I SAW a man brutally beaten by a lynch mob last week. He didn't die: he was still
alive when an ambulance finally got him to a hospital, but that wasn't for lack of
trying by his would-be executioners.
They didn't seem like the thugs you'd expect to be doing this sort of thing: they
were tomorrow's painters and sculptors, students at the Fine Arts School, and the
kids who live on my street.
I'm taking a stroll through the school on a sunny Thursday morning to brunch at the
FCCC on the river front when I come upon what at first looks like a bunch of students
gathered around a playground scuffle.
Then I see a couple of westerners in the thick of it. One of them, AFP photographer
Rob Elliot, is having a heated exchange with the guy next to him.
I push through the crowd towards them. "What's going on?" I shout. But
I have that sinking feeling that I know the answer even before Rob's reply: "They're
killing a thief."
Apparently the thief had used a gun to try to steal a motorcycle. The westerners
came when they heard shots.
The thief is on the ground in fetal position, covered in blood, trying to protect
his head. He probably isn't yet 20 years old, about the age of his attackers.
The youths crowd around him in a circle and take turns. One runs up and kicks him
then retreats, another comes up and belts him with a stick. I put my arm out to stop
the guy next to me hitting him with a lump of wood. He defers, almost politely, but
simultaneously a youth runs up from another direction holding a rock high with both
hands and pounds it into the thief's head.
He lies there, motionless, his skull surely shattered.
Then suddenly he leaps to his feet and starts staggering away through the crowd,
three metres, four metres, before they bring him down again.
And the police have arrived. A vanload of them, maybe 10; at least one has an AK-47.
But they park 30 metres away and are plainly reluctant to intervene. They shuffle,
they dawdle, they stroll towards the melee.
The head cop pushes through the crowd, which stops its assault and falls back. The
cop stands briefly over the thief, now unmoving and apparently dead, then turns and
walks away. And the mob resumes its beating.
I walk away too, sickened at the mob's violence, sickened at the police's failure
to put a stop to it.