Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi’s call on a community to “hunt” those responsible for a school break-in has experts on edge as they believe it could incite vigilantism.
This came in a statement on Tuesday when the provincial department of education said it had learnt with “shock and disappointment” about a break-in at Menzi Primary School in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Lesufi said Menzi Primary was a multimillion-rand state-of-theart mega-township school that was recently handed over to the community of Tsakane in Ekurhuleni, on the first day of school last Wednesday.
About 200 tablets and other teaching equipment were taken. “These are educational facilities aimed at enhancing the quality of education and life of children in the township,” he said.
“We are extremely disappointed that criminals can disrupt the education of [pupils] in this community.
“However, we challenge members of the community to assist and hunt the robbers by Friday, January 18, 2019, failing which we will have no choice but to withdraw all expensive equipment from the said school.”
Wits University honorary research associate professor Sheila Meintjes said the MEC’s statement was outrageous and had the power to incite vigilantes within the community.
“It would sow seeds of dissension and cause suspicion among people, which is terrible”.
“The police should be the ones to handle the matter, otherwise why do we have them? The community does not need to be punished for this,” Meintjes said. Graham Newham, researcher with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), also said the statement could open up the possibilities of vigilantes being formed within the community.
He said the right point of contact would have been the police, whose responsibility it was to investigate the matter, not the community themselves. “There is a risk that the community will take matters into their own hands, assaults among other things may even occur against the wrong people,” said Newham.
“Making such statements is dangerous.”
However, Dr Johan Burger, Newham’s colleague at ISS, did not regard Lesufi’s statement as a call to action. He said it was a normal call for the community to be involved in sharing information they felt would add value to the investigation to the relevant officials.
“I am hoping it does not lead to any vigilante groups or violence,” said Burger.
“It is not that government is not taking responsibility for the incident, the problem here is whether there was sufficient security to protect the expensive property on the premises and I think that it’s obvious that they didn’t.”