AT LEAST 30 people have been killed in mob justicerelated attacks in the Eastern Cape so far this year by communities who are fed up with crime.
Crime monitors acknowledged that mob justice attacks were on the increase in the Eastern Cape and said the situation would not improve until effective policing measures were implemented.
In just about all the cases the victims, who were either suspected of committing a crime or caught in the act of committing a crime, were stoned, burned or axed to death.
The crimes they were accused of ranged from witchcraft and rape to theft and murder.
A further six victims were rescued moments before they were set alight by angry mobs in four separate incidents.
These statistics were collated through a review of media reports on incidents that occurred in the Eastern Cape this year.
Official statistics on the exact number of mob killings each year are hard to come by as the police don’t distinguish between mob justice killings and murders.
However, David Bruce, a senior researcher in the Criminal Justice Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said a study had shown that in the past 10 years, five percent of murders in South Africa were due to mob killings.
“The figure is quite substantial; it means that for every 16 000 people killed, 800 were killed by angry residents,” said Bruce, adding that mob attacks had become a substantial problem to the criminal justice system in recent years.
He said police were unable to build up strong cases against perpetrators of mob justice as information that could lead to their arrest and successful convictions was scarce.
“In a lot of mob justice attack cases, perpetrators go unpunished. This might explain why there is a rise in attacks,” said Bruce.
He said the scourge would end if people “know there will be consequences if they are caught” and if they could rather “align themselves with the criminal justice system”.
In one of the first recorded cases of mob justice this year, Nophelo Janda, 55, of Willowvale, was burned to death by a group of angry residents after her son stole money from a community member and then disappeared.
Eighteen women accused of killing her were arrested and later granted bail of R1 000 each at the Willowvale Magistrate’s Court in January.
And in one of the most recent incidents, three men were killed in Unit P Potsdam, Mdantsane, last week by a group of angry residents. The men were beaten to death after being accused of robbing and assaulting a couple the previous day, taking a cellphone and a wallet.
Six people were arrested in connection with the murder but were later released on R300 bail each.
In a recent visit to the Eastern Cape, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa warned communities not to take the law into their own hands.
He admitted, however, that residents were fed up with the criminal justice system.
“They are frustrated with the reaction time of police, and they feel that the system lets criminals go free,” said Mthethwa.
Crime experts attributed the rise in mob justice attacks to the ineffectiveness of police in apprehending criminals.
DA spokesman on Safety and Security Bobby Stevenson said if the current rate of mob justice attacks continued, there would be anarchy.
“The increase in mob justice attacks recently is an extreme cause for concern; we can’t afford to let people take the law into their own hands because it undermines the criminal justice system,” he said.
Stevenson blamed the increase in attacks on the province’s high crime rate and said rapid police response and aggressive police visibility was needed in communities.
He called for tougher laws and stricter bail conditions for perpetrators of mob justice attacks.
Human Rights Commission spokesman Vincent Moaga said the high rate of mob justice incidents was an indicator that communities had lost confidence in the system.
“The police ministry should (make) efforts to restore the people’s confidence in our criminal justice system.”
National Prosecution Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said “mob injustice” would end once authorities enhanced community education programmes on how the court system worked.
“Mob ‘injustice’ needs a collective effort from all roleplayers,” said Mhaga. — firstname.lastname@example.org