The South African Council of Churches has condemned as barbaric the murder this week of two men by a brutal method last used in the apartheid era. Twenty six people have been arrested for the murders.
South Africans awoke Thursday to the shocking news that a mob had killed two men by the so-called necklace method: a gas-filled tire is hung around the victim's neck and set alight.
The so-called necklace was used extensively in townships around Johannesburg in the 1980's when the apartheid government's repression reached its zenith. The two deaths mark the first appearance of the practice since South Africa achieved democracy in 1994.
The two victims, who must still be identified, were accused by residents of Bramfisherville, west of Johannesburg, of engaging in a crime spree in the area. A mob of about 50 people hunted them down and killed them.
The murders have been widely condemned, including by the government. But the South African Council of Churches says robust action is necessary to combat all vigilantism, and especially this practice.
Council communications director Father Joe Mdhlela told VOA he fears that the latest deaths could prompt other people to resort to "necklacing" to get their revenge. "We don't want this to happen again, because once it begins to happen, and then it will develop, and it will become some kind of a sub-culture, and people would have it in their minds that they could then apprehend people, [and] instead of taking them to the police, then they could take the law into their own hands," he said. "And we fear a repeat of the 1980's, when many, many people got killed through this practice."
Father Mdhlela says that the council understands the desperation of so many poor, unemployed people plagued by high levels of crime. And he says that it is essential that the government speed up its programs to improve policing. But he says South Africans must accept that the time when the police were the agents of oppression has passed and that the responsibility for acting against criminals lies with them and with the justice system, not vigilantes.