Khayelitsha faces fresh vigilante, police problems

Gang vigilantism has plagued the Social Justice Coalition, and police have allegedly joined in by beating up teenage gangs. (David Harrison, M&G)

Gang vigilantism has plagued the Social Justice Coalition, and police have allegedly joined in by beating up teenage gangs. (David Harrison, M&G)

"Just hang on, residents are attacking a man in front of my eyes, can you phone back in a few minutes?" a researcher at the Khayelitsha-based Social Justice Coalition (SJC), requesting anonymity, told the Mail & Guardian.

He was standing outside the SJC office in Green Point, one of the suburbs of the sprawling township, on Wednesday morning.

A few minutes later he was explaining that a resident accused of stealing money had been beaten by four men with bricks and hit with one of their cars. The man managed to flee to a nearby primary school. The police, whom he had alerted, arrived, did not make any arrests, and left, he said.

The attack is part of a surge in mob justice in the township, where at least 18 vigilante mob killings have happened in the last 10 months.
The coalition says residents have lost faith in the police to keep them safe and in desperation are taking the law into their own hands.

It’s been a tough week for the SJC.

The coalition has been very vocal about another problem plaguing the township – the rise in teen gang violence – and the reason for the M&G's call. The problem, which has been well reported in the media, appears to have taken a recent, grave turn.

The SJC member and an SJC volunteer allege that police are now attacking gang members and innocent bystanders to the gang fights.

Gunshots
On Tuesday night at around 8.30pm, the SJC member was watching tv in his Green Point home, when he heard three gunshots.

"I went outside and saw some teenagers running down the road … then I heard another three shots." He followed a police vehicle down the road to an open field across which about 10 teens were fleeing.

"Two policemen got out of the van, grabbed one of the boys and started beating him with water pipes right in front of me," he said.

"He managed to run for a few metres but they caught him and beat him again. I couldn't stop the policemen because I feared for my safety. I tried to see if there were other teenagers around who I could talk to but they had all run away. I tried to take photos but it was too dark."

Likhona Njamela, an SJC volunteer, said she and a group of Green Point residents watched police beat teenage gang members with water pipes when they would not leave the area on Friday night.

"They wanted to beat everyone who was on the scene. We told them 'no guys, you can't do this'. The residents were angry and started throwing stones at the police van," she said.

She said she told the policemen, "I know the law, you can't beat these kids, all you must do is put them in the van."

"They told me I always talk too much and said they would shoot teargas at me.

"There was another lady standing nearby and the police wanted to go in and search her house. When she asked why, they went right up and started pointing [at] her in her face."

Police inefficiency
The SJC has been instrumental in the institution of a commission of inquiry into Khayelitsha police, appointed by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in August. The commission has been instructed to investigate police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations between them and the Khayelitsha community. The two SJC volunteers will make statements about what they witnessed at the commission's public hearings, due to start next month.

Khayelitsha police had not responded to the M&G' s questions at the time of publication.

Last week two SJC activists were arrested for allegedly kidnapping and murdering a man they had apparently been trying to rehabilitate.

Angy Peter and Isaac Mbadu had tried to help Simphiwo Mbevu to stop doing crime, according to Gavin Silber, coordinator of the coalition. The pair, who have four children together, had even, more than once, stopped angry residents from killing Mbevu.

Silber said there were fears the arrest of his colleagues could have been the work of a rogue police officer, whom Peter had reported to police for his alleged involvement in crime. But nobody knows if this is true, as the SJC does not yet have details of the allegations against Peter and Mbadu, or know what evidence the state had against them.

After receiving evidence of Mbevu's criminal links with a crime intelligence officer in the area, the couple opened a case against him and the officer, an SJC statement read. This was followed by threats against Peter and Mbadu and their move to a safe house.

A founding member of the coalition, Peter has "witnessed police and criminal justice failure in communities while senior politicians and police officials are able to get away with very serious crime", according to the statement.

"Vigilante violence can never be condoned and allegations of involvement by SJC members are taken very seriously", it said, but "it is tragic that these two leaders now stand accused of serious crimes that they have worked tirelessly to prevent".

The couple deny all the charges against them.

A bail hearing has been set for November 1.

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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