During a recent trip into the Gender Commission’s office in town with Karin and Angela, we witnessed citizens taking the law into their own hands. While leaving a shop, a huge mob of people started running through the middle of the street and knocking others down on the sidewalks. Brakes were squealing, people were yelling, and smoke started wisping up from somewhere. I immediately thought people were running away from a bomb (similar to my Hemingways Mall bomb evacuation experience) and my first instinct was to get as far away as possible from the mob. I searched around for Karin and Angela so that we didn’t get separated and only then noticed that people were pulling out cell phones to capture photos and video.
While we stood on the sidewalk, the woman next to me explained that a tsotsi (thief) had grabbed a wallet and the victim and people around had given chase and proceeded to beat him in the middle of the street. I didn’t want to see the man in the street as you could tell by the movements of the men around him that they were showing no mercy.
It’s a well known fact that you risk your belongings when you walk through town and the majority of reactions were happiness that someone hadn’t just rolled over as usual and let the thieves have their way. But this also comes after a recent wave of vigilante community policing which has resulted in stoning and necklacings. I realize that the South African Police Service may not be the most respected or trusted institution in the country, but witnessing mob justice certainly did not make me feel any safer.