Steve Motale
2 minute read
7 Nov 2013
6:18 am

Vigilantism threat to justice

Steve Motale

Khutsong township outside Carletonville in the West Rand in once again making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Loosely translated, the Sesotho word khutsong means a place of tranquility.

However there’s nothing tranquil about this place. In fact, this township has now become synonymous with anarchy. The place fi rst
captured the nation’s attention when it was plunged into chaos in 2005 when Parliament passed the Twelth Amendment Bill, which re-demarcated the area from Gauteng into the North West.

The decision outraged residents who embarked on one of the most violent post-apartheid protests that rendered the township ungovernable and brought shame to the country. During these protests, houses, municipal offices, libraries, and shops were burnt down.

The community even appealled to the Constitutional Court to be reincorporated into Gauteng, which they perceived to be be er at service delivery . The court rejected their bid. But government finally caved in and the Merafong municipality was returned to Gauteng – an embarrassing defeat for government and a massive victory for residents.

One valuable lesson Khutsong residents learnt is that the only language those in authority understand is violence . This is a dangerous lesson that was quickly learnt by township residents in other parts of the country, hence the violent nature of virtually all service delivery protests lately. And so far, it’s working perfectly for disgruntled communities that want to capture the attention of their elected public representatives.

Eight years after the Khutsong uprisings, the township has again attracted the attention of the world. This time, residents, sick and tired of crime , drew inspiration from their violent past and went on a rampage, burning six people they accused of terrorising the community in one of the worst mob justice incidents this country has ever witnessed.

A sad reality is that many residents, mostly in the townships, have had enough of crime and begun taking the law into their own hands because they have lost faith in police.

The fear felt by residents is increasingly turning to anger, hence the surge in mob justice. While the frustration is understandable, it is their methods of solving the problem that are troubling. Unless nipped in the bud, vigilantism poses the single biggest threat to the rule of law in this country. That is why it is important that the leaders of our law enforcers ask themselves tough questions.

Among these are: what is so wrong with our policing that would drive our people into this shocking state of inhumanity that includes burning human beings alive and dancing while victims die in excruciating pain?

What transpired in Khutsong also exposed the bad intelligence gathering capacity of our police. How could a crowd of about 400 – some reports have put the figure at 700 – gather in broad daylight, spend hours orchestrating a mass murder plot without being detected by intelligence services? By the way, we are even told that flyers were distributed before the meeting. Khutsong should serve as a wake-up call to the SAPS to get their priorities right.

Steven Motale is editor of The Citizen.