Community ‘vigilante justice’ killed a relative of Buhle* (16), leaving her family permanently scarred after the traumatic incident in her home.

“I was born in Cape Town and grew up in Gugulethu. My mom and dad are married. I have a sister and an older brother who turns 21 this year. We also had an older sister but she died when she was in high school. I am not sure what she died of or the circumstances leading up to her passing. In our culture, you do not speak about the deceased with the youngest.”

“We have another little one in our family whom we call a sister and who has become part of the family but she is actually a neighbour’s child who has grown up in difficult circumstances. Her mother is often absent and goes away leaving her to fend for herself. But my mother took her in and now when her mother goes away she just comes to us.”

“We live in a house. My sister and I share a room, my brother has a flat in the back and my parents have their own room. The little one sleeps with the girls.”

“My mother works and her job is to clean trucks and make coffee and tea. My dad worked as a truck driver. Growing up, life was good. My mother was always the strict one and my dad was the cool dad. My brother is very clever. He passed his matric with flying colours. He stays at UCT now and is in his 3rd year of Anthropology. He visits us on holidays. My mother jokes with us and compares us to him (her favourite). But she does it in a way to encourage us to do better.”

Buhle recalls her parents having a good relationship.

“My mother and father were reserved but at times you could see their bond especially when they danced together. We are a normal family.”

“Because my dad was a truck driver he would be on the road for three days at a time and then come back home. That’s something we got used to. School was nice. I had good friends and the teachers liked me because I got really good marks. My sister and I would be in the top five in our grade though she failed grade three because she was playing a lot. She is very energetic. That was a wake-up call for her when she failed, causing her to become serious about her school work moving forward.”

In addition to the siblings that she grew up with, Buhle had an older stepsister and older stepbrother.

“My dad has a son and daughter from a previous relationship. They were much older than us. We weren’t really close to them. Over the years while we were growing up, their mom would call my father to speak to my stepbrother because he had become unruly.”

“He was stealing and his mother was stressed about his behaviour. My father would go and talk to him but that had little or no effect on him. My stepbrother was already in and out of prison for stealing.”

“His mother decided that he was not going to change because there were people coming to their house looking for him because he had stolen from them. She asked if my stepbrother could live with us so that he could escape from the people looking to kill him. My mother had no problem with that.”

“I was probably 12 years old when he came to live with us. At first, he was sweet, but within a couple of weeks, things started to change because he started stealing from around our community. People would come and report his behaviour to my mother. When my mother began to reprimand him he became disrespectful to my mother.”

“My mother would not tell my dad what was happening but my dad heard from others in the community about his son’s behaviour. He reprimanded him and my stepbrother would listen to my father and just apologise but then when my father was gone he would go out and drink with his friends. When he was drunk he would call my mother names and say that she should stay out of his business.”

Barley three months after her stepbrother moved in, the family endured first-hand the brutal violence of community ‘vigilante justice.’

“One Friday night, we were eating supper just like any other normal day in our house and watching TV. My father was home that day. Suddenly there were people banging on the windows and doors.”

“They didn’t knock they just kicked the door down. They came inside the house and my stepbrother tried to run away. But they caught him. There were about 11 or 12 men. They were armed with guns and knives. They tied his hands behind his back and he was kneeling. They asked him about the car that he had stolen. He denied everything and they started to beat him. We were screaming but they told us to keep quiet. When they were beating him my father was begging them to forgive him and said that he would send him to the Eastern Cape and he was begging them to spare my brother’s life. They just told my dad to shut up.”

“They kept beating him until he admitted that he stole the car. We didn’t know what to do we were just shocked and afraid. He confessed and he apologized.”

Buhle had hoped that might be the end of it but the violence escalated.

“They started telling my stepbrother that they know all the bad things he had been doing and that they won’t forgive him and that he needed to pray. While he was praying that’s when they started shooting him in front of us. They shot him six times. He started to bleed and he fell. My mother tried to cover our eyes. We were in such shock that we stopped screaming and began crying.”

But the worst was not over.

“That’s when they called my father to stand up. They told my father to stand next to him and gave my father the gun. They told him that his son was a dog and he deserved to die like a dog and they told him to shoot him again. Then my father cried and said he can’t do that and that he is already dead, what more did they want. They just said if he doesn’t shoot him then they will shoot my father.”

“My father was crying and he eventually shot my brother’s dead body in the leg. Then they took their guns and left. The one who shot my brother and whose car was stolen said; ‘Our job here is done, let’s go.’ We recognised them, they were taxi owners.”

When the mob left, Buhle’s family called for help.

