Allegations That Vigilante Justice Claims Another Life in Mfuleni
On Sunday 14 October 2012 two SJC activists – Angy Peter and Isaac Mbadu – along with two other Mfuleni residents were arrested and later charged with the kidnapping and murder of Mr. Siphiwo Mbevu (note: this is the name we have on record but the police seem to be using “Siphiwo Du Preez”) aka “Rowan” a known criminal (CAS 372/10/12). Events leading to the arrest are still unclear, but Police allege that Mbevu was found severely burnt and beaten on the morning of Sunday 14 October and died later that evening.
The SJC condemns Mbevu’s murder without reservation, irrespective of the identity of the perpetrators. All acts of vigilante justice undermine the rule of law and thus the creation of safe communities for all. Given the SJC’s sustained campaign for improved policing and criminal justice systems in places like Mfuleni, and condemnation of vigilante justice, we are deeply disturbed by these reports. We are further concerned by the worsening environment of lawlessness that continues to dominate this community (and many others like it) following a complete breakdown in trust with police.
The SJC firmly believes in the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Peter and Mbadu deny the charges against them. It would be irresponsible to make allegations in any direction until such time as proper evidence is presented before a court of law.
Mbevu was a criminal known to the community and law enforcement agencies. He is reported to have regularly stolen from and assaulted residents, and despite regular reports to the police action was rarely taken. Frustrated by this, community members have on more than one occasion attempted to assault or kill Mbevu. Peter and Mbadu have intervened on several occasions to prevent this from happening. Peter convinced Mbevu to join her SJC branch in an effort to reform him, and at one stage encouraged him to write a letter to the community apologising for his behavior. Both Peter and Mbadu have a history spanning a number of years in which they have condemned and prevented vigilantism, amidst declining safety and faith in the police in the area in which they work and live.
On 12 August 2012 the home of Peter and Mbadu – who are partners with four children – was broken into and a television was stolen. Mbevu later admitted to stealing the television, but claimed that he was working with a police officer who was buying stolen goods. It is alleged that with community members present Mbevu made a phone call to this officer and claimed that he had “new stuff to sell”. The officer came to collect Mbevu and drove him into the back of Mfuleni Police Station. Peter and Mbadu immediately went to open a case against Mbevu and the police officer (CAS471/8/2012). Once the statement had been taken, they were refused a copy for their reference. They were also refused permission to speak to the station commander.
Soon after this, Peter and Mbadu received a threat from a known thug in the area that the officer they had opened a case against was very dangerous and that their family was in danger. They fled to a safe house where they stayed for a number of days, but moved back to Mfuleni when it emerged that the members of the community – angered by what had occurred – wanted to kill Mbevu. Peter and Mbadu again prevented this from happening. The allegations against the police officer were brought to the attention of an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) officer and senior officials in SAPS, although it is unclear whether any action has been taken. The police and IPID failed to communicate with the community. It later emerged that the officer in question worked for Crime Intelligence, and as such the matter was out of police jurisdiction.
The tragic loss of life allegedly at the hands of frustrated community members is not isolated. In Khayelitsha alone there have been at least 18 recorded vigilante deaths this year, although the true figure is likely far higher. While the SJC has always strongly condemned vigilante justice, we understand the level of desperation that leads to such action and it is for this reason that we have been calling on Premier Helen Zille to establish a commission of inquiry into policing, due to commence next week.
We know that in Mfuleni the community had not only lost faith in the police to keep them safe, but also feared them because of apparent links with known criminals. We know that Mbevu had many enemies, and that many in the community had on previous occasions tried to assault and evict him. We also know that Peter and Mbadu were very active in targeting police inefficiency and corruption and as such have many enemies in the police force.
Peter is a founding member of the SJC. Throughout her time with the organisation she has witnessed police and criminal justice failure in communities while senior politicians and police officials are able to get away with very serious crime. She campaigned for justice in our organisations in the cases of Lorna Mlofana, Nandipha Makeke, Zoliswa Nkonyana, and the terror and looting that displaced tens of thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants. Police complicity in some of these actions is a widely known fact.
Peter joined and led campaigns against the powerful: the ability of Schabir Shaik and President Zuma to escape justice in the arms deal; Jackie Selebi – a police commissioner protected by President Mbeki and then jailed because of public pressure receiving medical parole; the next Commissioner of Police being involved in the deeply corrupt squandering of state resources and now dismissed but no legal action against him or the property dealer Roux Shabangu a friend of President Zuma; then Richard Mdluli a crime intelligence boss who may get away with murder, kidnapping, corruption and the use of the SAPS to support President Zuma’s power struggles in the ANC; Peter was resolute in the SJC brining a case to ensure Mdluli was brought to justice.
Moreover, she has seen her neighbors houses destroyed by Metro police with no justice; she has seen police use taxi drivers to exact justice rather than do their work in gang wars at school; a 3 year old boy sexually assaulted and the alleged perpetrator set free to harass the family without consequence; the rape of a 5 year-old girl, and much more.
Peter and Mbadu were leading campaigners for a Commission of Inquiry into the police and criminal justice system not to get revenge against the police but to ensure that they are able to fulfill their constitutional and professional duties diligently and without delay. Mbadu has only recently joined the SJC staff, and has overcome great adversity to the point where he is today seen as a respected community leader and activist. It is tragic that these two leaders now stand accused of serious crimes that they have worked tirelessly to prevent.
Vigilante violence can never be condoned and allegations of involvement by SJC members are taken very seriously. We must however not lose sight of the State’s complicity in these incidents by failing to address the toxic environment in which people live. It is these conditions that lead communities to turn to such brutal acts to protect themselves and their families. The SJC is committed to ensuring that justice takes its course, so that those responsible for this tragedy are held responsible.
For more information contact Axolile Notywala on 0742895220 or Gavin Silber 0837779981.