When did Mob justice become normal? Do tribal customs triumph over legislation?

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On the road from Vivo to Louis Trichardt.

So today after work I went with my 4 year old to town to quickly get some gifts for a baby shower tomorrow morning. I love to teach my son the value of giving generously.

Normally going into town would be a happy event. Today, as soon as we reached downtown, one block away from the main street drama unfolded right before our eyes. A man was being pushed to the ground by an angry person. Soon several men where kicking him everywhere. Ribs, legs, head. Before I knew what was happening, a mob started forming, screaming angrily. The men started to kick the guy in his head, he was bleeding and I saw him loosing his consciousness.

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In this street, an angry mob of about 100 people formed within seconds right in front of me.

Suddenly more than a hundred of angry people shouted all around us. It all had happened so quickly, my heart felt like melting wax. All I could think about was how to get my son out of there as quick as possible.

A few moments later I was trying to calm down at the store I went to in order to buy baby garments for my friend.

My son luckily hadn’t really noticed too much of the scene. He just asked why the people where behaving badly. I promised him to find out what was going on.  If you think action movies are fast paced, try real life. It happened so quickly there was nothing one could have done. The same morning an African student who is in our church’s youth had posted a video on facebook where people in some village where apparently burned to dead alive. I didn’t watch it, I was just horrified of the kids posting this, the thought of somebody recording it with the cellphone, the barbaric terror of it all.

“Last week my village necklaced a thief”

Now there I stand, still shaking, at the queue to pay. I do what any woman probably does, I talk about it. I am the only white person in the store that afternoon. The guy behind me laughs at my report and says with a calm, assuring voice: “He probably stole something”. The till lady nods. “Yes he must have stolen something. Last week in my village they necklaced someone.

They put a tire around his neck and set it on fire for him to die. He had taken R 2000 (about 170 Dollars) ” She smiles kindly.

Imagine my feelings standing there. Hello. If you don’t know South Africa – it is a beautiful, intelligent, civilized (I thought so) nation with all the 1st world comforts and 3rd world challenged mixed into one big potjie (hot pot).

First world country.

I am not standing in the bush. I am at a till with make up displays and advertisements for elegant dresses and funeral policies.

Oh that’s why. The guy behind me is amused by my questioning looks. “Listen that’s how WE do this. It’s the law of blood. You steal, you pay with blood.”

I turn to my son: “Steven put that lipstick back. Don’t steal stuff darling.”

I am stopping at our school on my way back. Our handy men are still working on some gates. I mention the incident in town. They aren’t worried. “He probably stole something” is their answer.

My Zimbabwean coworker is preparing next weeks class. When I ask her if its normal, she smiles patiently. “He must have stolen something”.

Okay. I get it. After almost 8 years here in the country of freedom and reconciliation I still didn’t know that this is how we deal with thieves.

The legal system – too western?

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At the odds and ends store around the corner you can buy this little rich feller who wills squeak when you squeeze him.

Today #guptagate trended on twitter. A super-uber rich Indian family had a ridiculously fancy wedding party and since they have close links with the ruling party, the ANC, they got some special treatment…

Twenty flying squad members, 10 high-powered flying squad cars, as many as 40 members of the police counter-assault team and VIP protection unit and several armoured and specialised surveillance vehicles.

This is what taxpayers coughed up to protect more than 200 guests of a very rich Indian families wedding party.

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We are connecting local farmers who are willing to help with needy people and fetch the food and prepare it on site, like here for hungry Zimbabean refugees in Musina.

There is also controversy about the arrival at Waterkloof Air Force base of a passenger jet carrying wedding guests.

The civilian guests, who arrived at the air force base without being screened by customs officials, were whisked away in a convoy of white Range Rovers, protected by the large police detail, who clocked in at 5am.

A police officer who was involved in the operation and its planning said yesterday the security detail had been finalised last week already.

As many as 40 policemen from the counter-assault team and the VIP protection unit were ordered to escort five trucks from OR Tambo Airport to Sun City. Two of these apparently contained gifts for the wedding couple and dignitaries.

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In the end South Africa can not go on being wobbly about values anymore if we all want to live a fulfilled and happy life. Cooking the mielie pap (maize porridge)

“The CAT members used their armoured Humvees and specialised surveillance vehicles for the operation,” said the officer.

So our president is once more stealing from the taxpayers. After building a mansion the German politicians can only dream of (in my home country you get fired when you allow your aunt Anna to go on holiday in a government jet, in south Africa it’s commonplace) while it’s May and many kids still have NO schoolbooks (government has no money ?), what’s next … ?

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My husband Andries assessing the individual needs.

