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Cops caution against mob justice attacks

Police attending to a scene of a mob justice attack in Gugulethu. Picture: Brenton Geach

Police attending to a scene of a mob justice attack in Gugulethu. Picture: Brenton Geach

Published Jul 11, 2021

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Cape Town father William Marcus' pain from losing his daughter to mob justice is still raw.

William Marcus, 52. Picture: Leon Knipe

Lizelle Standaard, 31, was murdered in April, along with her boyfriend Taswell Pike after they were accused of breaking into a house in Delft.

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This week police cautioned communities from taking the law into their own hands, as the Western Cape recorded 97 incidents of mob justice in the first three months of this year.

Speaking at a webinar this week alongside representatives from the South African Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Studies of Violence and Reconciliation, police Major-General Thokozani Mathonsi said there could never be justification for taking the law into one’s hand.

“There is no justice about vigilantism. Instead, it perpetuates further criminality and contributes to violence. For instance, during the fourth quarter of the last financial year, which will be January 2 to March, we recorded 298 murders emanating from mob justice, 69 attempted murders, 403 assault GBH, which is grievous bodily harm, which means serious assault.

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“Incidents of vigilantism are illegal, and turn victims of crime into criminals. It also denies any accused person from accessing the criminal justice system,” Mathonsi said.

In the Western Cape 52 mob justice related murders were recorded between January and March, along with 16 attempted murders and 29 incidents of assault with grievous bodily harm.

Marcus and his family are still trying to come to terms with the loss.

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Family crying at the scene of Lizelle Standaard’s death in Delft in April. Picture: Leon Knipe

“It has been two months since she was killed, and it is still very hard for us as a family. We are still looking for answers. Her 13-year-old daughter who was at the crime scene that day and saw her mother laying there, is not over it either.

“But we are a Christian family and believe in forgiveness, so even though we don’t know who the people are, or whether anyone has been arrested, we have forgiven them. We don’t care about that case, because no charges or sentence will bring back my daughter.

“But the government and the police need to do more to spare families what we went through, by ending these bundu court killings. My daughter was framed for that house-breaking, but still she died for something nobody had proof of her doing,” Marcus said.

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Forensic workers at the two bodies. Picture: Leon Knipe

Thozama Mthunzi from Philippi said she sent her 19-year-old son to the Eastern Cape after he was assaulted by an angry mob.

“He had apparently stolen someone’s cellphone and was caught, before being badly beaten and he spent over a week in hospital. He came back and still hung out with the same group of friends, and that was when I decided to send him back home to live with my older brother.

“I thought he was dead from all the blood that was left where people had beaten him, but he survived. While I understand the anger from the community which is tired of crime, it traumatised us as a family. I never knew if I would get a call to come and collect his body whenever he went out at night with his friends.

“As a parent of a problematic child, it is incredibly difficult, I didn’t know what to do except send him away,” she said.

A community leader in Philippi-East, who asked not to be named, said residents had become cautious about killing people accused of crimes.

“In the beginning people would beat a thief or even burn them because people were frustrated and angry.

“Whenever there is a call to police, there is always a story about vans not being available, or it takes hours for them to respond, if they do at all.

“But those incidents have drastically gone down now, people don’t want to spend the rest of their lives in jail for killing a criminal. It’s better to just beat them, and wait for the van to come and collect them,” he said.

Human Rights Commission’s Commissioner Chris Nissen said a number of factors drive mob justice attacks, and mainly affect the relationship between police and communities.

“The perception is that police are not there for communities, and that when police are called, they seldom come.

“There is the issue of resourcing in areas, in more affluent areas there are around five private security companies plus police patrolling, but you don’t see that in poorer communities.

“All these perceptions fuel people to think they have to take the law into their own hands, as they are not assisted by police.

“As the Human Rights Commission we make sure to engage with communities, educate people to say that while we understand their frustration, to take the law into one’s hands is not right. And we also work with law enforcement to ensure they have the support needed,” he said.

Annah Moyo, human rights lawyer and executive director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said research showed vigilantism does not occur in a vacuum, and occurs when people lose trust in the police.

She said in many cases communities would have first tried peaceful measures to deal with crime, but were then let down by a lack of police intervention.

“This fuels anger and frustration from communities, who develop a lack of trust in the criminal justice system. What is problematic is that law-abiding citizens who partake in these incidents become criminals overnight due to this anger,” she said.

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