The latest mob justice incident, which has shocked the country, happened on Sunday in Khutsong township, outside Carletonville in the West Rand, where an angry mob went on a rampage and burnt and stoned to death seven suspects they identified as gangsters, including a sangoma who they accused of working in cahoots with the suspects.
Sadly, this spate of killings that took place in one day in a single area again calls into question the efficiency of our police. The question that needs to be answered is: how was it possible for an enraged mob, given all the time, to raid several houses in search of those they suspected to be involved in crime without police intervention?
Reports are that police did intervene. However, their vehicles were stoned by an angry mob. This, in itself, is indicative of our officers’ poor policing tactics. While crime affects everyone, reality is that it is particularly bad in poor townships where gangs are mushrooming and continue to terrorise communities.
The fear felt by residents is increasingly turning to frustration and anger. The pain felt by residents is understandable; however, this should not give anyone the right to take the law into their own hands and kill those they accuse of crime. Resorting to unlawful means to solve crime can’t be the answer. In fact, it makes you part of the crime you are trying to solve.
There have also been cases of innocent people accused of crimes they didn’t commit being wrongly targeted and needlessly losing their lives.
That is why it is important for our law enforcers to spare no effort in bringing to book the perpetrators of these barbaric acts. Failure to punish those involved will send a dangerous message to communities under crime siege that they too can get away with murder. Unless nipped in the bud, vigilantism – an act spreading like wildfire – poses the single biggest threat to the rule of law in this country.
The surge in incidents of mob justice should prompt police leadership to start asking themselves tough questions about what is wrong with our policing that drives communities to these levels of desperation and lawlessness. Clearly, the increase in these crimes reflects an alarming loss of trust in the SAPS, whose inefficient law enforcement makes people feel they are being held to ransom by thugs.
These killings should serve as a wake-up call to our police, whose leaders are engaged in dirty infighting instead of focusing on their fundamental mandate of protecting communities.
This ugly feud within police management has seen South Africa’s most senior police officer, Riah Phiyega, being probed for allegedly defeating the ends of justice. Phiyega believes that the claims against her are a counter-offensive by suspended acting crime intelligence boss Chris Ngcobo, who she suspended over his qualifications.
In a country in which citizens live in constant fear of criminals, and with widespread corruption and criminality within the SAPS, the last thing we need is a police service that is at war with itself. What will serve us well is a police service with unquestionable integrity whose officers are trusted by all citizens. Police need to get their act together and start getting their priorities in order.
They will have to redouble their effort to rebuild their battered image and restore public confidence in the service by focusing on their core mandate: to fight crime and protect all South Africans.