Mozambican citizens mete out rough justice

With a lack of faith in the police seeming to have escalated in certain suburbs of the Mozambican capital, Maputo, citizens have lately resorted to taking the law into their own hands, and meting out rough justice to alleged criminals. This has resulted in a body count of more than 20 since August.

The ways in which lynchings are carried out range from beatings to burnings, with images of gruesomely burnt bodies becoming a regular feature in newspapers and on television channels.

However, burning seems to be the method of choice for rough justice in Zimpeto, north of Maputo, where most instances of mob justice have occurred.

Residents of this suburb claim they have resorted to lynching because police do not take appropriate action against alleged criminals.
Citizens are said to have caught criminals and handed them to the police, only to have the alleged wrongdoers put back on the streets—where some have apparently harassed and even murdered those who took them to police stations in the first place.

There are also indications that certain members of the police have aided and abetted criminals, renting out their guns and even participating in crimes. Officers have been caught perpetrating assaults in money exchanges and shops. Recently, police apparently gunned down two colleagues who were escorting a civilian carrying a large sum of money to the border with Swaziland. The unidentified police officers then made away with the money, and have yet to be found.

But late last month, Parliament was presented with a more positive view of the security situation, with Interior Minister José Pacheco telling legislators that “in general terms crime is under control”.

Questioned by parliamentarians on the spate of recent crimes where even police officers were targeted, Pacheco argued that these incidents may have resulted in “a false idea of insecurity”.

“In fact,” he added, “our country is stable and secure, despite situations that may sporadically arise.”

The only reference Pacheco made to the recent wave of lynchings in Maputo was to observe that “nobody is authorised to take the law into their own hands”.

Legislators and the ordinary citizens do not appear to agree with the minister’s assessment, however.

Eduardo Namburete of the main opposition party, Renamo, described statistics given by Pacheco as an attempt “to make us believe that crime is decreasing, but what we see is that every day there are people who are being shot—people found dead in the streets”.

“The government is incapable of controlling crime,” he added.

Alice Mabota, chairperson of the Human Rights League (LDH), agrees. “Everything indicates that the authorities have lost control of the situation,” she noted, adding that citizens “no longer believe that the existing powers can guarantee people’s security and punish all offenders”.

Mabota does not see the situation as hopeless. “We think it’s possible to persuade people not to take the law into their own hands,” she said.

But, establishing a public security policy that truly addressed the needs of all citizens would require considerable restructuring of the bodies charged with administration of justice, Mabota observed. She also said the LDH wants the government to purge bad apples from the police force.

For those living in Zimpeto the solution is clear: authorities must install a police station there and help train community patrol units, more than 300 residents told police during a recent gathering in the suburb. Otherwise, they would not end lynchings.—IPS

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