News / Africa

South Africa Sees Increase in Vigilantism

Protesters caught in teargas, hurl stones at police, unseen, during violent clashes in Sasolburg, South Africa, January  22 2013.
Protesters caught in teargas, hurl stones at police, unseen, during violent clashes in Sasolburg, South Africa, January 22 2013.
Solenn Honorine
South Africa may seem like a peaceful, democratic country, but its high rate of violent crime tells another story. Despite a crime drop since it peaked about 10 years ago, last year South Africa recorded 15,609 murders, or 43 a day. That is four and a half times the global average. The main victims are poor, black citizens whose confidence in South African police remains so low that they at times take the law into their own hands. Although there is no official statistic, mob justice is rife.

Rampant crime

There are almost 1,200 houses in the Thabo Mbeki squatter camp, huddled together in the gentle hills that roll east of Johannesburg. The big city is a mere 30 minutes away, easily accessible from the highway that links it to the capital Pretoria. So easily, in fact, criminals can swiftly get in and out of the settlement - even though there is not much to steal here.
 
The local tavern, or “shebeen” as it is called here, is a simple cluster of buildings protected by high barbwire and closed off with iron gates. But that is not protection enough against the rampant crime.
 
Thabo Mogomele and two friends are sitting under a corrugated roof, drinking beer. Its noon, but they say there is not much else to do in a community where only a lucky few have a job. He describes a recent crime incident.
 
“The robbery happened when we were on the street. The mob there, they were chasing those thugs, and since we knew that they had just robbed here, we followed those thugs, and then threw some stones," Thabo noted. "Out of frustration actually because we knew it was not for the first time, it was maybe the 13th or 14th time. And then we got one of the old guys there. Unfortunately we didn't kill him, but we wanted to.”
 
The man had a gun, as they always do, Thabo says. But that wouldn't deter a community too fed up with robberies to sit tight until the police arrive. Thabo explains why he thinks mob justice works. 

“Our kids now. A small gun, they know it can hold close to 8 bullets. If he can shoot, he will only shoot 8 people. If 100 or 200 people chase you, even if you've got an AK47, you can't just shoot, because one thing for sure, you know you are going to die,” he said.
 
Apartheid-style policing

Johan Burger, a senior researcher with the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies and a former policeman, says that there is no specific data on mob justice. But he says it has roots in the apartheid era that ended two decades ago.
 
At that time, he says, the police only focused on repressing black citizens, and didn't care about crime in their neighborhoods. Therefore, he says, they didn't have much choice but to resort to vigilante actions.
 
Community leader Ebrahim Nthite says blacks in Muldersdrift remain a second priority. 

“In our community, in the past couple of months, we had thugs coming from other areas to make robberies here. We tried to call the police for a period of 2.5 hours, they didn't come in the area," he explained. "But in December, some people were killed in the white community. The police took 10 minutes to respond. So you see there are too differences. The service is not good; we are not happy about it.”
 
His friend Thulani Molefe agrees on poor police performance.

“We'll see them here within 5 minutes if it's a case of a man fighting with his woman. Then they'll come running like it's nobody's business," he said. "You see, where there is a danger, they won't come. Up until the community takes the law into their hands. That's the only solution in South Africa, because our law enforcement, they are not active. They are lazy.”
 
Brigadier Neville Malila, a spokesperson for provincial police, denies such accusations.

“Your status in the community does not result in preferential treatment. We treat everyone equally," Malila stated. "Irrespective of where complaints are coming from, whether they come from business areas or from communities or from informal settlements.”
 
Burger with the Institute of Security Studies, says public protests and vigilante actions are on the rise. Last year, police responded to about 12,000 so-called “unrest related” incidents.  That is up from 8,000 seven years before.
 
Distrust in the police reached a new high in the country last August, when officers opened fire on a group of striking miners in Marikana, killing 34. An investigation is underway.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid