Mob killings in the Harare policing precinct in Khayelitsha in Cape Town were mostly sporadic, the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry heard on Monday.
Asked whether mob killings happened because people did not trust the police to act against criminals, former Harare police station commander Gert Nel said: "I don't agree with that for the simple reason that these incidents are sporadic."
Nel said he did not believe so-called bundu courts – where locals hold a trial and impose sanctions on alleged criminals – were common in his former policing precinct. "I never hear of …. such hearings taking place," Nel told the commission.
"All the incidents I'm aware of in Harare I can explain as spur of the moment incidents."
Nel said he had seen a man die in Enkanini informal settlement after being assaulted by an angry mob. "The condition of the person assaulted at that stage was serious. If the ambulance response was speedier, we would not have sat with a murder," he testified.
The police often had difficulty investigating cases of mob justice. "When arriving at these scenes, we almost catch the people in action, but with the arrival of the marked vehicles they disappear into the structures," Nel said.
"Witnesses don't want to identify anyone … it's like it's been committed by ghosts."
While so-called mob-justice attacks did occur in formal housing areas in Khayelitsha, it was more common in the informal settlements.
Nel denied relations between locals and police were strained.
The Social Justice Coalition, in complaint to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, claim that a lack of trust between communities and the South African Police Service had led to an apparent increase in mob justice killings.
Zille set up the commission following several complaints of police inefficiency in the Khayelitha area.
The commission started sitting again on Monday after almost a month's break in proceedings. – Sapa