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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Mob `sport` but no justice

12th March 2012
The burning body of a man accused of stealing a motor cycle on January l0th last year at Kimara. It later emerged that the motor cycle belonged to a mechanic who was repairing that of the victim.

Jambo for a week in which there’s only one subject to write about in view of two reports I wasn’t aware of when penning the last column.

A recent press heading of ‘Miriams killer must hang’….reveals a story of such crazed evil, it defies belief. Occurring in 2008, it’s almost impossible to read of the slaughter in a fire lit mud hut, of a little five year old albino girl, whose blood was collected in a cooking pot as her legs were chopped off.

That graphic image should forever stay in the minds of all who read it, but it mightn’t, because there’ve now been many such killings here, and with each account and telling, the impact of the horror gradually diminishes, enabling people to say conversationally, …….”how terrible, not another one”….. then perhaps forget, till next time.

That’s the problem, we should never forget, or let the image recede, it should remain an assault to our senses and psyche…….…….as that of ‘mob justice murders’ no longer does.

The press always use the mis-nomer of ‘mob justice’, to describe these barbarous lynchings, which helps confer an element of quasi justice. But since there’s little element of this, ‘mob murder’ could be more appropriate.

The latest (though by now there could be others) in this shameful social history of Tanzania, was of a young man beaten then burnt to death two weeks ago, by a group of cowardly savages, for alleged motor cycle theft, and was recorded on television near Oyster Bay Police Station.

……I keep wondering….did he have a family, and were they given charred body parts to bury?

In a friends house on Sunday evening 7th August l999, referring to my failed attempts to learn Swahili someone switched on the television, saying “look, you can watch this, it’s in English”.

Whether it had been in Urdu, or moon-speak wouldn’t have mattered, so self explanatory were the appalling images that assaulted our senses, as we sat rigid with horror, silently mouthing “Oh no, Oh no.”

It was DTV news, and showed a suspected thief that had been burnt alive in Morogoro, whilst excited looking children enjoyed the ‘occasion’.

I’ve inadvertently written ‘that’ had been, instead of ‘who’, but it’s cruelly apt, as after such a death, the deceased human being becomes an object,…like a football no longer needed when the match is finished. The sporting metaphor is applicable, as citizens have long teamed up in the same scenario of grisly ‘games’, and collectively scoring points with stones, machetes or sticks, ensures they’re all winners in the ‘victory’ burning.

For decades also, another long running scenario has played alongside, with these players confident no penalty shoot would affect their winnings.

…..”P.S. decries thefts in ministry”…….Auditor General reveals losses of millions”………”Local councils in land frauds”…….etc.etc. A never ending litany of embezzlements from public coffers, with those responsible, beyond mob law, and often any other, confident in the power that wealth confers, even when its stolen.

What a contrast to the brutal lynchings and murder of petty criminals, and hungry child ‘thieves’ which was the fate of one who ‘stole’ a maize cob.

Writing about such acts somebody said……”it’s a squeal of rage by the masses, with no means to control their fate, or enforce their will, and no answers from bureaucrats, policemen or politicians, who affect their lives. So they have nothing to fight back with except hatred”. A plausible analysis maybe, if the hatred wasn’t directed at their own kind.

There can be few worse spectacles than seeing a cowering terrified, human being, (mostly young males), cornered like an animal, then slowly taunted and battered to death by their fellow countrymen, as they move in for the kill. It’s apparent that many people here enjoy these sadistic ‘blood sports’, gleefully rushing to collect crude weapons when the opportunity arises.

There’s greater horror when children participate, making it easy to think as some ‘wazungus’ do (forgetting western atrocities against humanity) that latent brutality is an inherent part of the blackman’s being.

Many years ago, I tried to save a ‘justice’ victim. Pleading for help from my civilised neighbours as they drove past me in my night clothes, I lay across the boy to shield him from the rabble. It was terrifying, and I wasn’t even the quarry, but searching each face for a glimmer of pity, I found none, they were all enjoying the ‘sport’.

At a function to mark Law Day in February 2000, Justice John Mkwawa, said cases of ‘mob justice’ were on the increase and must be stopped, as “they threaten the whole concept of the rule of law”. They do more than that of course, they de-humanise all who take part, making them ever less sensitive to violence and casual barbarity.

A week later, the National Assembly was told by a Deputy Minister, that it was becoming difficult to control these acts as the perpetrators were unknown. Not quite true.

Those who hunt down defenceless old ladies as ‘witches’, and burn petty thieves, often do so from the cowardly collective safety net of a companionable throng. An effective means of avoiding detection, but not when televised.

On the screen of that D.T.V. ‘execution’ clip thirteen years ago, the perpetrators were clearly seen, and the company prepared to give their tape to police, when I asked them. Surprisingly, the law enforcers weren’t interested, losing a valuable opportunity to put up posters, stating “wanted as an accessory to murder”, which even if unsuccessful, would have sent out the right warning.

Round about this time, I attempted to interest some in the donor community, to bring on board issues like, ‘witch’ burnings and ‘mob justice’ murders in the country. What’s the point in promoting ‘good governance’, if citizens are openly killed under its umbrella. And it’s now time for more donor pressure on this scourge.

Just as I began by saying we should never forget terrible images, so we should remember the date of the recent televised lynching. This was “29th February, when the I.T.V. reporter vainly struggled to contact and involve the police to avert the tragedy, but without success. The next day, a radio report said the victim was innocent.

And the further shame is that this terrible event has barely received a mention in the media. It seems nobody cares!

Senior police too have many questions to answer, both on this case, and their future policies to retard the coming ones. And this should be a priority at the Next Bunge sessions. The Law enforcers set no store by wanted posters……how about a tourist one, saying “Come to Tanzania, and see the colourful custom of battering and burning petty thieves to death”……good eh?!.

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