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Residents of Rabie Ridge, sick and tired of criminals running rampant through their township outside Johannesburg, South Africa decided to take matters into their own hands. They went house to house and rounded up six people they accused of crimes. Then they stoned five of the alleged criminals to death.

“We constantly live in fear,” said a frustrated community leader, according to Independent Online, a South African news website. “One can’t even go to shops in the evening without fearing for our lives. We tried to work with law enforcement, but they always let us down.”

One of the victims’ family members insisted that their nephew was not a criminal, or at least had never been convicted of the crime that the mob accused him of committing. Even if he had been guilty, the family member added, he didn’t deserve to die in that manner.

Meanwhile, wealthier South Africans have other options. As the Associated Press explained, they have fueled a booming industry of private security firms whose guards often perform many of the functions normally restricted to government-run law enforcement agencies.

These days, private security guards outnumber police officers, wrote NPR.

Such personnel also protect bank vans and other vehicles from the heists that occur regularly on the country’s dangerous roads. “Robberies can last extended periods, with motorway traffic continuing normally on the other side of the road while gangs prime their explosives and rove about with automatic weapons, sometimes filmed by onlookers,” wrote the BBC.

Vigilantism and mercenaries are two strategies that South Africans have embraced as crime hit a 20-year high in Africa’s most developed country but which also has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world. In the last year, murderers have claimed 27,000 lives in the country. The murder rate has increased by 77 percent since 2022. Police, meanwhile, solve only 12 percent of these cases.

The police have attempted to crack down. They have asked Google Maps, for example, to reroute folks who might use the app to drive from Cape Town International Airport through a notorious crime spot where tourists have been robbed and shot, noted Deutsche Welle.

But Stellenbosch University criminologist Guy Lamb, writing in the Conversation, says the police are losing the country’s war on crime. The crime wave in South Africa reflects deep social, economic, and other structural problems, he explained. Lamb called for government officials, cops, civil society groups, and communities to work together to create better ways to curb the violence: “This is a ‘war’ the police can’t win on their own …”

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