A spate of mob killings in the Cape Town area was the work of opportunists, Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer said.
He was testifying on the last day of the first phase of the commission’s hearings into complaints of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha.
“Vigilantism is an act of opportunism,” Lamoer said.
He denied the phenomenon was linked to justice system failures.
“People want swift justice… and people want their belongings back,” said Lamoer.
“Criminals use the same kind of attacks to eliminate their rivals.”
Lamoer’s testimony was similar to that of Khayelitsha officers who claimed the vigilante attacks were spur-of-the-moment incidents, especially when residents were robbed.
“People start running and screaming and automatically community members react,” Lamoer said.
He acknowledged there were instances where police failed to act swiftly, but added: “That doesn’t warrant anybody taking the law into their own hands.”
The commissioner was adamant that vigilante actions were not unique to Khayelitsha or the Western Cape. Lamoer previously served as a divisional commissioner for visible policing at the national office in Pretoria.
“My experience taught me that this type of vigilantism happens all over the country.”
In Lamoer’s opinion there were various examples of vigilantism.
“You hire three or four people to kill your spouse. Is that not the same thing?”
Earlier in proceedings, Lamoer told the commission plans were afoot to build another police station in the area.
“There’s a priority to it and a budget already allocated to the building of a police station in Makhaza,” Lamoer said.
Makhaza, an area consisting of formal and informal housing, currently falls under the Harare police station. Residents argue the Harare station, which covers many other areas in Khayelitsha, cannot cope with the workload.
“It [the planned new station] will address the need or the challenges within the Khayelitsha area,” Lamoer said.
The land for the police station had been identified.
“In the case of Makhaza, the land belongs to the City of Cape Town,” Lamoer said.
The public works department was currently in talks with the city to have the land released.
The commission was set up by Western Cape premier Helen Zille after complaints about policing in Khayelitsha. The move was met with resistance by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa who went as far as the Constitutional Court to block the commission. Mthethwa lost his court bid in October last year.