By Luvuyo Mjekula
In a mob justice-inspired beating, a group of angry residents assaulted two boys aged 11 and 14 years and slapped and tied up the younger boy’s 18-year-old sibling – over a pair of white Puma socks.
The angry mob inflicted the attacks on the morning of Saturday, 3 February, first in Xolani Location and then in N Street.
According to a Xolani resident, the 11-year-old boy was head-butted by a man in his 30s, trampled on and left with a swollen face, while the 14-year-old sustained an injury to his ankle after being struck with a stick.
The older of the three had been stopped on his way from buying groceries and given a few slaps on the face before being tied up in a yard in N Street. This is after he was mistakenly suspected of stealing a pair of socks.
The Xolani resident said at about 10 am on Saturday, a young boy, widely known in the community, was spotted taking a pair of socks off the washing line of a Somngesi Street house.
A neighbour blew a whistle, and a group of other residents rushed out and gathered in the street. “There were about four or five of us – parents. We decided to approach the boy’s mother because he was quite young,” the resident said.
She said the group had made it clear that only the boys’ parents should discipline him, not anyone else.
That’s when the boy’s mother went looking for her son, and when she found him a short while later, she brought him to the residents.
At this point, the residents tried resolving the matter in the street. But without warning, a group of men pulled up in two vehicles, one of them in a bakkie, grabbed the boy and attempted to stuff him in the boot, but the residents’ sharp objections stopped them.
Nevertheless, the vehicles sped off towards N Street with the boy and his father, Skikana Hani, who had joined the row, in the back of the bakkie.
The Xolani resident said they tried to chase after the cars to no avail.
They only later spotted the vehicle next to a local spaza shop.
Meanwhile, Skikana Hani told Grocott’s Mail that his son had tried to use him as a shield while being attacked by three men in Xolani. He felt helpless at the time but made sure he would go wherever the mob took his son.
On arrival in N Street, Hani said he was shocked to find his elder son tied up with a rope. He learned that he had been stopped on his way from buying groceries for a neighbour because the mob believed he was the one who stole the socks.
He was, however, set free when the younger boy confessed to the theft. He told the crowd that had formed in the N Street home that his 14-year-old neighbour had instructed him to steal the socks because he liked them.
Attention then turned to the boy who had allegedly made the instruction to steal the socks, and in no time, he was sitting next to his younger neighbour, facing an enraged crowd. A blow to the ankle with a stick was the worst he suffered. His unimpressed mother, Xolelwa Sideba, said the people who rocked up at her home did not even have the decency to sit down and discuss the matter with her first.
Speaking to Grocott’s Mail on Thursday, 8 February, Sideba said the matter should have been resolved in a civil manner with the children’s parents present. She said she was unhappy about the situation and because of his injury, her son could not go to school on Monday.
She vowed she would not be paying for a brand-new pair of socks after the owner apparently demanded a new pair, even though the stolen ones had been found and could be returned to him. An arrangement had apparently been made with the police at the Joza police station, where the boys had been taken after the fracas.
The police reportedly only advised the residents to refrain from taking the law into their own hands and gave the boys a sneak peek into a police station cell as a scare tactic.
Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Majola Nkohli did not respond to questions sent to him for comment.
Meanwhile, the Xolani residents said they were saddened by the turn of events, and even during a public meeting the following day, the local residents condemned the attacks. “It was the first time something like this had happened where older people attacked a young boy as if they were fighting their peers.”
The 14-year-old boy’s mother, Zukiswa Ngeju, said she was finding it difficult to forgive her son’s attackers but regretted his actions.