Some members of the community says mob justice is the way to go to eliminate criminals and reduces criminal activities they perform on a daily basis. The “punishments,” which often result in death, regular occur in the impoverished townships across the country.
Letlhabile and Oukasie are some of the areas where crime rates are higher, people are taking matters into their own hands, despite police calls to hold back. They believe that this is the only way they can deal with the criminals
We visited Letlhabile and Oukasie, sprawling townships just outside the Brits Central Business District. 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. Although some thought that the establishment of the community policing forum would also assist in the fight against the criminal elements.
In some areas, CPF programs are underway and the community is in the process of establishing more CPF members which they believe that they will be able to deal with crimes in the areas. While the process of CPF establishment is underway, criminals continue roaming around and terrorising the innocent. During our visit, 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 the same area is seen half naked and bleeding, sitting in the centre of a pack of men and women who were fuming with anger saying that he has stolen a cellphone and he needs to be taught a lesson.
The men around him are clearly holding sticks, some have stones and others have bricks in their hands. 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. He was saved by his two friends a his mother who came in and pleaded with the mob that he heard enough. In one of the incidents, two women whipped a man, accused of stealing a number of items and involved in a number of rape cases. He was whipped deliberately aiming for his genitalia as the crowd yells encouragement to them.
This in most cases result in death or permanent damage. Witnesses told us that he had lost consciousness by the time the police and medics arrived and he died in hospital. I asked several of the residents if they agreed with this form of justice. They all do, to every man and woman we asked. Some reiterated that if someone broke into your house or attacked you, who would you call. They call the community to deal with the criminal. They say if the police arrest them, they will only be freed and then they may come back to hunt them. But if they blow their whistles, the community will come and deal with the perpetrators. Justice requires that bad actions bring bad consequences on the agent. It’s argued that the desire for justice is merely emotional and instinctive, but even if that were true it wouldn’t rationally mean it should be disregarded. People often claim that if our punishments were based purely on deterrence they would be milder, but I don’t think this can be rationally justified. If we are only concerned about deterrence we will not wait until people actually commit crimes, but incarcerate anyone who looks likely to offend.
Indeed, we may inflict severe public punishment on people we secretly know to be innocent simply to achieve the required shock and awe. It’s suggested that unjust punishment is an offence against human rights: maybe, but how much worse to deprive human beings of the right to be considered responsible agents? Retribution, or justice, recognises that people deserve to be judged on their acts, not their propensities, and that their dignity as agents deserves respect. I should rather be flogged than enslaved. Corporal punishment is best defined as the use of physical pain, injury, discomfort or humiliation to penalise unruly or criminal behaviour. It has been widely applied in the context of criminal justice throughout human history. Where liberal democracies now overwhelmingly favour custodial sentences as a response to criminality, sentences incorporating flogging, whipping, beating and disfigurement were much more common before the nineteenth century.