Start main page content

Death penalty returns to SA through mob murder

- Daily Maverick

The number of people suspected of crimes who are being killed in an arbitrary and brutal fashion is growing.

The death penalty has returned to South Africa. Although outlawed by the Constitutional Court in its first judgement in 1995, the breakdown in policing in townships and informal settlements has seen a rise in vigilante ‘justice’. Once again, public health workers find themselves on the frontline.

Doctors who provide emergency care in Gauteng’s hospital emergency and trauma units have told Maverick Citizen about the marked increase in people who are being admitted with severe injuries linked to beatings and mob violence.

Many of these people die. Those that survive due to expert care are also draining scarce hospital resources as their injuries are so serious as to often require kidney dialysis, amputation and time. 

Dr Riaan Pretorius (Associate Professor at Wits University) is head of trauma at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) and is used to running a busy trauma unit. But even he is shocked at the rising prevalence of injuries due to mob violence. “It’s like a war zone” he says, noting that the unit is sometimes recording one to two deaths per week as a result of mob assaults. 

“In the past we had only a few of these cases. Now there are many. The victims are mostly young people. During the lockdown it was difficult to access alcohol, which meant that many people turned to nyaope. Addiction to this drug seems to be making the violence even worse.”

“On some days there are between five and eight admissions and quite a number of these may require kidney dialysis.”

Dr Pretorius decries the brutality involved in the violence referring to “crush syndrome”, a medical definition most commonly used in relation to earthquake victims. He tells me: “When a person is violently sjamboked, for example, the muscles release toxins. The release of myoglobin into the kidneys leads to renal failure, necessitating kidney dialysis.”

In addition, says Dr Pretorius, his unit also frequently admits people with severe head injuries and burns.

Professor Martin Smith is Head of Surgery at Wits University and another person who has decades of observation and experience in surgery. He is also shocked.

“It’s an epidemic of vigilante violence we are seeing from our communities.” He adds: “I doubt any other country sees this kind of number.

Statistics for mob assaults at CHBAH, compiled by the unit, bear out the doctors’ claims. They show that over the last 10 months 471 patients were admitted because of mob violence, 23 of them died —  a 5% mortality rate.

Read the full article on Daily Maverick.