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Judicial CP - May 1999


Guardian Weekly, Manchester, UK, 23 May 1999

S African vigilantes dispense rough justice

By Chris McGreal in Dendron

MONHLE MAGOLEGO concedes that his men might have gone too far with the crocodiles, but it has done wonders for his organisation's reputation.

Mr Magolego, a black businessman, is the founder of South Africa's biggest vigilante group. This month five of his members were arrested for throwing a couple of alleged thieves into a river swarming with crocodiles. They were hauled out before they became lunch, but were flogged and tortured with electric shocks to their genitals for several days before being dumped at a police station.

Mr Magolego insists that his vigilantes have been ordered to limit themselves to giving captured criminals a good whipping, preferably at a public gathering.

"This is the African way of stopping crime," he says. "It doesn't work if you just arrest a criminal and hand him over to the police ... He is happy to stay in jail and get three meals a day. We apply our African methods of punishment. We don't spare the rod."

Vigilantism has risen sharply in the past year. Since the police seem incapable of curbing crime, citizens have taken to castrating rapists and thrashing thieves. National television recently filmed the brutal flogging of a group of accused rapists near Cape Town.

The vigilantes are best organised in the north, where Mr Magolego founded Mapogo-a-Mathamaga -- a title taken from the Sotho proverb: "when a leopard is confronted by a tiger it becomes a tiger itself" -- after six businessmen were murdered in his township.

He claims 35,000 members in more than 80 branches. Family membership costs 165 rand ($28) a year. Taking part in beatings is optional, but all members are expected to come to the aid of others.

The most recent branch was launched in the Northern province town of Dendron after the local leader, Chief Monthata, called in Mapogo to curb a crime wave. He said people had given up on the police.

Mr Magolego, "president" of the Mapogo organisation, speaks of curing the disease of crime. He claims to have reduced crime in areas where Mapogo is active. Privately the police conceded that he is right, but they condemn him for conducting a "reign of terror". Several Mapogo members have been arrested and accused of kidnapping, torture and assault.

Mr Magolego says his critics are doing his vigilantism no harm at all. "If they speak ill of Mapogo, if they tell terrible stories about Mapogo, I like that. It'll scare the criminals."

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