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Killing machine: Mob justice, public violence rule Limpopo


Horrific incidents of mob justice continue to grip Limpopo, more especially on Polokwane’s doorstep as Westenburg, Seshego and Mankweng are being considered hotspots for violence perpetrated by large groups.
The latest incidents reportedly occurred at Tshitale village outside Thohoyandou in the early morning hours of Saturday and Tshikuwi village along the road between Louis Trichardt and Musina in the early hours of Sunday. In the first instance a mob allegedly caused damages to the extent of R3 million to structures in the area, including the houses of the chief and two headmen as well as property belonging to a local mine in the early hours of Saturday. (See story elsewhere)
The last incident was seemingly the result of community members apparently wanting the release of a suspect in the murder of a man at a gathering place in the area on Sunday, which they allegedly want to avenge. According to Provincial Police Communications Head, Motlafela Mojapelo roads have been blocked and still remained closed while the situation was being monitored by the Public Order Policing Unit (Pops).
Most recently Police reported on violence at a taxi rank in Mokopane when an estimated 300 people gathered towards the end of January. During the commotion two people were allegedly stabbed with sharp objects, leading to their hospitalisation for serious injuries. One of the injured persons needed rescue by the Police while being stoned.
Continuous Police updates on incidents of public violence in Limpopo point at an ongoing trend of incidents sparked when outraged communities spontaneously mobilise to engage in an elimination process, better known as jungle justice when targeting individuals suspected of wrongdoing.
Generally, such acts result in brutal death as so-called rulers in a mob show no mercy and they are not easily persuade differently once their minds are set on getting rid of an issue in their community. The same could be said for public violence where the excitement in addressing, among others, service delivery issues becomes a wave of destruction through a particular area.
A terrible way to die
The modus operandi includes beating, stoning and sometimes necklacing as suspects are set alight.
Innocent by-standers in cases of protest action are often compelled to play along or look on out of fear of falling victim to blood-thirsty neighbours taking the law into their own hands.
Reasons for mob justice
According to Mojapelo cases of mob justice are mostly reported at Westenburg, Seshego, Mankweng and Thohoyandou. With reference to reasons leading to communities taking the law into their own hands, Mojapelo indicated that victims are mostly people accused of various criminal activities or repeated offenders released from custody. South Africans and foreigners alike are attacked in rare cases while xenophobia is no longer a threat in various communities in Limpopo, according to Mojapelo. “There are very few cases that are related to witchcraft and as the Police we don’t regard this as justifiable and we normally take strong action against those involved.”
Response time
Every second counts and at times, according to Mojapelo, it is too late for them to rescue a suspect or to prevent extensive damage during violent protests. “Some of these incidents happen spontaneously or unexpectedly and this is one of the reasons why the Police sometimes are unable to arrive to prevent death or damages. For the Police to be effective, we need information soonest and the cooperation between us and the community is crucial,” Mojapelo said.
Successful prosecution
Since the Police implemented a 72-hour plan in 2017 to arrest suspects involved in such incidents, the situation pertaining to mob justice is slightly volatile but stabilised. “Police manage to arrest suspects successfully due to the valuable information provided by community members,” Mojapelo said.
He referred to a recent matter before Limpopo High Court where eight suspects were sentenced to jail for 33 years each in connection with mob justice. The eight were convicted on charges of murder, attempted murder and kidnapping after an incident at Ga-Marishane in June 2017 when they severely assaulted three victims they accused of crime in the area. Two of the victims were stoned to death and the third seriously injured. The accused are Adam Kgatuke, White Masemola, James Dolamo, Richard Masemola, Kholo Masemola, Andrew Masemola, Zakaria Nkadimeng and Sylvester Matlebjane.
Mojapelo indicated that first responders normally attend to the scene first to assess the situation and if they are not able to handle it Pops is called in to assist. “It is a dangerous situation and we work hand in glove with emergency personnel to assist and rescue the victims,” he said.
Threatening scenario impeding work of cops, emergency officers
Talking to a local emergency medical practitioner who wished to remain anonymous it is evident that responding to such incidents puts lives at risk.
“We have to go into a situation to save a person who was attacked by an angry mob. We have to move in to save a person they want dead. We normally move in with the Police as they are our only protection against the mob,” he said.
He added that there have been situations where victims were just loaded into the ambulance in order to get out of the danger zone before any medical treatment can start. He reiterated that sometimes the situation is just too dangerous and that they can only rely on the Police to evict the patient and to transport him to a location away from danger and an awaiting ambulance.
“The most common injuries are head wounds as a mob has one thing in mind… they are like a killing machine. It is unbelievable where some of them get the strength from to carry massive rocks to assault their victims with,” he said.

RC Myburgh