, SAPS can increase visible policing, capacitate detective services, work with the community policing forums and patrollers, request assistance from local municipal and metro policing structures and provincial traffic police, and use private security companies as force multipliers.”
A witness who also lives under the bridge alleged that a person by the name of Gingi had stolen a burglar gate and six others died for no reason. He said when he saw the shooting he quickly called the police and the ambulance. He could not remember the names of the other people but knew “Fefe and Gingi”.
He said the shooter came with someone who was going to identify the person who stole their burglar gate. However, the gunman did not have the patience to ask “all of that”.
“They were woken up while asleep only to be shot dead. If I was sleeping with them I was also going to be killed,” he said.
He claimed Gingi had once stolen from KwaMashu E section and run to the police station when the people were looking for him.
“They were going to kill him, that is why he went to the police station,” he said.
He added that not everyone who was shot was asleep: “Some who were coming to sleep there were also shot. I know that three people died at the same time after being shot, and Fefe died when they put him in the ambulance,” he said.
Another homeless person living under the bridge said he got there when everyone was running away. He recounted a different version, saying a woman was robbed of her cellphone and stabbed while passing under the bridge and the person who had come with a gun was looking for the perpetrator.
“The others who were shot tried to defend the person who had taken the phone,” he said. He added that those who were defending the “perpetrator” had no idea that the attacker had a gun.
KZN police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker, who confirmed the incident, said all of the seven dead were found lying next to a pillar of the railway bridge in a straight line with gunshot wounds to the head and body.
“Police found 18 x 9mm spent cartridges at the crime scene. Information received from the crime scene is that the deceased lived under the railway bridge and were involved in criminality in the area. At this stage the motive is suspected to be vigilantism,” said Naicker.
He said the case docket was allocated to detectives from the Provincial Organised Crime Unit.
“We are confident that they will be able to make a breakthrough in this matter,” he said.
When the Daily News went to the scene on Tuesday some people expressed relief at the death of the alleged criminals.
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