Five alleged criminals including a witch doctor were killed by an enraged South African mob in a township on Sunday, police said, the latest act of vigilantism in a country plagued with high rates of violent crime.
The killings in the township of Khutsong follow other flare-ups in the area known as the West Rand, a sprawling group of communities west of Johannesburg that has fallen on hard times as gold mines have closed.
Another township in the area, Bekkersdal, has been the scene of periodic riots the past few weeks by residents angry at the failure of the local government to provide services such as garbage collection, an ominous sign for the ruling African National Congress ahead of general elections next year.
In Sunday’s incident, police said in a statement that about 400 men had gathered in an open field to air their grievances about gangsters in the area and then split up into roving vigilante groups.
They first attacked a 61-year-old traditional healer or witch doctor, setting his house alight and burning him to death.
Two young men who the police said belonged to a criminal grouping known as the “Casanova Gang” were then set upon and also burnt to death. The group then moved to another neighborhood where two other alleged gangsters were stoned to death. Several people were also injured during the rampage.
“Police have increased visibility in the area. Currently the area is volatile,” the police said.
Mob justice is a common feature of life in South Africa’s black townships, where poor residents often complain about gangsterism, violent crime and shoddy policing. But it is rare for so many to be killed at once.