[notice]In a letter to the editor published in the Eastern Province Herald today, Pastor Afrika Mhlophe speaks out against vigilantism such as an incident last week when an angry Port Elizabeth mob stoned a suspected child rapist to death. This is what he wrote. [/notice]
As South Africans we come from a very painful and fractured past and it is possibly one of the causes for the high crime levels and violence we are experiencing today. I sometimes wonder if we have adequately dealt with our past and the psychological scarring it has left on South Africans. We come from a time where we had to fight the evil of apartheid. This system was the enemy of the people and anyone who was seen to be collaborating with it, was mercilessly killed and sometimes this included people who were wrongly accused. Vigilantism or the type of justice where community members take the law into their own hands, as they have just done in New Brighton recently, does not take us forward but rather backwards. Now we must state up front that the alleged sexual assault and rape of a 9 year old girl but her older brother is a shame and a pain which we all share. All right-thinking should stand up against such evil perpetuated against vulnerable members of our society. That a young child should suffer like this for such a prolonged time is an affront to our morals.
People cite the failings of the justice system as their reasons for taking matters into their hands. We cannot deny that a lot needs to be done to improve our justice system but at the same time one wrong cannot correct another. Justice that is meted by an angry mob without due diligence is actually injustice. In this case the people appoint themselves as the judge, jury and executioner. What happens in cases of mistaken identity? What if someone who has a score to settle with you falsely accuses of a crime? Who decides who lives and who dies? Really, if someone is accused by angry community members of committing a crime, is there a leader in that mob who leads evidence for and against the accused? Are there mechanisms to ascertain guilt or innocence or is it just a race to throw the first stone? What about forgiveness and rehabilitation or even the possibility of the offender given an opportunity to restore and repay? Even the so-called biblical concept of an eye for an eye had to have a priest to evaluate the case and he called for witnesses before deciding the merits of the case.
Lastly, the spectre of someone being killed by a crowd which possibly includes men, women and children mars our society and feeds into the cycle of violence. Taking someone’s life, for whatever reasons, is not our right but God’s. We are angry and have every right to be but we must not kill killers because then we stoop to their level and become like them. What do we do with children, including this 9 year old victim, who witness such gruesome acts? Aren’t we baptising them into violence and raising another generation of violent and callous individuals? What about the families of these accused individuals? They are the ones left to pick up the corpse of a loved one killed and sometimes dismembered by the unknown angry and merciless mob. Remember this son or brother or uncle or father, was not raised to be a criminal. Mine is not an academic diatribe because I have endured the pain of having a loved one killed by an unknown mob which accused him of theft. Burying a relative whose corpse is almost unrecognizable owing to the violent manner he was tortured and killed leaves a permanent scar in someone’s psyche. I have faced this and I have faced the trauma of being a victim of crime, on numerous occasions. If criminals bring out the worst that is in us, then is it not time for us to deal with that inherent evil we possess so that when we are provoked we may not respond in an uncontrolled manner?
Please people of Nelson Mandela Metro. We appeal that this anger be channeled into improving community structures that will work to reduce the high crime levels. Let us all work together with our Community Polcing Forums’s and the Justice Department so that we plug the holes that exist in the justice system. We pray for calm and God’s comfort to all victims of crime.