Mob Justice: Three Men Burnt Alive by Community in Thembisa

What You Need to Know:

Following the killing of five men by community members who had been mistaken as robbers in Kanana in January, three more men have been burnt alive by residents in the same area. 

Residents of Sophiatown informal settlement in Thembisa, South Africa, stoned three men they claim had been terrorizing the community before necklacing them. As previously reported, the placing of tyres around the body of a suspected thief or criminal has its roots in Apartheid South Africa. Known as ‘necklacing’ locally, the act refers to the placing of a tire around the neck of the accused, before dousing the tire in petrol and setting it alight. 

Necklacing was first advocated for by Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela, during the years of conflict between the African National Congress and the South African National Party to be used against those in the community who collaborated with whites. 

The Details:

According to Scrolla Africa journalists, the three men were caught by a community member on Sunday night breaking into homes in the area. The community member then shouted ‘vimba!’ an isiZulu word meaning ‘to stop or to prevent’, but is colloquially used to gather community members quickly when criminals are about. 

Community members then descended on the men, beating and stoning them before necklacing them. The bodies were then dumped in three separate areas, according to police. 

A resident speaking to Scrolla journalists claimed, “we keep on reporting these criminals to the police. Sometimes when we apprehend them, we take them to the police with all the evidence of the crime they committed, but the police set them free within a day or two.. Police and mortuary vans come and pick up the bodies because that’s the way to deal with such people who have no mercy for their victims.” 

This latest instance of mob justice is the fourth attack to take place in Thembisa since late January. On March 26th, 24-year old Albert Sithole was beaten to death by community members claiming the man was a notorious gangster. However some residents claim the man was actually a well known seller of goods in the area. 

On April 2nd, a man was stoned and burnt to death by Thembisa community members after the man and his accomplices attempted to rob congregants at an Easter church service. 

So, What Now?:

Thembisa has witnessed an unusual uptick in mob justice attacks in recent months, with residents claiming the police can no longer be relied upon to provide security to the community. However, police remain adamant that community members should refrain from taking the law into their own hands, as there are many cases of mistaken identities in mob justice attacks such as the five men killed in January. 

Increased mob justice attacks signal not only deteriorating social cohesion in many informal settlement communities in South Africa, but also increasing paranoia among communities due to a lack of visible policing. However, the sheer volume of mob justice attacks in the Kanana area alone is a worrying development. 

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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