“I saw a group of people coming to my house. They were armed with pangas, kieries and shovels. When they got near the house, they said they wanted to kill me. Some came towards me with pangas.”
Abel Nkabinde of Leandra told this story. He was lucky that day. His friends chased the gang away. But Abel is not alone. Gangs, or vigilantes as people call them, are attacking more and more people all around South Africa.
In Leandra the vigilantes call themselves “Inkatha” – they are not part of Buthelezi’s Inkatha. In other townships vigilantes have different names – the A-Team in Tumahole, the Pakathis in Thabong, the Amabutho in Durban, the Mbhokhoto in KwaNdebele and the ‘fathers’ in Cape Town.
All the vigilantes say the same thing – they are bringing ‘law and order’ to the townships. But the people say the vigilantes have only brought fear and terror. They have only brought suffering and death.
DOING THE DIRTY WORK
People say the vigilantes started when the police and army could not stop the unrest. They say the vigilantes are doing the polices dirty work. The vigilantes do not attack gangsters – they only attack people who are against the government.
In Moutse, the vigilantes attacked the people who did not want to be part of KwaNdebele. In Leandra and Huhudi, the vigilantes attacked people who did not want the community Council. They attacked the people who started their own committees.
In Umlazi, in Natal, the ‘Amabutho’ wanted to burn the houses of people who belonged to Cosas and the UDF. In New Crossroads near Cape Town, the ‘fathers’ beat the ‘maqabane’ because ‘maqabane’ said people must boycott white shops.
And in Thabong and Tumahole in the Free State, the vigilantes beat the children who were boycotting classes.
THE VIGILANTES AND THE COUNCILLORS
In some places, people say the vigilantes work closely with the community councils. In Thabong the vigilantes used development board cars when they took people away.
In Huhudi, vigilantes beat up members of the Huhudi Civic Association in the shop of a community councillor. In Thabong, a seventeen year old boy, Daniel Mabenyane, died after he had been beaten in the Philip Smit Centre, the offices of the Community Council.
Men from Moutse were taken to a hall in Siyabuswa by the ‘Mbhokhoto’. They said that Simon Skosana, the Prime Minister of KwaNdebele, was there, with his sjambok. He helped the ‘ Mbhokhoto’ beat the Moutse men.
ABOVE THE LAW
In all these places, people say that the vigilantes think they are above the law.They say the vigilantes will do anything – they are not even scared to murder people because they think nothing will happen to them.
When the vigilantes attacked Abel Nkabine’s house, he phoned the police. “I was very surprised,” Abel said, “when the policeman told me that “Inkatha” had just been at the police station. He said he knew that they wanted to burn down my house and kill me. The policeman said, ”We won’t stop them? He would not let me lay a charge. And he would not tell me his name.”
A few days later, the vigilantes of Leandra hacked Chief Ampie Mayisa to death. The vigilantes told people from the Star newspaper, “We killed Mr Mayisa and we also want Mr Nkabinde dead. For a long time now they have been worrying our parents with their banana politics.” Up to now, the police have arrested no-one for Chief Mayisa’s death.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO?
People have tried different things to stop the vigilantes. In Leandra people went to court. They asked the court to order the vigilantes to leave them in peace. The court did this. And for a week there was peace. But then the vigilantes attacked people again after Chief Mayisa’s funeral.
In New Crossroads near Cape Town, people tried something else. They asked the Western Province Council of Churches to help them make peace. Some of the ‘fathers’ told the people they were sorry. But no-one knows how long the peace will last.
And in Alexander, the last place to be hit by vigilantes, people are starting groups to protect themselves. People in these groups will carry whistles. If someone is attacked, they will blow their whistles. When people hear the whistles, they will come and stop the vigilantes.
Before people lived together in peace – now they are divided. The vigilantes are tearing communities apart. But somehow,they must be stopped.
THE HORROR STORIES
THABONG – FREE STATE
Lefulebe Rakometsi’s story about Daniel Mabenyane who later died: “He had been beaten and he was bleeding from his buttocks. He was half-naked – his pants were round his knees but he had his shirt on. The shirt was bloody. He was tired and could not speak.”
HUHUDI – NORTHERN CAPE
The Star newspaper’s story: “The vigilantes dragged ‘MrRef’ from the house. They beat him with spears and assegais. Then they fired two shots into him. Then one of the smaller vigilantes dumped a rock on the young man’s head as he lay on the ground.”
LEANDRA – TRANSVAAL
Fifteen-year-old Jan Nkabinde’s story: “My eyes were covered Then they asked me how they should kill me. I was given three choices – that they burn me, stab me or shoot me. Joseph Zondo held a gun to my head. He said they would not leave me alone because I was a follower of Chief Mayisa’s.”
FORT BEAUFORT – EASTERN CAPE
Mrs Nowandle Mathe’s story: “Just before midnight on 21 December last year, I heard Themba, my eleven year old son, screaming from across the street. He was spending the night with his friend, Xolane Rangule. I ran into the Rangule’s house and saw Themba lying on the floor. He was crying loudly and his stomach was bleeding.
‘He told me that he and Xolane were sleeping when a number of men came into the bedroom. They started to hit them with sjamboks and sticks. I took him home and took off his clothes. He had sjambok marks all over his body.”
Mrs Thembikile Makhoba’s story: “As I got near the station, I saw a large group of ‘Amabutho’ chasing my eldest son, Mandla. He ran into my house and locked the door. The “Amabutho’ chopped down the door. When I got into the house, my son was bleeding. Then the “Amabutho’ dragged Mandla into the garden. They hit him with bush knives. I cried out that he was already dead but they did not stop.”
NEW CROSSROADS – WESTERN CAPE
Mrs Benge’s story: “Aron, my husband, heard something outside. We peeped through the window and saw a group of men. There were a lot of them. They had white scarves on. They banged on the door. Then they broke my bedroom window. I shouted, What do you want? They said, We want your husband and your son. Why didn’t your husband come with us?”