I witnessed mob injustice tonight; I watched a grown man being beaten by other grown men.
Just outside the blue gate and along the small path lit by the Mulika Mwiziwas a commotion. Barely 8:00 pm and we could hear shouts piercing our mealtime silence. My brothers were as calm as could be, my mother was not. “Mwizi! Mwizi!”is all we heard. In a few minutes, we were out the door; dressed not to impress.
Outside the gate stood a group of about 15 men. Most of the women watched from a distance as the men flogged and whipped a fellow man.
Justifications were being made as each whip landed on his dusty clothes and bruised skin. He was wailing in pain. He was crouching with his hands trying to cover his face and head. On a closer look, I realised he had also wet his pants. Each whip was a sharp, quick sound accompanied by groans of frustration and wrath.
In the midst of this sandstorm of anger and retaliation for the multiple thefts that had been occurring in our neighbourhood, I walked to a corner by the gate, took out my phone and dialled 999. I described what was happening and felt somewhat relieved that the police would be here soon. Well, soonish (I hoped).
With every passing minute, someone joined the crowd as another left to go back to their house. I couldn’t help but think, “This man needs water”. When he screamed that he could no longer see out of one of his eyes, I too retreated to our house. We filled up a two-liter bottle of Spritewith tap water and promptly returned to the scene.
Around the man was a group of men from our neighbourhood. Some still clad in their suits, some holding whips, some in their night gowns (actually one) and a few watching from a distance while making small talk. I was determined to give the man water; he was actually praying now and loudly confessing that he was walking away from crime. Out of fear, I thought notto approach the man directly. Instead, I decided to ask some of the men around him whether I could give the bottle of water to him.
“No mercy for criminals!”
“This is his fortieth day!”
Three times I went back to our house and out the gate again, all the while clutching onto the bottle of water hoping that I would muster the guts to walk past the group of men and hand the ‘criminal’ this water. I did not succeed; not tonight. As I walked out the gate on the third try, the police van came speeding escorted by a white saloon car and two motorcycles. There was no way now that I would come close to the man again.
In less than five minutes, he was whisked away. Forced to share the back of the van with his accomplice who had been shot and was motionless on the cold, dark floor of the van.
I walked back with the bottle of water in my hands; unsure how to feel.
Would I have been so willing to give him water if this man had robbed one of my family members?
What if it was a different crime? Sexual assault? Stabbing?
The bottle of water stood on the kitchen counter for a while longer. My mind wandered; my mind is still wandering as I write this. Where the man has been taken to is probably a better place than where he would have been had the angry crowd kept growing. He is alive, half blind and bleeding from several wounds on his body.
He has breath in him but does he have a life anymore?
I hope that tonight someone will give him some water. If not to drink, then to wash his face.