Mob justice in South Africa

Necklacing, a brutal apartheid-era murder method, is making a comeback as some victims of social injustice take the law in their own hands.



    Simon Mynekeni is one of the most recent victims of necklacing, a brutal apartheid-era practise of putting a tyre around someone's neck, dousing it in petrol and setting it alight.

    It's a horrible way to die.

    But when I asked his aunt what it said about the community in the township of Leslie, expecting her to say it was a reflection of how low people could stoop, her answer stunned me.

    She said her nephew was a bad man and it would teach other alleged criminals what the consequences would be if they turned against their own community.

    Simon was killed for allegedly raping and murdering an elderly woman, without proof, and, extraordinarily, while the police were present, he was attacked by a mob.

    Maybe she was just saying it because the people who took part in her nephew's murder, and those who watched on, are her neighbours - given what happened to him it might not serve her well to speak out.

    Although I'd never condone such vigilante killings, and there has been a spate of them lately, when you put it in social and historical context, you can get some understanding of why it happens here.

    Necklacing started in the 80's when it was a punishment among anti-apartheid supporters for alleged collaborators of the government.

    After decades of apartheid, when violence was used against the population of the black majority, it has become a part of life, a problem-solving tool that is now a language.

    Apartheid is long gone but its legacy lives on, so why is necklacing back now?

    Basically, the black majority were sold the idea that life would improve dramatically with the arrival of democracy and the truth is it just hasn't for everyone.

    Some of the people in the crowd who watched Simon burn, who smelled his flesh go up in flames, will remember the degradation of apartheid and the great hope that followed.

    But unemployment is 25 per cent, 50 per cent among young people. In parts of Leslie there's no water or electricity - there's a real sense of social injustice. That no one, not the government, nor the police (who many simply don't trust), cares, or can help.

    It means people feel they have to solve their own problems.

    In a country where the fabric of society is already fragile, and where many people are hanging on to their sense of worth by a thread, it's really not surprising some of them are taking the law into their own hands.



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