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18 March 2018 00:28 (South Africa)
South Africa

Anatomy of the Khutsong horror: When rampant crime met mob justice

  • G Nicolson & T Lekgowa
    G Nicolson & T Lekgowa
  • South Africa

Six people were killed in Khutsong, in Carletonville, Gauteng, after mob justice attacks on Sunday. Residents say they wanted to stop crime and guarantee their safety from gangs. Daily Maverick spoke to six people involved in the attacks who explained how an anti-crime meeting turned deadly. Sources’ names have been withheld for fear of revenge attacks. By THAPHELO LEKGOWA & GREG NICOLSON.

(Ed’s note: Daily Maverick is in possession of photographs of the killings that contain scenes so gruesomely graphic that we made a decision not to publish them. These horrific acts happened around 50km from Sandton)

The tipping point, say sources, happened at a meeting on Wednesday 23 October. The community had held a meeting in Extension 3 to discuss safety and security and the revival of patrol committees. Murders had been committed in Khutsong with no arrests. People were being found dead near the river. Stabbings were witnessed in taverns. Girls were being abducted and held by gang members. The gangs were recruiting in schools. Crime became a daylight activity. “These gangs, they draw their strength from blood,” yelled a woman.

The Casanovas were blamed for much of the crime. The children of migrant workers who live in informal settlements, it is said, formed the gang, in 2008. Recruits join when they can’t find other work options. There’s talk of animosity between the families of migrant workers, who have recently moved to Khutsong, and those who have been there for many years. “How can they tell us what to do?” someone asks.

The Casanovas include young men, about 14 to 24 years old, from New Mandela, Sonderwater, T-Section and Chris Hani – all informal settlements in Khutsong. When the gang started recruiting at schools, students formed a “defence gang” to protect themselves. They called it The Creatures.

Its members were primarily from the traditional township, as opposed to the informal settlement. Boundaries as to where someone could and couldn’t go were established, with violent punishments for transgressors. The Casanovas, however, are seen as more violent, comprising of hardened criminals who move about the area unfettered.

Residents of Extension 3 marched to the police station on 7 October, demanding that the issue of gangs be addressed. “We will get back to you,” they said the police told them. Extension 3 is situated next to the informal settlement. On the 16th October residents wrote to the police and requested an “emergency intervention through mass stakeholder meetings and mass awareness campaigns”.

But no meeting occurred, which then led to the community gathering of the 23rd. There, community members expressed that they weren’t being taken seriously by the police and wanted to discuss the way forward. The Casanovas, based nearby, stormed the meeting. Sources say over 100 members of the gang arrived wielding machetes, knives and pangas. Twenty people were injured, including a one-year-old baby. That night the community regrouped and vowed to take on the gang.

Gang members escaped, regrouped, and returned to Extension 3 in their hundreds. The Casanovas, members of the community claim, killed two people. Some allege that the police were there but were too afraid to act.

“As much as you are afraid of the gang, we are as well,” an officer reportedly said.

On Sunday, Khutsong residents met to discuss what to do about the gangs. Victims of the violence told their stories and emotions ran high. People felt the police weren’t delivering justice, either not making arrests or arresting suspects and setting them free shortly afterwards. The community decided to act immediately and do away with the gangs. They decided that the boys should be killed.

Different groups were formed and dispatched to various sections of the township to confront the gang members. The first person killed was an inyanga, James Magagula. People believed the gang had gained power from his “no fear muti”. In return gangs allegedly gave him body parts removed from their victims. Some of the murders did not involve robberies, but victims were found with certain body parts removed, enough evidence to convince the community that the inyanga had been working with the gang.

Those in the meeting, who knew where gang members lived, led the groups of vigilantes and pointed out targets. Men ran into the shacks, breaking the doors and pulling out boys. Some people, believed to be gang members, fled. A chase ensued. In some cases, the chase lasted over five kilometers.

Those who were caught were beaten with whatever could be turned into a weapon - sticks, stones, and sjamboks. After severely beating five of the suspected gang members, most believed to be from The Casanovas, and the inyanga, the bodies were burnt, some necklaced. The groups then dispersed.

A pall now hangs over the community. Kids point out the burnt shades of death on the road, yelling “La, la, la!” Two families of the killed opened cases with the police, claiming their children were wrongly killed.

Community members don’t want to speak about their role for fear of being labeled sell-outs. There is a fear that the gang will regroup, return, and attack anyone suspected to be involved in the mob justice, starting with known community leaders, but not sparing the innocent.

Yet there is still a determination to take the law into their own hands. People believe the police are scared of the gangs and have failed to curb crime. “It does not end here. There are still many of them out there,” said one source. DM

Photo: The scene where Inyanga, James Magagula, was burned to death in Khutsong.(Thaphelo Lekgowa)

  • G Nicolson & T Lekgowa
    G Nicolson & T Lekgowa
  • South Africa

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