Diepsloot – South African haven where to kill and be killed is “fun”

As someone who did not go to school to be taught how to craft an opinion or an article especially one that is to be published on the internet and be seen and read by millions, if not billions, of people around the world – making a headline is one of the challenges that I personally face as a blogger. And this headline is one such example.

Writing is sometimes not so much about what you want to write about, the content of the article I mean, but it is mostly about how and what to name what you are writing about. It was not so easy coming up with this title. I mean, at first I had “Diepsloot, South African’s killing haven”. But prior to that I had this one in mind: “Diepsloot – where kids are taught to kill people alive” and “How South African grooms the next generation of murders”. This would not have been enough to cover the message I wanted to relay in this article. But since I am not a professional journalist or writer nor did I go to school to be taught such things – so I decided to go with the title chosen and write what you are about to read. For a self-taught blogger like myself, it is a skill that one tries to craft on a continuous basis, one skill I never went to school to be professional taught and shown how to perfect. It is self-taught, so bear with me.

Back to Diepsloot.

Diepsloot is an informal settlement situated in the northern part of the Johannesburg, or Gautengif you will. The area became famous in 2008 for its public protests for service delivery in 2008 where communities set alight uncollected garbage which led to foreign nationals fleeing the area as residents took to the street and burned their household goods and clothes. In that year the area became famous for its “xenophobic” attacks on foreign nations and which has since resulted in a number of people being killed.

Captain Louise Reed said at the time that one man was injured in a suspected mob attack, that the “situation in Diepsloot is tense”. He said “in what we suspect was xenophobic attacks, a mob threw stones at the police and looted spaza shops”.

Residents had at the time blocked the entrance into the township just outside Krugersdorp on theWest Rand, burned tyres and placed objects in the road. If you live inSouth Africathis is a familiar phenomenon when it comes to public protests over service delivery or any other protests for that matter whereby poor tyres are burned.

Chris Vondo, secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) at Zone 14 in Diepsloot, was quoted at the time saying “people are drunk and they are regrouping now; they are closing the streets and looting spaza shops. This is no longer xenophobia, these are criminal elements”. He talked of how he knew of at least two injuries as a result of mob violence during that night.

Government officials including former ANC provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile and ANC national executive committee member Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, accompanied by provincial ministers from Gauteng and senior ANC leadership figures in the province, visited families of two of those who had died in the violence.

And it was in similar “xenophobic” attacks on foreign national that Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave who then became known as “The Burning Man” was burned alive. To date, a justice is yet to be made on the case. Nhamuave was, however, set alight alive in the Alexander area inJohannesburg in 2008 during the xenophobic attacks which resulted in many foreign nationals fearing for their lives while others were displaced around the country, and with a few returning to their countries especially Zimbabwean nationals.

Diepsloot more than anything else became famous in 2009 when now Human Settlement Minister, Tokyo Sexwale, visited the area and decided to crash and spend the night over in one of the shacks in the area although not many of us were convinced nor were we chaffed by that. His sleeping over in a shack once-off tendency came after residents in the area took to the streets over service delivery. Of course not all of us bought into his publicity stunt just as one shack dweller, Tshediso Kesi, told the Mail & Guardian at the time, saying Sexwale’s visit and sleeping in a shack was a joke and very patronising.

In that year, a 22-year-old Zimbabwean man was beaten to death by Diepsloot residents who accused him of robbery while two of his friends aged 20 and 25 were severely assaulted in the attack, according Captain Tessa Jansen. She said the three were walking in Extension One at about 6pm when a man accosted them.

Jansen said a South African man accused one of the three of having robbed him of money in the past two weeks. The said South African then “shouted and called for back up from the other residents”. Without much difficulty the “residents came in big numbers and took the three men to a shack nearby, where they assaulted all of them with fists and everything they could lay their hands on”, said Jansen at the time.

In almost a related incident, just after a meeting with Diepsloot Extension residents addressed by their councillor over the removal of some of the shacks in the area, the community turned violent and resulted in a shooting and stoning of passing traffic, the destruction of two police cars and five people were arrested for public violent at the time.