“We screamed and called our neighbours for help and they came quickly because they had heard the gunshots. We called the police and the ambulance. When the ambulance arrived they checked my brother’s pulse and they said he had been dead for a long time already. The police came and the mortuary van came. My brother’s body was covered with a blanket. When the mortuary van came they left the blanket which was covered in blood and took the body only. My aunt came to our house when she heard what had happened. My mother told me, my sister and brother to go with her to sleep at her house while she cleaned up the blood in the house.”

“I remember that my dad was talking to the police explaining what had happened, but I doubt he told them who had done it. No one messes around with taxi drivers in our community. Then he left but we don’t know where he went.”

Buhle and her siblings did not attend school for a few days.

“The next morning after my brother was killed, we didn’t go to school. My aunt just said that we must stay with her for a couple of days. My mother called us during that time to check on us.”

“After three or four days we went back home. My mother and dad acted as if nothing happened. They didn’t talk about it. As siblings, we talked about what happened. We were traumatised to see our brother getting shot and dying in front of us. There were times when my twin would just cry out of the blue. My older brother also didn’t talk about it. He would tell us to leave it since it’s adult business.”

“The weekend of my brother’s funeral we saw my father dress up to attend. My mother told us that the rest of us were not going to the funeral. It was such a sensitive topic that we didn’t even ask why. My father went to the funeral. It was in Cape Town. We have never spoken about it up until today.”

The incident traumatised the family and Buhle’s father went into a downward spiral of despair.

“After that incident, my father changed. Yes, my father did drink before. For example, he would go to the store and buy beer and drink it while watching soccer and then go to sleep.”

“But after that incident, he started going out a lot to taverns. At times he would be very, very drunk and his friends had to carry him home because he couldn’t even walk. We could all see that what happened troubled him but we just never spoke about it. He was emotionally distant and quiet. Before he used to joke with us but now he was just quiet.”

Buhle had mixed emotions about her father’s grief.

“At the time, I thought it was very selfish of him. I felt sorry for our mother. She had to take care of us alone. I was angry with him but at the same time, I could understand considering what he had gone through. During that time he was hardly home. Even when he was with us we didn’t feel that he was present. His heavy drinking caused him to lose his job. He was without a year close on a year.”

“Previously, my mother used to work two days a week but now with my father unemployed she had to increase the number of days that she worked. We struggled a lot. We could only buy basic things to survive. It was very tough. My father began picking up work along the way like he painted people’s houses and did people’s gardens. He did those piece jobs around the community. We had food to eat again, but it was very awkward in the house. After a while, he stopped drinking because he had no money to buy alcohol.”

“During that time, I noticed that when it came to difficult situations, we don’t talk about it at home. Even if our father was drunk then the next morning we would not talk about it. We just keep living with no real conversations that addressed the issues or confronted anyone.”

“After two years, things started getting back to normal. We were happy again. I think he went back to his old self because he threw my brother a surprise party because he had passed and that’s when we saw that our Dad was really back. He was trying to show us that he is still the same Dad. There is a part of me that thinks that he is just pretending. I don’t believe that anyone can just heal automatically from something like that. I think he is trying for the sake of all of us.”

Even though the family is on a healing journey, Buhle still sees the men who killed her brother in the community.

“I still see those guys in the community. I pass by the taxi rank and I see them chilling, laughing and happy. When I see them it just triggers those awful memories. They don’t recognise me.”

Buhle reflects that vigilante justice is common in the area she lives.

“Sometimes the community burns thieves. Almost every weekend they beat up criminals because they say that the police don’t do anything about the crime. The people in the community don’t report things to the police anymore, they just take the law into their own hands.”

“What is interesting is that in the name of ‘justice’, they become criminals themselves. They display more darkness than the people they are punishing. They think they are mini-Gods, untouchable because people fear them.”

Her brother’s murder still hurts, but Buhle has reflected on it and believes that retribution is not the solution for wrongs that have been committed.

“When you punish someone you are also punishing the people around him or her. Revenge is not the answer. They wanted to hurt him but in the process, they hurt us. They should have reported him to the police instead of killing him.”

“My brother’s murder has changed me because when someone does something wrong to me I just leave it and I let God take care of it. Because if I did something about it, I may hurt the people around that person.”

“I also have realised that you should be careful who you choose as your enemy. The qualities you hate about him/her can easily become your own qualities when fighting the person. I now embrace the art of forgiveness and encourage others to do the same.”

Buhle is a Leaders’ Quest participant.

*Buhle is a pseudonym in order to protect Buhle’s family.

*Vigilantism is the act of enforcement or punishment of perceived offences without legal authority.

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