A screen grab from a video on social media shows a man on fire in Hillbrow. He was allegedly set alight by a mob following a robbery. Twitter
Police have rounded up 38 people in Hillbrow for questioning over an alleged mob attack in which a robbery suspect was burnt this week.

“Taking the 38 in for questioning is part of the investigation (into the Monday mob attack),” Gauteng police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubele told The Star on Thursday.

The unidentified man was burnt alive by a group that chased him and an alleged accomplice after they allegedly tried to rob a woman.

The dead suspect’s accomplice was also attacked. He was admitted to hospital.

Makhubele said a decision to charge the 38 with murder and attempted murder will be taken soon. 

“If the police are satisfied with the information they get, they will release them, but if they are not, they will keep them and (their fate) will be decided by court. We haven’t charged anyone yet,” said Makhubele.

Some of those being questioned could be charged. 

“Mob justice is a criminal activity,” Makhubele said.

“Remember, somebody died. They may be charged with murder and attempted murder.

“We’re still trying to link them with the case.

“Not everybody (at the scene) burnt or beat up (the deceased). Most of the people were standing and watching,” he told The Star.

Mob justice attacks have become common in South Africa. The 2017/18 crime statistics showed that 849 alleged criminals were killed by angry community members.

Lizette Lancaster, a crime and justice expert at the Institute for Security Studies, said mob attacks were an indicator that the population had lost faith in police.

“It’s part of a long history of people having to seek their own justice, feeling that the law enforcement is not there for them,” Lancaster said.

“Policing, for instance under apartheid, was not there to protect people from crime, but to enforce the apartheid policies.

“So, the police often are not trusted to assist with crime prevention. People often reach the point where they believe that they have no other alternative but to take the law into their own hands.

“Of course, if you’re middle-class and feel vulnerable and that you could be a victim of crime, you take money and pay for private security.

“You have an alternative to make yourself feel safer, but for many people in this country and across the continent, that’s not an option,” Lancaster said.

Police have to cultivate trust among the population, she said. “If the police are seen to have the interest of the community at heart, then people will place more trust in the police. But we’ve seen an erosion of services.”

Lancaster said community members participating in mob attacks often believed they would never be jailed.

“The problem with the justice system in the country is that often even if people get arrested there are no consequences. The cases are thrown out of court or not further prosecuted.

“Even if they get arrested, people believe that they will get away with whatever they are doing. The criminal justice system in itself is not a deterrent to ordinary criminals or to those perceived to take law into their own hands,” Lancaster added.

Makhubele said police took mob attack probes as seriously as any other crimes. 

“People must know that mob justice is a crime.

“It does not help for you to say you want to prevent crime by beating somebody up. People have a protected right to make citizens’ arrests,” said Makhubele.

“They should do so and call the police, not to beat up anybody after the arrest.

“After arresting that particular person, it’s also for them to submit statements that would support their case.”