It was therefore somewhat not  surprising – at least to me – to see a report by a City Press newspaper on the murder of a 26-year-old Farai Kujirichita who was surrounded by a jeering mob and “bludgeoned to death” in Diepsloot.

The incident, according to the report took place in early this year, 2011, but I only read about it the first time. Worse, the incident apparently made headlines and even appeared in international newspapers in countries like Zimbabwe, Taiwan and New Zealand although one only heard of the it today when I read the newspaper report of the incident online today.

Watching the footage of the incident myself which the newspaper had independently obtained I felt like this was happening in another country and not here in my beautiful country, South African. It somewhat felt like I was watching one of the Nigerian movies. But sadly and as I came to know, it was just here in South Africa. Watching the footage made me feel like vomiting but since I am not much of a vomiter, I managed to contain the disgust I felt at watching the footage.

It is common that in cases such as these one is likely to hear of foreign nationals – for their hard work and knowing what they want – being blamed for the failure of many of us South Africans. These include running small businesses successfully like the Pakistan people do and yet they have been treated and accused to taking away business from many South African Spaza shop owners and then threatened with eviction from their areas. So it was not surprising for me to read that just last week Friday two Zimbabweans were kicked and beaten to death after being accused of robbery. One such suspected thief told City Press of how he narrowly escaped with his life when police arrived just in time to prevent a mob from killing him.

A Diepsloot resident, Johannah Mofokeng told the newspaper that: “The police should have given him to us. We know what to do with people like him. We will continue to kill ­tsotsis”. Diepsloot police station spokesperson Daniel Mavimbela confirmed my sentiment above that it is often foreign nationals that are targets of Diepsloot residents rage and resort to taking the “law into their own hands”.

Tswanelo Ndlovu, whose husband is one of the five people arrested in connection with the murder of a Zimbabwean last week, told City Press that Zimbabweans were to blame for crime in Diepsloot.

She said some of “these people [Zimbabweans] don’t even live here. They come at night to rob us and terrorise our neighbours, and we will not stand for that”.  And asked how she could know beyond doubt that someone accused of a crime was guilty, she said: “I trust what my neighbour tells me and what other people I know say”.

Freelance journalist Golden Mtika witnessed Farai’s murder and, at great risk to himself, captured the mob ­frenzy on a cellphone camera. He said although he had “witnessed more than 300 mob justice cases, but that one is the scariest”. Mtika said he “can’t believe that I shot that video”. What was sad about the whole incident is that even children appeared in the footage, assisting with the beating of Farai.

Mtika said children who took part in Farai’s mob killing would from now on become “desensitized” to the violence around them. “They could be playing soccer on a field and there would be a dead body next to them and they wouldn’t be bothered.” And although it cannot be justified at all it is however clear that “Mob justice is the people’s way of dealing with criminals because they don’t feel protected by the police. It is so common that people get necklaced almost every week”.

But as we all know this cruelty can never be justifiable in any way. Never. Two wrongs never made a right.

Mtika said he is haunted by the images of Farai being kicked in the face and sjambokked, his features eventually reduced to a bloody, unrecognisable pulp which took place in January this year. “It’s hard for me to look at the video”.

Led by a 15-year-old boy, a mob of residents searching for “criminals” had begun torching shacks and a ­caravan, and soon encountered Farai talking on his phone, reported City Press of the incident today.

Mtika said Farai “told them he was South African but they snatched his phone away from him, looked at the numbers on the phone and realised that he was ­actually from Zimbabwe. So they started beating him for telling a lie.” “He couldn’t do that so he tried to run away but they caught him and started beating him like a dog. It was a shame watching him die like that,” Mtika told the newspaper of the incident he recorded with his cellphone.

Despite there being many people who contributed to the murder of Farai, City Press reported that only a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were suspects facing trial for the murder and would appear in the Atteridgeville Regional Court on tomorrow, 13 June 2011, and that the three main assailants seen in the video were never arrested.

Even if you can blame my ignorance for not having heard of or read about this report on the incident in early this year – it was, however, quite surprising that it was the New York Times magazine that first seemed to have reported on the incident than did the South African media. This is because even the City Press newspaper report indicated that the incident “would have remained that way but [thanks to] a New York Times Magazine cover story last weekend and the grainy cellphone video of his final moments, excerpts from which were published for the first time on the paper’s website”.