In our municipality, according to Afri-forum in the Soutpansberger newspaper, new, job-providing businesses can not be allowed to register because we do not have the infrastructure for it. Power cuts, no clean water, etc. No money for that. But boy oh boy, you should see the villas sprouting like mushrooms on top of the mountains.

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Choose the wise path, South Africa.

When confronted about this, the answer was: This is Africa. We do not do things the western way anymore.

I am sure there comes a day when president Zuma must decide: Does he want Western justice with a legal court, commission, hearing, investigations where all the tax money went, or should we rather deal with it the African way?

Youth killed in mob justice in limpopo

“Witch” set alight in Limpopo

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23 thoughts on “When did Mob justice become normal? Do tribal customs triumph over legislation?”

  1. What a world we live in! What shock and horror for you and anyone who cannot justify such treatment! I would agree with your last statement, yes…very quickly shaken!

    1. Unfortunately, the whole “diversity”movement provides a lot of “grey zones”. Instead of pushing everybody to comply to modern standards of education and civil procedures, we have to all come down to the lowest common denominator. Just recently, 30 boys died in initiation schools in the bush. The government feels they must subsidize “cultural heritage” by paying sangomas, medicine men. How very sad. The practice of circumcising teenage boys in the bush with a stone knife used to be abolished decades ago. Now there’s a way to spread AIDS….

  2. “This is Africa. We do not do things the western way anymore.”

    I doubt things were done in a western way, ever, in Africa. The “westerners” do things that way – and some Africans. Most don’t I think.

    “I am sure there comes a day when president Zuma must decide: Does he want Western justice with a legal court, commission, hearing, investigations where all the tax money went, or should we rather deal with it the African way?”

    Human justice isn’t for all. Zuma will likely never face it. There is a Judge in heaven. Before Him, all will stand to answer & without that justice, many will never face it at all – Hitler etc.

    A love for justice and righteousness is a mark of godly people. The love & mercy of God isn’t in the hearts of the killers, obviously, but they know that evil must be punished & some of the more severe punishments Israel had was potentially for the same reason. Deterrence. Not to condone what was done, obviously… but it’s something to think about.

    1. With wanting electricity, TV and cars comes the responsibility of maintaining infrastructure and designing entertaining programs that will uplift and educate, not break down. We can not want the benefits of civilization without accepting responsibility to create these benefits.
      Mob violence is not justice. It creates chaos, not order.

      1. I didn’t suggest mob violence is justice. I said people know justice is necessary – and I considered some of the severe punishments that I’m faced with in dealing with apologetics around “should disobedient teenagers be stoned” – which is an extreme example & may possibly never have actually been enacted as a punishment, potentially only as a deterrant. What happens when crime goes unpunished? Society typically, I think, is more faced with “underpunishment” rather than “overpunishment”. Granted, as I said, I don’t condone what was done.

        “comes the responsibility of maintaining infrastructure and designing entertaining programs that will uplift and educate, not break down”

        Yes. Responcibility. Well, I’ve lived in Africa all my life. I don’t expect the same – maybe I’m realistic, maybe I just don’t want to hope for something more than the typical pattern. There is spiritual reasons behind how Africa, “lacks blessing”, to put it that way. Guess that would be aiming to far in a short reply.

      2. Thanks for taking the time to reply once again. It is not easy to avoid misunderstandings on the medium of a blog and a comment. Convictions that took a lifetime to develop aren’t easy conveyed in a few sentences.
        I did not grow up in Africa. My German upbringing provided me with strong work ethics and an appreciation for education. So I am in for a perpetual culture shock in Africa. To ask the same moral standards and performance of everybody could you quickly get labeled as a racist – social suicide! But I do wonder. Isn’t saying “Ag shame, you guys don’t know better, we cannot expect you to work to the same standards as everybody else in the international community” the real racism here?
        Africa shames herself in the international community. Instead of blaming others and staying the special needs child of the world, adapting a culture of cultivating, educating and working hard to better oneself should be adapted. That would be revival, right.

  3. Well, if our justice system fails to deal with criminals, then the citizens will take the law into their own hands…

    1. Justice can never been done out of emotion. Anger and group dynamics prevent true justice to happen and lead to decay of society. Our police needs better training to protect the citizens from criminals. But the public loses hope when they see that high officials get away with extreme cases of fraud and illegal activities.

