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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
SA vigilantes fill police gap
Gang leader Rashaad Staggie is set alight and killed by vigilantes who claimed inaction by police in 1996
Vigilante action has a long history in South Africa
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By the BBC's Carolyn Dempster

While the rich in South Africa buy private security, the poor are often considered to have little option but to mobilise themselves to make up for the inability of the police to provide proper protection.

Vigilantism has a long history in South Africa.

We don't trust the police and the justice system

Phumzile Madondo
Johannesburg resident
Its growth in the post-apartheid era remains an indictment of the state's inability to police poor areas.

  • On Monday 6 May 1996, the blowing of whistles in the Ivory Park squatter settlement east of Johannesburg summoned residents to a people's court.

    Griffiths Nkosi, an alleged murderer, was tried and found guilty in less than an hour.

    He was stripped naked, beaten, doused with petrol and set alight next to a ditch while a priest and the police looked on helplessly, prevented by the community from intervening.

    In the same week South Africa adopted a new constitution containing a Bill of Rights banning the death penalty.

    'Best way'

    Jonas Moekeng, a resident of Ivory Park, knew the community was doing wrong by taking the law into its own hands.

    "We can be criticised for our action, but it is the best way of stopping criminals from harassing us. We can't live under siege," he said.

      Click here to see international murder rates compared

  • In July 1999, residents of the "Winnie Mandela" squatter settlement east of Johannesburg joined forces to raise the R4,000 bail money for accused murderer Johannes Manamela.

    As soon as he stepped out of jail, he was taken to a people's court, quickly judged and killed by the mob.

    "We don't trust the police and the justice system," said Phumzile Madondo, a resident who contributed money for bail.

    This kind of rough justice appeals to South Africans thirsting for revenge.

    In spite of appeals by the authorities to communities not to take the law into their own hands, vigilante groups offering protection have sprung up all over the country.


    In the Northern Province "Mapogo a Mathamaga" (the leopard with brown spots) was founded by businessman John Mzgolego.

    Members who pay for protection display the group's leopard emblem on their premises, a signal to would-be criminals that they will be tracked down, caught and dealt with in the same way that a leopard stalks and devours its prey.

    Anti-gangster vigilantes
    Vigilante groups cause a headache for police
    Mapogo became so effective it went national, and ultimately its leaders landed up in court on charges of abduction and attempted murder.

    In the Western Cape, a Muslim-based group "People Against Gangsterism and Drugs" was formed in response to the scourge of gang violence on the Cape Flats.

    But it turned into a terror group and has become as much of a headache for the police force as the gangs who deal in death and drugs.

    Criminologist Wilfried Scharf, of the University of Cape Town's Institute of Criminology, suggests that the only solution is an effective partnership between the police and communities who can provide the manpower to be trained as neighbourhood watch volunteers.

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  • See also:

    08 Sep 00 | Africa
    Clampdown after Cape killing
    26 Mar 01 | Africa
    Reign of terror in the Cape
    29 Nov 01 | Africa
    SA police jailed for dog attacks
    18 Sep 00 | Africa
    SA: Row over freed convicts
    12 Oct 00 | Africa
    SA targets guns
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