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Judicial CP - May 2000

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Mail and Guardian, Johannesburg, 9 May 2000

Vigilante group faces split

South Africa's biggest vigilante group, Mapogo a Matamaga, is split over its policy of sjambokking suspected criminals.

By Evidence Wa Ka Ngobeni

Monhle MagolegoDictator? Monhle Magolego, leader of Mapogo a Matamaga, which has a policy of sjambokking suspected criminals

SENIOR members of South Africa's biggest vigilante group, Mapogo a Matamaga, want the notorious organisation to abandon its hallmark policy of viciously sjambokking suspected criminals.

The Mapogo members have accused its controversial president, Monhle Magolego, an enthusiastic proponent of corporal punishment, of behaving like a dictator. They say the unlawful beating of suspected criminals has discredited the crime-busting organisation and seriously damaged its relationship with the police and the government. Some of the Mapogo dissidents have started their own organisation, which claims it does not beat suspects.

The senior members who want to stop the beatings are mainly from Mapogo's branches in Sekhukhuneland, one of the group's strongholds. One senior member of Mapogo attached to a Sekhukhune branch said Magolego is "dictatorial", while another said Magolego "thinks Mapogo is his own personal organisation and uses it for his own benefit".

Other Mapogo members have expressed concern about Magolego's alliance with right-wing farmers last year. Mapogo has registered gun-wielding farmers in the Northern Province and North West, and has launched a branch in the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging heartland of Ventersdorp.

But Magolego last week called his critics "cowards" and recommended they form their own organisation. "This is the group that started Mapogo with me. They know they have failed." He adds that he is aware of two factions within his organisation.

Magolego says he will not stop "giving criminals medicine. Until they come up with another method of dealing with crime, Mapogo won't stop its method." Mapogo a Matamaga means "When a leopard is attacked by a tiger it turns into a tiger itself."

Magolego adds: "As for these guys, they must just start their own organisation. They are criminals. That is why they are against my organisation. They also know that we know how to deal with criminals."

Mapogo organises vicious floggings for suspected criminals in the towns in which it operates. It claims a membership of at least 50 000, some of whom are wealthy businesspeople and farmers. All members pay an annual subscription of R100 to R10 000 for its "service", which is advertised on billboards attached to members' property. Magolego readily admits that he believes in "medicine", which involves sjambokking suspected criminals "to cure them of their bad ways". More than 20 people have died in the hands of Mapogo since 1996 and hundreds have suffered brutal attacks in the hands of Mapogo floggers, more than 30 of whom -- including Magolego -- currently face various charges of murder, attempted murder, abduction and assault.

Magolego's critics say they asked the provincial Department of Safety and Security to take action against Magolego at a meeting in March. A representative of the safety and security department, Serobe Maja, confirmed top managers in the department met with businesspeople from the Sekhukhune-Nebo areas in March, but said the businesspeople had not presented themselves as Mapogo members.

Officials in the northern province government say the African National Congress-led administration has refused to interfere in the group's activities and has ordered police to sever all contact with Mapogo.

Maja said his department does not have a special unit or officials who monitor vigilantes in the province. "All crimes by vigilantes are dealt with by the police's murder and robbery unit," Maja said.

In February the ANC issued an ultimatum ordering its members to resign from the vigilante group after it emerged that schools, clinics and regional government offices in Tzaneen had paid "protection levies" to Mapogo in an attempt to combat theft and vandalism. However, the provincial governments and police in Mpumalanga and the Northern Province -- Mapogo's two strongholds -- have made no concerted effort to clamp down on the organisation's activities since its inception in 1996, apart from occasionally charging Magolego and his henchmen with assault or attempted murder. One of the groups of disgruntled Mapogo members has started its own crime-fighting wing called Sekhukhuni se Bonaa ke Sebataladi, Sotho for "If you do things while you think you are hiding, be warned that somebody is watching you."

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