Innocent bystanders fall victim to mob justice as crime levels escalate

Three Law Enforcement officers were suspended after they were seen not doing much and one was seen eating a banana while a community attacked a man in a mob justice situation at Delft. Picture: Supplied

Three Law Enforcement officers were suspended after they were seen not doing much and one was seen eating a banana while a community attacked a man in a mob justice situation at Delft. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 28, 2024


AS the crime rate increases and trust and hope in the country’s law diminishes, communities have turned to an alternative form of justice and are taking the law into their own hands.

Mob justice, as one of the measures is known, has flared up across the country and has seen people suspected of criminality caught, assaulted, often heavily, by affected residents, and sometimes killed in full view of passers-by.

Last weekend, five men died after being beaten and stoned by residents in Tembisa, who said they were tired of waiting around for the police to act despite being provided with evidence of the identity of the gang they said was terrorising them.

A sixth man died later in hospital.

Their alleged crimes, according to residents, included rape, muggings, and housebreakings, which the community had grown tired off and which they claimed to have no relief from the police.

This has been just one of many cases of the vigilantism, which has swept across the country in recent years, and, according to statistics, in 2019/20 at least 1 202 of the 21 325 murders were linked to mob justice.

“This does, ultimately, affect bystanders young and old. Some find themselves participating in these revenge methods even if they are not violent, but because they are pressured by neighbours and circumstances,” Atlas Security officer Percy Zimu said.

Anger and frustration was the underlying cause, he said, and when residents, who are the custodians of intelligence within a community, feel ignored, they gather and act.

“It is an uprising of sorts, this vigilantism we see. It is a product of mass anger and frustration. The police are often expected to act and act immediately, and when they do not people do take justice into their own hands, often with horrific results.”

And these, police officer Captain Bapela from Johannesburg east said, often meant innocent people were caught up. “We sometimes respond to incidents where some of those caught with blood on their hands claim to have been coerced by crowd mentality, but we also find that besides being suspected, there is no evidence that some victims were criminals.”

He and others in law enforcement and safety have come out to call for vigilance, extreme vigilance, Zimu said. No matter where one was, the truth of South Africa being dangerous remained, he said, saying there were many cases of people getting injured and dying as they walked - even streets away, from where mob justice was happening.

“Just like when one is driving in a car that is in perfect condition and shape, and, especially for women, one walks in groups, during daylight and where is is safe, they can be raped and murdered, they can become victims of violence, it is the safety antenna that must constantly be up, and while it might not always save them, at least 30% of cases can.”

He said a security seminar in Mpumalanga last year highlighted issues of constantly being on the look-out, scared even, at all times. “We do not want people to now be scared to leave their homes, but, as we agreed at the seminar, we must advise people to always, and always be aware that danger is not around the corner, but it is coming down the street at you.”

And, he further said, the discussions touched on mainly young black men who would be lynched over crimes, just because they were layabouts. “In some communities if someone is seen doing nothing but hanging around, not working, or if they thrive while neighbours see no evidence of economic activity, they become suspects. For these we advise identifying these traits and getting out of them fast.”

He said in any community people had to trust each other, and if that was eroded the suspicion mentality kicked in: “...and once two people agree someone is a rapist, breaks into homes or sells drugs it gives way to a domino effect.”

[email protected]