    1. There are so many people here who would love a change. An African lady told me today: Us women, we understand the value of a human life. We carry a baby for 9 month in us and give birth under pain. Men do not value life like we do. They do not care for tomorrow, they do not need to think about what will the children eat. … Africa is also it’s women and children. A lot of Western so-called “tolerance” says just leave them to themselves. Let them fight, do not force western morals on them. I believe people are people, and women and children are together much more than 50% of a nations people! They do not want the suffering just because all of us are too scared to address the men who behave like spoiled toddlers … But yeas, I do dream of letting my boys grow up in a world where they can just roam around freely and nobody would kidnap or harm them …

  4. Wow. I am totally blindsided. My dad worked at a company when I was younger and he had a strong offer to be transferred to South Africa. I probably would have wanted to go. My mom never said no to my dad that I can remember but she fought him on that one. We never moved. But somehow I feel akin to you and that story knowing that I might have been there once upon a time. Prayers to your family for safe keeping and thank you for opening my eyes a little wider! I loved your last reply:The thin veneer of civilization. This globe’s equilibrium can quickly be shaken
    Powerful!

    1. Thanks Diane for your encouraging reply! Life might be different for expats living in the big cities surrounded b glitz and fashion. Those of us who do charity and development work in the rural areas do see a very different South Africa. We need to continue to pray for our nations, there are strange forces at work these days. I find myself often wondering why it increasingly becomes wrong to have maral standarts, why work ethis are called “western” implying something evil and why societies can not work according to achievement anymore but surpass the hard working one in order to give a less equipped person a higher position. I grew up in a communist nation and thought we had left that kind of logic behind. Its probably just me…

  5. This piece was very unsettling for me. It confirmed my inability to fully process the glaring Hollywood-style wealth I saw in Sandton with the overflowing poverty of Alex township right down the road — or the isolated, sad settlement my “son” lives in several miles away. I found it hard to reconcile the ostentatious malls of Mandela Square (a poor use of his name) with people who have no running water or bathrooms or electricity, and schools with no books. Aside from isolated pockets in Appalachia and the Deep South, we don’t have such gaping disparity in the US, and even they have electricity and water.
    I was surprised to learn recently that Oscar Pistorious’s fate will only be determined by a judge, and that SA does not have trial by jury. Is this true? One of the cornerstones of the American justice system is a trial by your peers. Every citizen is called for jury duty, and takes the responsibility seriously. Perhaps if South Africans sat on a jury and saw the process, there would be less horrifying vigilante justice.
    Sigh… such a lovely country and people with such epic problems.

    1. Thank you so much for your caring reply. It is, after 8 years, still impossible for me to fully grasp how South Africa “ticks”. My husband is involved with the local citizen forum that meets regularly with the municipality, discussing how tax payers money should be used. When inquiring about the horrible amount of sewage in tap water they found the minicipality had lost the map of the sewage pipes and can’t repair a leak that’s been polluting the ground water for more than 6 months now. Tenders for building larger water reservoirs go to 6 year old ! Family members of ANC officials who obviously can not engineer new reservoirs. Confronted about this, the answer is: we do not work the western way. “Western” is so often an excuse to not have proper work ethics and to allow corruption. This mindset is frustrating especially because regarding personal luxuries, all the western comforts are more than welcome. No ANC official lives “the African way” in their private homes but struggle to accept the responsibilities that come with progress.

      1. Interesting. I had a conversation recently with someone over there who referred to “African time” when I lamented my SA son regularly not doing all I ask of him as a mentor. It seemed to be offered with mixed meaning, one being that “Well, yes you’re right.” and the other being “Well, we are not as stressed as you demanding Americans.”
        I, for one, would rather have the “stress” of needing to perform at a high level (which really isn’t that stressful) as opposed to the stress of things not getting done or only being done halfway on laid-back “African time.” In a country with so much ground to make up, there should be more drive and personal accountability. Why be relaxed and laid back if your drinking water is filled with sewage?
        And if you’re coming from Germany, the epitome of workhorse productivity, SA must drive you crazy! 😉

      2. He these prejudices I am trying to bridge. Wesure can concentrate on atask in Germany, but just in order to play hard later. Germans have generally 21 to28 work days a year paid leave what makes us the worlds traveling nation no 1… Effective work has its perks and you are totally right, this bugs me. To see the unneccessary struggles due to lack of morals and expertise in the country. 20 years down the line a lot still gets blamed on Aparteid. TV soaps are the nations biggest educator. Creating a mindset shift is slow, tedious groundwork.

    1. What startled me was that nobody felt the guy deserved a legal procedure. Self justice seemed to surge like it was constantly there, right under the surface, ready to erupt like an angry volcano. I had no idea it was like that. But often I wonder why things feel so aggressive lately.

      1. Yip. Where else would u buy baby clothes while the shop assistant is telling u someone was burned alive in her village and she thought it was quite appropriate.

      2. The thin veneer of civilization. This globe’s equilibrium can quickly be shaken…

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