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When the long arm of the law falls short

PINI BOTHOKO
At the public's hands: Pictures and videos of the incident have gone viral
Mob justice is inevitable where society feels the law is letting criminals get away with far too much. In such cases, otherwise law-abiding citizens decide to physically vent their frustrations with the justice system. Staff Writer, PINI BOTHOKO observes

Escalating crime levels, particularly offences against innocent victims, combined with the impunity criminals seem to enjoy, are stoking the flames of public outrage across the country.

There is a persistent perception that the police arrest suspects and the courts are quick to release them on bail. Members of the public have been shocked in recent times when the perpetrators of nightmare crimes have turned out to be “multiple bail” offenders. The disconnect between the people, the justice system and law enforcement has been widening and Batswana are apparently more willing than ever before to take the law into their own hands.

The recent killing of a habitual petty thief by a mob in Mogoditshane has reignited national debate about crime, criminal impunity and the lengths Batswana are willing to go in fighting back.

Last Sunday an angry mob at the peri-urban village caught the smash and grab thief of Moshupa, popularly known as Xolani, in the act and assaulted him to death. The 23-year-old’s death has stirred debate across social media platforms where pictures and an alleged video have gone viral.

Alleged to have stolen something at Senthumole ward, the young man was trying to escape when the furious mob caught up with him. Police confirmed the deceased was a habitual thief who had been terrorising the community for some time. At the time of his death, “Xolani” was on bail for a number of robberies, police said.

The majority of those commenting on the young man’s death are supportive of mob justice and vigilantism, a fact that appears to point to frustrations amongst Batswana over crime.

“If the system fails the result is what we see; people taking the law into their hands. This is dangerous for any country, people should trust their law enforcement officers otherwise the result is what is gradually becoming the norm,” one Facebook user posted.

Mogoditshane is an area primed for mob justice. The village has been targeted by all sorts of criminals with law-abiding citizens living in fear irrespective of whether it is day or night. Rape, murder, armed robbery, burglary and assaults have become the order of the day in the village.

Attacks happen even inside public transport vehicles such as buses and taxis, helpless victims

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attacked, taunted and insulted while on their daily commutes.

More and more, community members are defending themselves by adopting the vigilant approach.

However, the law does not shield citizens when they participate in mob justice. There are grey areas in terms of how far a person can go in dealing with a criminal.

Police Service spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Dipheko Motube says Section 16 of the Penal Code allows an individual to defend themselves and their property by using “reasonable force”.

“For example, if it happens that people are forced to defend themselves, if an intruder attacks them holding a knife they cannot bring a gun. If that person runs away you are not allowed to shoot.

“That is the reasonable force we are talking about.

“As the police, we are totally against mob justice. He who alleges must prove before court which is why we do the arrest so that cases can go to trial.”

According to Motube, the law does provide for citizens’ arrest of criminals and while the police appreciate any help they can get, Batswana should never break law in their efforts against crime.

“Petty criminals are a concern countrywide but we are calling on the public to be patient and allow us to conduct our mandate of protecting them and their property. “Members of the public should help us locate and arrest those criminals not take the law into their hands because doing so is a serious offence.”

Asked about the public’s frustrations with the justice system such as the issue of suspects receiving multiple bail, Motube preferred the diplomatic response.

“Our mandate ends with the arrest of the criminals. We do not know anything about bail. Bail exists under the law in our judicial system and we are not against it as the police.”

Privately, senior police have expressed frustrations about the seemingly lax bail legislation that seasoned criminals easily abuse.

The previous Justice minister, Shaw Kgathi had begun a process to tighten the laws around bail, but to date no amendments have been taken to Parliament.

Batswana, meanwhile, are unlikely to change their minds about mob justice, particularly as police admit that few people have ever been arrested for participating in such acts, even when the assault ends in death.



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