Horror of a mob murder
Surrounded by a jeering mob, 26-year-old Farai Kujirichita was bludgeoned to death in Diepsloot, his horrifying final moments captured on a video that thrust South Africa’s violence back into the international spotlight.
The full footage, obtained this week by City Press from a freelance journalist, has never been released in South Africa but made headlines in one of the world’s most influential newspapers last week.
The violence it portrays is chilling.
Farai was still alive when a man in a white cap methodically destroyed his face and skull with a heavy wooden plank.
He was probably dead or dying when another man grasped his belt and punched him repeatedly in the groin and a grinning teenage girl raised a large chunk of cement above her head.
Farai’s “crime” was that he was a Zimbabwean in the wrong place at the wrong time.
His murder in January this year in Diepsloot – a community of 150?000 in northern Johannesburg, where instances of mob violence are commonplace and growing ever more so – was quickly forgotten.
It would have remained that way but for 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.
The article appeared just days after United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante, highlighted xenophobic attacks in South Africa and called on the government to implement more stringent hate crime legislation.
The story of Farai’s killing made international headlines this week, including in newspapers in Zimbabwe, Taiwan and New Zealand.
In Diepsloot, the killings continued.
Last Friday, two Zimbabweans were kicked and beaten to death after being accused of robbery.
On Thursday, a suspected thief narrowly escaped with his life when police arrived just in time to prevent a mob from killing him, an incident witnessed by a City Press reporter.
“The police should have given him to us. We know what to do with people like him. We will continue to kill tsotsis,” resident Johannah Mofokeng said as police drove away.
“We get called out all the time,” Diepsloot police station spokesperson Daniel Mavimbela said this week. “People here take the law into their own hands.”
All too often “foreigners” are the targets of their rage.
Tswanelo Ndlovu’s husband is one of the five people arrested for last Friday’s killings. Without offering any evidence to support her claim, she says that Zimbabweans are to blame for crime in Diepsloot.
“Some of these people don’t even live here. They come at night to rob us and terrorise our neighbours, and we will not stand for that,” she said.
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.
“I have witnessed more than 300 mob justice cases, but that one is the scariest. I still can’t believe that I shot that video,” said Mtika.
Even children have become desensitised to the violence around them, Mtika said.
“They could be playing soccer on a field and there would be a dead body next to them and they wouldn’t be bothered.”
Residents “don’t ask questions” when someone is accused of a crime.
“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.”
Mtika is haunted by the images of Farai being kicked in the face and sjambokked, his features eventually reduced to a bloody, unrecognisable pulp. “It’s hard for me to look at the video,” he says.
The attack took place on January 22.
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.
“He 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.”
The mob tried to force him to throw himself in a fire.
“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,” said Mtika.
A 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl are the only suspects facing trial for Farai’s murder.
They will appear in the Atteridgeville Regional Court tomorrow.
The three main assailants seen in the video were never arrested.