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Springs residents protest against violent vigilantes

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Police say there’s no evidence that the gang being targeted by the vigilantes exists

Photo of woman on burnt spot
Maria Sibanyoni stands on the spot where her son’s shack used to be. Vigilantes burnt it down last week. Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro
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Residents of Kwathema Extension Three in Springs protested on Tuesday against a group of vigilantes who they believe are out of control. The protesters burnt tyres and blocked roads.

Their protest follows events of last week Wednesday, when residents from other sections of Kwathema burnt down four shacks and harassed people in Extension Three. The vigilantes claimed that members of a crime gang called Boko Haram live in Extension Three.

But police say there’s no evidence that the gang, apparently named after the West African terrorist group, even exists.

Tuesday’s protesters said they were alerted that the vigilantes would be coming back this week to finish their “operation cleanup” against the Boko Haram gang.

The vigilantes alleged that the Boko Haram gang travelled around on horseback and that it was behind the disappearance of children and other crimes such as rape and theft reported in Kwathema and other townships, protesters said.

“The mob wreaked havoc, burning shacks. They beat up every young man they came across. Some victims were hospitalised. The thought of them coming back is terrifying,” said Bongani Mathe a community representative and resident of Extension Three.

Maria Sibanyoni, 62, said she was taking a noon nap last week Wednesday. She heard banging around her shack. Suddenly her door flew open and a group of people wearing masks and holding weapons stormed inside. They demanded to be told where her 18-year-old son was. They alleged that he was a member of Boko Haram.

“I was too terrified to speak. They pulled me out the shack and surrounded me. Some threatened to stab me. When l asked them what l had done they said l had given birth to a monster.”

Sibanyoni claims they then set the shack in which her son slept alight. After realising that he was not in it, the vigilantes left. They also took a horse belonging to a neighbour, Moses Mthombeni which was grazing outside the yard. The mob alleged that Sibanyoni’s son rode the horse during the alleged crimes.

The horse was later rescued by some community members, she said.

The vigilantes also burnt a shack belonging to Mthombeni. A baby sleeping inside one of the torched shacks was rescued by neighbours.

Both Sibanyoni and Mthombeni said cell phones were stolen during the raid.

Another resident, Nick Mbatha, said they attacked his son and a friend, accusing them of being members of the gang. They also burnt a shack on his premises and everything inside it. “The funny thing is that they were not sure whom they were after. They operated on rumours. Our sons are not members of any gang,” said Mbatha.

Khulumahakutengwa Mkize is currently at Polosong hospital after a shack was set ablaze while he was inside. He was accused of selling Nyaope to the members of Boko Haram.

“My brother is fighting for his life. We do not know if he will survive,” said Kwenzekile Mkize. He was badly burnt, she said.

A meeting was subsequently held between community members, police and a representative from the Kwathema council to try and resolve the matter. Another meeting will be held on Wednesday.

Constable Media Khoza of Kwathema Police Station said: “The community took the law into their own hands, causing instability and instilling fear. Those involved in promoting criminal activities will be harshly dealt with.”

Khoza also said that no cases have been reported linked to the alleged “Boko Haram” gang and that there was no concrete evidence of its existence.

No arrests have been made, she said.

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TOPICS:  Policing

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