A 17-year-old boy was almost beaten to death after being accused of stealing a handbag in Northdale, Pietermaritzburg, KZN, in what is believed to have been a case of mistaken identity.
The boy, who is a pupil at Heather Secondary School, was beaten by community members near the Nkululeko settlement, who claimed he had stolen a handbag from a woman getting off a taxi.
The boy was allegedly tied up with wire and beaten, sustaining severe trauma to his head, requiring brain scans.
It is alleged that the mob also threatened to burn him. His sister says he was so badly beaten that she could not recognise him.
“His head is big, and I couldn’t recognise his face. It was very scary when I got there, to try and calm [the mob] down. They tied him up with wire, and they beat him. We took him to Northdale Hospital, but they transferred him to Grey’s Hospital for brain scans. He is an orphan and stays with his grandmother in the settlement.”
“They took him to his granny’s house and showed her what they were doing to him, but she couldn’t stop them because she is old and can barely walk,” his sister told The Witness.
She says her brother had been with her for most of the day.
“He was playing soccer with his friends, and then he left for home. The situation doesn’t make sense because [the community said] he stole a handbag from a woman getting off a taxi and ran away, but two minutes later, he was walking towards them. If he stole the bag, why would he come back to them? The woman [whose bag was allegedly stolen] took his phone and told him that she would only give it back to him when he gave back the bag,” she says.
She adds that even after the attack, in the hospital, her brother kept protesting his innocence.
“He was in and out of consciousness, and even then, he was saying that he didn’t steal anything.”
She says this vigilantism was traumatising and appalling.
“It was very frightening. He is disfigured. How can a child go through this? If they thought he did something, why did they not call the police? Why did they have to beat him up like this?”
The boy is well known in the community for always helping people.
“He is a humble child, always helping people. If he needed money, he would work for it. The people in the area knew him very well. He would do gardening for people in the area to help put food on the table,” adds his sister.
A resident, Annie Jawahar, who goes to church with the boy, says the teen is loved by the community.
“He is a loving, hard-working, and God-fearing young man. After school, he does gardening and any kind of job to help his grandmother. He has a good reputation at his school and is loved by the community,” says Jawahar.
She adds that she meets with him every Tuesday night at church, and that was where he was going when he got attacked.
“He was on his way to church when a woman was robbed near the area of the settlement. This child was heading towards the church in her direction when she accused him of theft. She pulled his phone out of his hand, and she kept it with her. She then called these merciless people, and they all started hitting him badly. They tied him with wire and led him into the camp, where they took him to his grandmother’s house, and they told her that they were going to burn him.”
She adds that it is a sickening act.
“This child was so severely beaten; his head is badly swollen. These people were merciless. The community is outraged as they love this boy,” says Jawahar.
Mountain Rise SAPS spokesperson Warrant Officer Pancheal Singh stresses that vigilantism is never the answer.
“If the community suspects someone is a criminal or has committed a crime, they should contact the police immediately. The community must never take the law into its own hands. There are consequences, such as having a case opened against them and the chance of being arrested. Taking the law into one’s hands is illegal and should never be done,” he says.
He adds that a case has been opened.
“The woman whose bag was stolen has opened a case. She says she is able to identify the person who stole her bag, but the investigation is ongoing,” he adds.
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