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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 04:10 GMT 05:10 UK


World: Africa

Nightmare vision of mob justice

The face of justice in South Africa's townships

By Jeremy Vine in Johannesburg

Footage of township vigilante groups dispensing their own brutal form of summary justice has been broadcast on South African television.


You may find some scenes in Jeremy Vine's report disturbing
It paints a disturbing picture of justice in South Africa's townships.

The film, shot by a crew from the South African Broadcasting Corporation, shows a girl who says she has been gang raped by 10 young men.

But instead of taking her case to the police, she and her relatives tell their story to a kangaroo court - part of the local taxi association.

Lost faith in justice


[ image: The court - a taxi association - sits in judgement]
The court - a taxi association - sits in judgement
They have lost faith in South Africa's overloaded judicial system, and at no stage are the police involved.

Instead the cab drivers go to the homes of the boys who the girl says raped her.

The accused are dragged from their homes without even being given time to get dressed, tied to a lamppost and beaten.

Descent into lawlessness


[ image: The accused are dragged from their homes]
The accused are dragged from their homes
The nightmarish scene provides graphic evidence of the country's descent into lawlessness and mob rule.

The vigilantes are taking revenge, and the rape victim joins in, whipping the boys as they cower in terror.

Much of what happened is simply too disturbing to broadcast.

Failing system


[ image: A face of terror as the mob takes its revenge]
A face of terror as the mob takes its revenge
By the end, the youngsters have been badly hurt, but the taxi men are unrepentant. One says he would have happily shot the suspects dead.

But it is not just these vigilantes who decided the courts have failed them.

Last week, BBC footage showing police assaulting handcuffed suspects caused uproar across South Africa, with many people saying the officers were actually doing a good job.

Together the two films have prompted experts to warn of the collapse of the legal system.

Violent society


[ image: The accused all suffered serious injuries]
The accused all suffered serious injuries
"The vigilantes clearly have no respect for the rule of law, are taking it into their own hands and executing their own form of justice," says Maxine Reitzes of South Africa's Centre for Policy Studies.

"At the same time, the police are acting like vigilantes and rather than enforcing the law, they're undermining it."

All this is taking place as South Africa approaches its second democratic election on 2 June.

The years of white minority rule may have ended, but this remains a very violent society.



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