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This video contains graphic content of people being beaten and injured
6:54am UK, Wednesday June 13, 2012
Sky News has obtained disturbing footage of township vigilantes brutally beating suspected criminals in South Africa.
The “punishments”, which often result in death, are regular occurrences in the impoverished townships across South Africa.
South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world and those in townships are taking matters into their own hands – despite police calls to hold back.
They said we had to be punished. And I thought well, this is my punishment. I must just accept it.
Mary, a woman who was caught breaking into a shack
We visited Diepsloot, a sprawling township on the northern edge of Johannesburg.
Here, all the residents we met spoke of the high crime rate coupled with the apparent inability of the police to deal with cases.
Many preferred to turn to the community thugs to sort out their problems rather than rely on the police.
And we were shown incident after incident, recorded on mobile phones or cameras, which demonstrated just how the “community” dished out their punishments.
In one incident, a man from Malawi is seen naked and bleeding, sitting in the centre of a pack of men, as the camera is recording everything.
The men around him are clearly holding sticks, some have stones and others have bricks in their hands.
A man pleads with vigilantes after being accused of a crime
The man is pelted with rocks which bounce off his head and his bare back.
He is kicked and whipped and when he tries to run away, he’s felled and yet more stones are thrown at him.
They leave him to recover and then he’s hauled in front of the mob again only to be beaten further.
At one stage you can see two women whipping him – deliberately aiming for his genitalia as the crowd yells encouragement to them.
He had been found with a gun on him and in Diepsloot that is interpreted in only one way: you’re a criminal and up to no good.
The man pleads and begs for his life. You see him repeatedly shake his head as the vigilantes shout questions at him. “No, no,” he is saying.
Police treat a man who was set on fire by mob members
The footage goes on for 20 minutes. His torture probably went on for a lot longer.
Witnesses tell us he has lost consciousness by the time the police and medics arrive and he dies in hospital.
I ask several of the residents if they agree with this form of “justice”. They all do, to every man and woman we ask.
Bessie Tsimo is 47 with six children. “If someone broke into your house or attacked you, who would you call,” I ask her.
“The community would come,” she says. “And you would want that?” I ask.
“Yes, I support it,” she says. “Because if the police arrest them, they will only be freed and then they may come back to hunt me. But if I blow my whistle, the community will come and deal with them.”
The shack home of a suspected criminal is burned to the ground
We manage to track down some of those who’ve been beaten but managed to escape after neighbours intervened.
Mary sobbed telling me how she and her friends had broken into a shack store and stolen food. “We were hungry and desperate,” she said.
A crowd of about fifty at first came to their shack and found them eating some of their stolen goods.
“They said we had to be punished. And I thought well, this is my punishment. I must just accept it,” she said.
I asked what they did. “Kicking….others using hands, using sticks, others pouring water on your body. So there’s nothing you can do,” she said.
“You just tell yourself, I’m dying.”
She and her female friend and two men were beaten and hit for about four hours they say before members of the unofficial, self-appointed community “police” intervened.
Morris Manarhela was the head of the group who saved them. He has taken the group with their assorted children (about half a dozen) to camp in a shack near his.
“I will protect them. If the mob come again I will hear the screams and come and save them with my friends,” he says.
It is rough brutal justice but for those in Diepsloot, it is justice they don’t feel they can get elsewhere.