11 LIVES IN 8 DAYS

A com­mu­nity is liv­ing in ter­ror as a surge in bru­tal mob jus­tice in Son­dela in Rusten­burg is be­ing blamed on eth­nic ten­sion be­tween Sothos and Xhosas

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU [email protected]­press.co.za

Rings of wire from a burnt tyre lie among rocks and black ash, mark­ing the spot where a man burnt to death last Sun­day night. It was a sim­i­lar scene across the road in Son­dela, a set­tle­ment of shacks and RDP houses near Rusten­burg, where an­other man was killed.

The two were among 10 men and one woman killed last month, five of whom were killed last week­end. They died me­tres from each other, neck­laced in what res­i­dents say is eth­ni­cally mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence.

On Fri­day in Son­dela, si­t­u­ated be­hind min­ing gi­ant Sibanye’s Jab­ula Shaft, the sight of chil­dren play­ing in the streets be­lied the ten­sion and car­nage. Af­ter sev­eral houses were torched and 11 lives lost in eight days, some are pack­ing up and mov­ing out. No­body wanted to speak openly about what hap­pened.

A woman walk­ing past the spot where the men were killed tried hard not to be seen speak­ing to City Press.

“I still hear their voices as they screamed, beg­ging for their lives,” she said.

“In no time they were en­gulfed in flames and they cried un­til their voices faded as the fire got stronger. We stayed be­hind closed doors, but still felt un­safe. Sleep­ing has be­come a prob­lem these days be­cause one never knows when they will pounce again.”

There’s an­other patch of black­ened dirt next to the church at Son­dela’s en­trance. There, res­i­dents say, the owner of a panel-beat­ing shop was dragged from his home and killed, also on Sun­day night.

“Some of us have nowhere else to go. Son­dela has been our home for years. We can only pray that those af­fected do not seek re­venge,” one res­i­dent said.

An­other said Son­dela is known to be a crimerid­den area where peo­ple are killed ev­ery week­end, but the re­cent mur­ders were dif­fer­ent and were car­ried out by a “mob”.

Last Sat­ur­day, a com­mu­nity meet­ing was called to dis­cuss the crime wave.

One res­i­dent told City Press that com­plaints were raised that Sotho peo­ple com­mit­ted the crimes, and it was de­cided that res­i­dents should come to­gether to fight back.

“No de­ci­sion was made to at­tack peo­ple, drag them out of their houses and burn them to death. But by the time this meet­ing took place, six peo­ple had al­ready been killed in mob at­tacks car­ried out by Xhosa peo­ple,” the man said.

“It was quiet on Sat­ur­day even­ing and we all thought it was all over. It all changed on Sun­day even­ing.”

A Le­sotho na­tional who works as a queue mar­shal at Rusten­burg taxi rank said he had just got into bed in his shack in Son­dela on Sun­day when he heard foot­steps out­side.

“I could hear the steps of a large group and I went out to in­ves­ti­gate only to see a huge group of shirt­less men armed with spears and pan­gas walk­ing down the street. I made sure they did not see me, but go­ing back into the house was not an op­tion. So I hid there, but one of them no­ticed me,” the man said.

“At the time, my neigh­bour was also there with me and we fled when they be­gan to break the gate. We went into one of the yards and hid in large wa­ter tanks, and we could hear and see them search for us in toi­lets and every­where.

“I stayed there and felt like they would hear my heart beat­ing, but later on they left and we ran out of the area.”

Hours later, he called a neigh­bour to check what was hap­pen­ing.

“She was so re­lieved to hear my voice. She thought I had burnt to death in my shack, which has been torched,” he said.

“I do not know how we man­aged to es­cape and can only say it is through God’s grace. I may not have left my shack with any­thing be­fore it was burnt to ashes, but I am lucky I am stand­ing here shar­ing my story.”

The man said that, as he fled, he saw an­other group of more than 50 “armed and shirt­less men” march­ing two peo­ple to­wards the sports grounds. He be­lieves they were among those killed that night.

An­other sur­vivor told City Press that his brother and two friends were also killed on Sun­day. The man, who is in hid­ing in Son­dela, did not want to share his story.

While po­lice won’t con­firm the at­tacks were eth­ni­cally mo­ti­vated, the lo­cals be­lieve Xhosas per­pe­trated them.

An­other man who es­caped at­tack on Sun­day said he be­lieved “they were roam­ing the streets look­ing for any male who is not speak­ing their lan­guage”.

“Be­fore they broke the gate, they forced open my neigh­bour’s house and left when they re­alised it was a woman and chil­dren there. They told her to lock up and they left.”

Po­lice spokesper­son Lieu­tenant Colonel Sa­bata Mokg­wabone said the mo­tive for the killings was un­clear and in­ves­ti­ga­tions were con­tin­u­ing. He said eight peo­ple had been ar­rested – five ap­peared in court on Thurs­day and Fri­day, while three are ex­pected to ap­pear to­mor­row.

Son­dela res­i­dents re­main ter­ri­fied.

“We go to bed ev­ery night not know­ing who is next; who will be counted among the dead when we wake up. Son­dela needs more po­lice pa­trols through­out the night; maybe then we will feel safe again. We don’t know who is be­ing tar­geted in these killings.”

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