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UNOFFICIAL JUDICIAL CORPORAL PUNISHMENT

Video clip: Vigilante whipping, South Africa, 1999

Alleged rapists rounded up for whipping

With comments by C. Farrell



South Africa

This 5-minute film consists of extracts from a 1999 TV documentary, The Limp Wrist of the Law, by Adri Kotzé, about the perceived incapacity of the official police and judicial system to deal with crime in the urban townships around Cape Town.

The footage shows a number of young men being rounded up and severely whipped for an alleged gang rape. The rape victim herself was one of those wielding the sjambok. What was unusual about this vigilante beating was that the whole thing was filmed for television, and the case thus gained some notoriety, as explained in a newspaper article as follows:

In the townships, people have learnt to rely on a more informal form of vigilante justice. 'The taxi guys are very powerful,' explained one young man who had recently used their services to recover stolen property. 'They're the people who don't give a shit.'

The mini-bus taxi routes between the townships and Cape Town are traditionally lucrative, and rival operators have fought spectacularly bloody battles for control. The drivers acquired a fearful reputation as de facto elders -- and so have come to function in some communities as the arbiters of local justice.

This is an example of taxi vigilantism in action. A teenage girl on the Cape Flats was gang raped last year, and her family took her to the local taxi people. The young culprits she named were swiftly rounded up, and a makeshift kangaroo court followed, where the girl identified the rapists. The youths, barely more than boys, were stripped naked, tied up, and the girl was handed a sjambok and urged to give them a whipping. A TV crew filmed the whole affair, and harrowing footage of the boys screaming and bleeding caused a minor stir in liberal circles when it was broadcast.

-- Decca Aitkenhead, Rough Justice, The Observer, London, 28 May 2000. EXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window

As noted in Section 11 of our feature article Judicial Corporal Punishment in South Africa, the country has a long history of extrajudicial CP. The best-known vigilante group in modern times, Mapogo a Mathamaga, has often explicitly stated that it concentrates its whippings on the offender's bare buttocks. In the present case, however, the procedure was more rough-and-ready: the alleged offenders were simply roped together and lashed indiscriminately all over their naked bodies.

As Ms Aitkenhead points out, some viewers will find these scenes distasteful. Nevertheless, there could be little sympathy with those being punished, if they really did gang-rape the girl. Quite probably they did. The difficulty (from the point of view of upholding the rule of law) is that, in the absence of any proper court hearing with due process, the offence of rape had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt and, for all we know, the wrong youths might have been rounded up.

HERE IS THE CLIP:

IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with the original copyright holders. This brief excerpt is reproduced under the "fair use" doctrine EXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. It must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.




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