He cried. He pleaded. He begged. It was all to no avail as the angry mob swarmed around him, pulling, punching and kicking him as they dragged him through the streets, parading him in shame.
The mood turned violent as someone cast the first stone. A barrage followed and the suspected thief died in the hail.
These scenes, the latest incident of mob justice, unfolded in Protea South in Soweto on Wednesday when irate residents assaulted four men they accused of stealing from them, among other crimes.
An enraged mob of more than 100 people, mostly women, took matters into their own hands when they assaulted the man they suspected of stealing a grass cutter from one of the houses in Protea South. A woman was reportedly hanging out her washing around 6am when the suspect allegedly entered her yard and snatched a grass cutter.
Residents were alerted to the crime when she screamed.
They forced the man to take them to the accomplices with whom he normally works.
The incensed residents then dragged four of the men across the township to their community police forum (CPF), which then alerted the police.
When police arrived, the mob turned on them too stoning them and their vehicles.
Wednesday’s attack has again shone the spotlight on what appears to be communities’ apparent lack of confidence in the police.
A woman who witnessed the attack said residents were struggling with the rising levels of crime fuelled by young men high on the drug nyaope and the alleged inadequate response from the police.
“The problem has been persisting for a while. The reason we beat the cops is because they do nothing about the nyaope boys. The community tells the police where the boys buy nyaope but they won’t go there because they’re scared.”
Another woman said: “It’s not the first (time) and we’re tired. The police arrest them today and tomorrow we see them here again.”
Bloodstains on the floor of the CPF’s tin shack office were mopped up only hours after one of the suspects died.
When forensic pathology services picked up his body, residents ululated, cheered and shouted “that’s what we do to criminals”.
CPF chairman Prince Dlamini said nyaope gangs were a big problem in the area.
“We identified the people who sell nyaope and we told the cops where nyaope is sold. The cops did nothing about that,” he said.
Police spokesman captain Mpande Khoza said no arrests had been made.
The three surviving suspects, believed to be in their 20s, were taken to hospital.
“We have profiled them and we have all their details. If anything comes up, we know where to find them,” khoza said.
He said no one was able to confirm if the man killed in the attack was the one who had committed the robbery. Police were searching for his relatives.
khoza denied the allegations made about the police’s incompetence. “The police attend any crime at any time of the night there.”
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