Crime has forever changed the way South Africans live their lives. There are areas of the country that were bustling business districts a few years ago and now only operate during the day, turning into ghost streets as soon as it turns dark. And like a hapless deer caught in a set of headlights, citizens have accepted the inevitability of their fate. They alter their daily lives to accommodate the ever-present threat of it being their turn to become a crime statistic. But some communities have decided to take the law into their own hands, turning to crime to solve…
Crime has forever changed the way South Africans live their lives.
There are areas of the country that were bustling business districts a few years ago and now only operate during the day, turning into ghost streets as soon as it turns dark.
And like a hapless deer caught in a set of headlights, citizens have accepted the inevitability of their fate.
They alter their daily lives to accommodate the ever-present threat of it being their turn to become a crime statistic.
But some communities have decided to take the law into their own hands, turning to crime to solve crime.
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In December, the community of Diepsloot rounded up seven alleged criminals, killed them and set their bodies on fire.
The lament from the community is one that resonates with all South Africans: “We are tired, crime has been going on for far too long and the police are doing nothing about it.”
This past week, it was the turn of the people of Tembisa, as residents of Kanana and Marikana settlements rounded up five alleged criminals and did exactly what the people of Diepsloot did last month.
It is not as if mob justice, as it’s referred to, is a new phenomenon. It is not. South Africa’s landscape experiences this sort of justice on a regular basis.
But the latest events seem to be setting a trend where people who are allegedly terrorising communities are killed en masse.
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There is an element of serious planning that goes into these killings because the mobs are able to round up the victims in a relatively short space of time and mete out the gruesome punishment before they are detected by law enforcement.
Previous instances of mob justice – going back as far as pre-democracy days – were always spontaneous.
The planning of the mob justice means that the crime situation has now turned law-abiding citizens into criminals as they try to protect themselves and what they own.
And, sadly, crime-weary citizens feel a sense of relief that someone is finally doing something because the government has failed them.
True to what the police are accused of – being quick to arrest law-abiding citizens – they already have suspects in custody for both incidents of mob justice.
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And citizens rightfully ask the police: “When the criminals are running amok committing crimes, where are you?”
Communities in the townships are having to barricade their streets, illegally so, in a bid to reduce escape routes for criminals at night.
Yet the blocking of these easy escape routes for criminals through barricades and makeshift gates means that emergency vehicles such as ambulances, the fire brigade and even the police cannot easily get help to places where it is desperately needed.
These crime solutions are usually a double-edged sword, cutting both the community and the criminals they are targeting.
The reason crime has become so pervasive and, ultimately, determining how South Africans live their lives, is that law enforcement and the criminal justice systems are in shambles.
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Accepting this would be the first step towards changing things for the better.
Yes, resources are limited but it cannot be that gangs of criminals terrorise communities daily – and these gang members are known to everyone – but the police fail to act.
Armed youth violently rob people on CCTV in Johannesburg city centre in broad daylight and the police do not do anything.
And therein lies the rub that leads to mob justice. Communities do not just see the police as doing nothing, they see the police as choosing to do nothing. Or worse, protecting the criminals.