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SOWETAN | Are cops prepared for community uprisings?

Kagiso residents raid open veld for zama zamas, stripping and beating young men naked.
Kagiso residents raid open veld for zama zamas, stripping and beating young men naked.
Image: VELI NHLAPO

It was only a matter of time before we saw the scenes that unfolded in Kagiso yesterday. Residents organised themselves into groups and stormed into the veld, armed with sticks.

They grabbed young men believed to be zama-zamas, stripped them naked, lined them up on the side of the road and beat them up. Then police were called to come and pick them up.

And so began a game of cat and mouse where a raging mob moved from one area to the next, raiding and tearing down shacks and structures believed to be housing zama- zamas.

Officials say one person died while some members of the community put the figure at three. More illegal miners were arrested and heavy weapons confiscated. The uprising by these residents is retaliation against the terror communities are subjected to by illegal miners, many of whom are undocumented foreigners who have unleashed unspeakable brutality on locals for several years.

The events of yesterday were also sparked in no small part by the gang-rape of eight young women in Krugersdorp last week. Let’s be clear – the anger from these communities is completely justifiable.

Not only have they been tormented relentlessly by these gangs, the police have been unable to protect them, let alone push back against organised crime in any meaningful way. However, with tensions so high, we are mindful that there is a thin line between communities standing up against crime, helping law enforcement to bring criminals to book and actually committing acts of vigilantism that can only lead to the situation spiralling out of control.

We have been here many times before and history has taught us that there can never be justice in the midst of chaos. While they displayed a show of force in some parts of the West Rand throughout the week, police and security forces appeared thinly stretched and unable to have adequate command of the situation yesterday.

We are concerned that there are already signs that these community uprisings may spread to other areas under siege from zama-zamas.

As we approach the weekend, we must therefore ask how prepared is our law enforcement machinery to stay ahead of the curve and to help avoid unnecessary bloodshed and more death?

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