While trying to figure out how an incident like this could have been missed by our media and of course not surprised at all that another human life had been taken by mob of people who decided to “take the law into their own hands” as a “way of dealing with criminals because they don’t feel protected by the police” – I then wondered if Anton Harber’s book, Diepsloot, lunched in May this year, might shed any light into the mob justice that the Diepsloot area is now famously known for.

My curiousity was heightened because even Harber himself admitted to the Mail & Guardian newspaper in May this year that the purpose was to: “understand and try to explain: violence, protest, mob justice, xenophobia, poverty, overcrowding, a place where there was some development but not enough, a place of vibrant politics, trade, social and cultural life”.

And because I had not read the book myself and in trying to understand what it says about Diepsloot, I then asked Andile Mngxitama on Facebook whether the book “itself covers, extensively or otherwise, the ‘rage’ or the murders in the area”. At the time of writing this I had not received any response form Mngxitama. My asking this was to understand if Harber, writing from a journalist point of view, “might have left out (deliberately or not) which needed to be told in its entirety”. But more than anything else, I asked Mngxitama himself because he had written a review about the book in the Mail & Guardian (June 3 to 9, 2011, Books Section, pg.  6) where he mentioned that the book sought to “rescue the township from the negative image perpetuated by the media”.

He said although it was “hard to tell what Harber’s project was”, it however showed that the area “had been unfairly projected by the media”. “Diepsloot is interesting in the sense that it could open discussion about the old unresolved questions of white writing of the black story and how unquestioned paternalist perspectives of the part are being perpetuated in post-1994 township writing”. This was of course over a week before I read about Farai’s murder, And I hope the incident or related incidents are covered extensively in the book as it is about Diepsloot, the book writer by Harber and reviewed by Mngxitama.

Harber said he was not interested in the area’s “apartheid inheritance” but in its “transition period”. “I was interested in what lay behind its torrid reputation. I wanted to get beyond the parachute reporting that shapes most of what we think we know about the place”, Harber told Mail & Guardian newspaper at the time.

Speaking to the New York Times magazine journalist, Barray Bearak, and who happen to be friends with, Mtika spoke of how the Diepsloot residents “this man [Farai] again and again”. He said “they killed him like they’d kill a snake”.

Although City Press newspaper reported the opposite, that Farai screamed at the mod that he was a South African; the New York Times magazine however reported the contrary.

It indicated that Farai was “among those immigrants who landed decent jobs”. He apparently worked as a house painter and earning $100 a week. His boss, Don Myburgh, told the magazine that Farai had “pinched paint” from him and that he “should have fired the bastard [Farai]. Myburgh showed the magazine, according to its report, a produced a green notebook which apparently contained Farai’s penitent confessions of thievery, and although the magazine’s journalist found an admission about “talking back,” he however said other entries were merely ungrammatical descriptions of disputes with his boss.

According to New York Times magazine, Farai got married to Caroline in August last year and were both blessed with two children together.

A 17-year old girl, Dipuo, in a pink top in the footage who was also arrested said she “hit him because I heard people saying he was a thug, and I wanted to participate”. Dipuo was apparently regretful about being arrested that she even collapsed from nervousness at one court hearing. She said her mother’s friend had heard that the “person killed was not the right one. “I don’t really know”, said Dipuo.

A teenage boy, Siphiwe, whose mother lost control of because he “was now off in a delinquent world of ganja smoking, petty thievery” and “rarely slept at home” – was seen in front of the mob that killed Farai. The youngster told the New York Times that killing Farai was “fun” despite her mother warning him that: “In jail, you won’t like it, Siphiwe. It won’t be like Diepsloot, where you can run around”.

Siphiwe “had never shown any signs of feeling guilty, never a hint that he and his conscience were in a tug of war, according to New York Times. Instead, the youngster had this to say: “This [killing people, I suspect] is what we do”.

Really?

Is this how we groom our children as future murders?

If so, will we then have Diepsloot as not just another informal settlement in South Africa but just another “South African haven where to kill and be killed is fun”?

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