Why We Kill: Mob Justice and the New Vigilantism in South Africa – Karl Kemp

23rd April 2024

Why We Kill: Mob Justice and the New Vigilantism in South Africa – Karl Kemp

Karl Kemp

Why do so many South Africans prefer taking the law into their own hands to relying on the police? Why are those who do so often cheered or sympathised with?

Of the unprecedented 27 000 recorded murders in South Africa in 2022, at least 1 894 – or 7% – were attributed to mob justice and vigilantism, more than double the number from five years before. In the first nine months of 2023, a further 1 472 mob justice deaths had already been registered.

Mob justice is nothing new, but in recent years it has taken on an undeniably desperate, furious edge. From the breathtakingly violent Zandspruit massacre in May 2021, to the killings during the July unrest two months later, to the march of Operation Dudula across the nation in 2022, vigilantism – and the condoning of it – has never before captured the zeitgeist of South Africa so sharply. What has changed in the past few years, and what does it augur for the future?

Following three recent cases of mob justice, from the hellish metropolitan townships of Gauteng to the far-flung bushveld of northern Limpopo, and drawing on extensive research and interviews, Why We Kill explores the roots, realities and consequences of South Africa’s current crisis of vigilantism.


Karl Kemp is a South African writer with an LL.M in public international law from the University of Amsterdam. As a journalist, he has covered drug trafficking, gang violence, separatist movements, globalisation, nationalism and cultural identity, among other topics, for various publications, including Rolling Stone, VICE and Vrye Weekblad. After completing his law degree, Kemp interned at the International Criminal Court, working in the investigations division as an analyst in the field of international criminal law. He is the author of Promised Land: Exploring South Africa’s Land Conflict

'Why We Kill: Mob Justice and the New Vigilantism in South Africa' is published by Penguin Random House South Africa