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South Africa: Man joins vigilante mob, which burns his son alive

Gang ActivitySouth AfricaAfricaCentral Intelligence Agency

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — On Sunday morning, the residents of Khutsong, a township west of Johannesburg, decided they were fed up with crime and gangsters. A crowd gathered in a local stadium near the township to decide what to do about youth gangs named Casanovas, the Vandals and the Creatures.

Accusations were made. The crowd became a mob.

Simon Khumalo, 57, a Khutsong resident, joined in. The crowd, estimated by police at 400, split into groups to hunt down young "gangsters" alleged to have been terrorizing the community.

There was no doubt in anyone's mind what would happen when the mobs, armed with machetes and sticks, found their targets.

By Monday, at least six people had been killed, four of them beaten and burned alive, and two stoned to death, according to police. One of the first to die was a 61-year-old sangoma or traditional healer, James Magagula, who was accused of helping the Casanova gang by giving them traditional medicine to make them powerful.

Some reports suggested he was the father of a gangster and was implicated in the killing of a member of a rival gang. A mob surrounded his house and set it alight, with the old man inside, according to South African police.

It's South Africa's gruesome new twist on the "necklacing" of the apartheid era, when men suspected to be spies or collaborators were burned to death, often by having tires full of gasoline tied around their necks and set on fire.

Vigilante killings are common in South African townships, where communities feel that police don't respond quickly or effectively enough to crimes.

On Sunday, Simon Khumalo was at one end of Khutsong hunting down suspects, according to South African media. In another part of Khutsong, Extension Three, another mob was rampaging, shouting and waving their machetes and sticks.

Local residents locked themselves into their houses at the sight of the mob, one witness, Liziwe Mbaxa, 48, told South Africa's Star newspaper. But the mob spotted Simon Khumalo's son, Akhona, 24, and a 23-year-old friend, Mojalefa Maleho.

The pair ran.

Mbaxa said they knocked on her door but she was too afraid of the vigilantes to open it. She said they jumped over the fence and ran next door to Maleho's grandfather's house. The vigilantes burst into Mbaxa's house and searched the place, lifting up the beds to make sure the pair weren't hiding there.

“They found them next door and I just heard glass breaking,” Mbaxa said. “I saw them dragging them on the ground and beating them up. It was so terrible. It reminded me of the violence in Boipatong in the 1990s," she said, referring to the massacre of 46 supporters of the African National Congress by members of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

“After beating them, they sent someone to buy paraffin and doused them with it, put a tire on them and set them alight,” Mbaxa said.

Simon Khumalo's other son, Desmond, called him to tell him of the attack. Khumalo arrived at Extension Three to find his son's burned corpse.

"While I was at the other side of the township, my older son phoned to say my son was being burned. I have never seen a more terrible scene in my life," he told the populist tabloid Daily Sun newspaper, which ran a front page headline "Necklaced!"

“If they trusted me, they would have told me that my child was on the list of the people they were looking for. They did not even tell me they had killed him, I only arrived there to find the ashes,” he told the Star.

Maleho had been released on parole earlier in the year after spending 18 months in jail for robbery. His mother, Esther Maleho, 49, ran home from church when she heard there was trouble, but she arrived too late.

"I was in church when my daughter phoned to tell me my son had been set alight. I rushed home to find him lying dead with smoke coming from his body," she said.

She said he was not a gang member, but was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

No arrests have been made, with many residents complicit in the killings and witnesses unwilling to report what they saw to police.

Two days before the attacks, the Daily Sun, which targets a mass black readership, ran a story on gang violence in Khutsong. It quoted a local police commander, Melinda Prinsloo, blaming the court system for releasing juvenile members of gangs into their parents' custody.

On Tuesday the Daily Sun reported that some Khutsong residents believed those killed deserved what they got.

One 32-year-old who claimed to have taken part told the paper, "What we did on Sunday is a sample of what the community is prepared to do." He declined to give his name. "We have held meetings and we have agreed to end this gangsterism by punishing them ourselves."

The Sun reported another unnamed resident saying, "If the police let them go because they are under age, we will make sure they pay for their sins. We will burn them with tires as we did on Sunday."

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Twitter: @latimesdixon

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Gang ActivitySouth AfricaAfricaCentral Intelligence Agency
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