New rape bid adds to tensions among fearful residents
New Brighton is on a knife-edge with residents vowing to root out rapists and killers in the wake of the murder and rape of a seven-year-old girl.
And mob-action tensions grew after it was alleged that a man had tried to rape a teenager on her way to school yesterday – an allegation that led to the suspect being pelted and having to be rescued by police.
The man was arrested later and charged with attempted rape.
About 200 residents attacked the suspect in Tabata Street – just 2km from where Sonia Payi was abducted on Saturday night.
Residents say they are angry that police are prioritising protecting the welfare of criminals above the interests of the community, citing Sonia’s murder as an example.
In response and calling for calm, police said residents should not jump to conclusions or become vigilantes.
As police rescued the man – initially thought by some residents to have been Sonia’s attacker – it also emerged that the little girl had been raped and electrocuted, possibly by cables used for illegal electricity connections.
The child’s family, who were visited by a number of politicians, said they did not want to know how she had died as it was simply too painful to bear.
Emotions were running high at Sonia’s home as residents, neighbours and church members, as well as members of the mayoral committee, came to pay their respects.
During a service, led by the Rev Howard Hans, Sonia’s grandmother, Regina Payi, 66, her face etched in pain, cried: “Oh my poor child. Why my child? Oh God.”
Meanwhile, Sonia’s paternal grandfather, Thandiwe Kondlo, said while the family appreciated knowing how Sonia had died, they did not want to know details at this stage.
In the 8am vigilante attack yesterday, a 30-year-old man sustained serious injuries.
According to police, the attack took place shortly after the man allegedly attempted to rape an 18-year-old girl.
It is believed the girl was walking to Newell High School in New Brighton when the man pulled down his pants and chased her.
He was then attacked by residents before being rescued by police driving a Nyala armoured vehicle and taken to the New Brighton police station.
By 9.30am, angry residents had marched there demanding the man be handed over to them.
Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said the man was rescued by the Public Order Policing.
“Because of this incident [the alleged attempted rape], residents assumed they had caught the suspect involved in the weekend’s murder,” Beetge said.
He said that due to the sensitivity of Sonia’s case, residents wanted justice.
“This is sparking several rumours of who the culprit could be. We are appealing for everyone to remain calm and not jump to conclusions or take part in any vigilante justice.”
Beetge also spoke of developments in the investigation into Sonia’s death.
“She was clothed when her body was found, which adds confusion to how the incident happened and if she managed to escape from her attacker,” he said.
Officials working on the case said that forensic test results on the scene had shown she was raped where her body was found.
“Her body was found on top of an illegal electricity connection,” an official said.
“It is unclear if she had been intentionally electrocuted or managed to flee and accidentally fell onto the cable.”
Beetge said detectives were following leads and awaiting DNA results to assist with identifying a suspect.
Scenes in the area yesterday seemed to indicate the community’s faith in the police had been shaken, with hundreds taking to the streets singing and chanting through Mati Road in New Brighton en route to the police station.
Upon arrival, the crowd huddled around the entrance demanding police give them the suspect.
A short while later, three community leaders were escorted into the police station.
They were followed by the 18-year-old alleged victim and her grandmother.
“The police do not have our interests at heart,” resident, Luzuko Mali, 28, said.
“They are shielding this rapist from what he deserves. This morning [yesterday] we let him know he is not welcome in this community, ”Mali said.
“If he we see him in the street, we will kill him.”
At 10.30am, the leaders emerged to address the crowd over a police microphone .
However, their announcement that the suspect’s wounds were being treated and he had not yet been charged enraged the crowd, who shouted: “Stop raping our community.
Sindi Nondzaba, 30, said in light of Sonia’s murder and yesterday’s alleged rape attempt, parents were afraid for their children.
“Well, if they [police] won’t do anything about it, we will save ourselves. We will not live in fear, the criminals must fear us.”
“With Sonia, the poor child is dead and still . . . no arrest. We will do a better job of policing New Brighton because we know who the tsotsis [criminals] are and will not hesitate to take action,” Nondzaba said.
The frustrated crowd gradually dispersed, with many going home as others opted to continue protesting a while longer, singing and waving posters that read “Rapist Must Fall”.
The group who stayed to protest then made their way to Sonia’s memorial service, where about 100 people crammed into a narrow side street along Mbilini Road, adding their voices to the hymns being sung.
Inside, mayoral committee members, including human settlements political head Nqaba Bhanga, said the delegation had been instructed by executive mayor Athol Trollip to pledge a “blank cheque” for funeral arrangements.