Burnt tyres, broken glass bottles and blood-covered rocks. Large groups of people all gathered around these three infamous weapons and a mutilated body is the focal point in this scene. The smell of burnt rubber, burning flesh and the sight of blood are the norm at these gatherings with crowds screaming and yelling, anger in their eyes. This is mob justice.
Every winter, crime levels in Cape Town’s townships rise tremendously. This puts the residents of communities such as Khayelitsha and Nyanga under the victim microscope. Citizens of Cape Town’s crime-ridden townships have become all but complacent with the rate of crime that they witness and encounter. And as a result, residents have resorted to their own method of putting an end to the ongoing problem they face in their townships by taking matters into their own hands.
The Role of the Police
An act which involves gruesome and vigilante forms of enforcing law in communities, mob justice is proving to be a strong contender with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the aspect of law enforcement. Residents have complained on numerous occasions about the lack of policing, more especially in the townships where crime is prevalent. Having to wait for the police to serve justice seems to be a problem, as some residents feel that the criminal justice system is too lenient on perpetrators who are detained by the police.
One of the latest incidents of mob justice which took place in Mandalay, a small residential area in Mitchell’s Plain, a criminal was beaten brutally by an angry mob for robbery. An area which was previously quiet and peaceful has now also resorted to vigilantism to maintain safety within their community, which has raised much concern amongst the members of the SAPS.
Media liaison Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut discourages the public against vigilantism, and stresses that it will not be tolerated. “People who choose to take the law into their own hands immediately become criminals themselves and will be treated as such,” Lieutenant Traut warns.
The residents of Mandalay have voiced their grievances when it comes to policing in their area, claiming that the police do not intervene as soon as they are needed to in order to combat crime. Community members have added that some police force members dismiss the cases that they put forward and attribute this as the main reason behind the vigilante acts they participate in. Such is the case in Khayelitsha, where community members complained of a lack of thorough and adequate policing in their area.
Palesa Nohiya (21) grew up in Mandalay and is currently residing there with her family. She has been a victim of robbery many a times in her area and feels that mob justice is an effective way to tackle crime. “I support it [mob justice], simply because we often become victims to these criminals,” she said shamelessly. “We get raped and murdered in our areas of residence, yet offenders always get away with the crimes they commit very easily,” she continued. Nohiya also added that mob justice is a way to ensure that criminals do not commit any other crimes and it serves as a warning to other law offenders that crime will not be tolerated in communities.
The Police service has received a lot of negative feedback from communities who have alleged that the SAPS’ inefficiency is the main reason why mob justice is a prevalent practice. The Police Service has its hands full with the increasing number of vigilante acts in Cape Town townships. Whether mob justice will be the new law enforcement in communities remains to be seen, but police seem hopeful. “The South African Police Service are well equipped to deal with incidents of crime, and there is absolutely no reason why the community should resort to acts of vigilantism,” Lieutenant Traut emphasised.