Frustration with the criminal justice system, lack of police visibility and lack of trust between police and communities are some of the main drivers behind incidents of mob justice in the country.
This is according to Annette Hubschle, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies. She said mob justice was a result of communities’ frustration with criminal justice and law enforcement.
There was a sense that people were not getting what they deserved from police.
Hubschle said incidents of mob justice were increasing. According to the police’s 2009 annual report, 5% of reported murders were related to mob justice.
The murder of two men, who were burnt to death in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, on Monday, has brought the issue of mob justice back under renewed focus. The two men are alleged to have broken into a house and murdered the occupant.
Police spokesperson Capt Ernest Sigobe said another man was beaten to death and necklaced after he was pointed out as a rape suspect.
In addition, three suspected thieves were killed and a fourth seriously injured when members of the Ndimakude community in Flagstaff assaulted them.
One suspect had been arrested in connection with the New Brighton incident while 20 people had been arrested for the Flagstaff crime.
There have been a number of mob justice cases that have claimed at least seven lives in separate incidents around the country recently. In April, two suspected stock thieves were killed in Butterworth.
Brig Miranda Mills said the two men who were killed were “well-known criminals offenders” in the township. A television set and clothes that were stolen were found in their house before they were burnt to death.
She further said two people who were involved in a murder case were necklaced three weeks ago in the Eastern Cape.
“People were emotional and there were different motives behind the incidents but we cannot allow them to take law into their own hands,” said Mills.
No arrests have been made so far. Hubschle said there was a need for police visibility in the areas where these cases were widespread.
“Policing needs to be more visible in the informal settlements and townships as there is more crime in those communities.
“History plays a role where lots of people do not trust police. There is also a perception that police do not do their work.”
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Mthunzi Mhanga said people lacked basic understanding of how the justice system worked and were impatient with the courts.
“People are not patient and are failing to understand how the law works and oblivious to the constitutional rights,” said Mhanga.
“A person who has not been convicted is still a suspect.”
Mhanga said there was a need for public education and interaction between the public and the police. “Educating the public about how courts work and the fact that people are innocent until proven guilty, and visible policing are some of the things that need to be done.”
Nomfundo Mogapi, a director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said there were legitimate and different reasons for mob justice.
“It ranges from people who want to revenge, angry or getting frustrated with the police and taking control of any situation.
“In most cases you will find that the problems have built over a period of time,” said Mogapi.