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‘We’re going to burn these thieves’

Published Aug 19, 2015


Johannesburg - The man cowered, trying to protect his head, as the blows pounded his body on Tuesday.

The suspected thief, known only as Johannes, begged the growing crowd of angry residents of Snake Park, Soweto, to stop assaulting him.

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But he and his alleged accomplice found no mercy from this impoverished community.

Its residents are “sick and tired of being victims” of crime.

“Today, we’re going to kill these Mozambican thieves,” said Sipho Ngwekazi licking his lips.

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Almost to make his point, the unemployed 23-year-old pointed to a towering mine dump that looms over Block 1 in Snake Park.

“That’s where we’ll dump their bodies,” he vowed. “You’ll see what mob justice is all about.”


He and the rest of the mob were following as the two, the other called Petrus, were dragged to a house in Block 9, where they were believed to be hiding stolen TVs.

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Their hands were tied with wire, their faces bloodied, as they were dragged for several kilometres in the searing heat.

“If you don’t give us the TVs, we’re going to burn you. That’s how we’ll kill you,” warned some residents.

“We have to take the law into our own hands. The police don’t care. They will just release them,” said Lindiwe Jonas, a resident of Block 2.

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“Yes, we have to teach them a lesson… we will burn rope in the hands they used to steal from us,” said her friend, Esther Letswalo. “This is why we don’t want foreigners here in our community.”

A patrolling Dobsonville police van tried to follow the crowd through Snake Park’s dusty alleys.

Police back-up was called.

As the crowd bayed for his blood, Johannes, his shirt bloodied, and his one eye swollen and sealed shut, seemed to plead with the police to intervene as the crowd tried to get to him.

Protectively, the police encircled him.

“We are taking them with us,” an armed policewoman informed the crowd. “We can’t allow mob justice.”

The police put the two men in their van and drove off.

The community roared, incensed.

“The law is useless,” spat one resident, who didn’t want to be named. “The police will just release them. They get away with it.”

Later a small group of residents threatened to burn the shacks of the men they suspected of being thieves.

Instead, they darted inside one of the men’s homes, where they were seen stealing jewellery.

Then they vanished.

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