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South Africa mob burns suspected cable thieves alive

image captionThe theft of electric cables for their copper wire has led to power cuts in South Africa

Three men have been burnt alive in South Africa after they were suspected of stealing power cables, police say.

A crowd set their car alight in Lenasia township south of Johannesburg where there have been frequent blackouts.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg says the electric cables are usually stolen for the copper wire which is sold on the black market.

Police say incidents of mob justice are common. Two other men were killed in a similar case on Tuesday night.

'Difficult to police'

According to South Africa's Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), about 900 people die each year in incidents of mob justice in South Africa.

David Bruce, researcher at the CSVR, says such vigilantism is caused by people's loss of confidence in the criminal justice system.

Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Opperman said that vigilante justice was "difficult to police", South Africa's Times newspaper reports.

"It is totally wrong for people to fight crime with criminal actions," he said.

Lenasia residents told the police they saw a van at 0100 local time on Tuesday.

They accused the people in the vehicle of cutting electricity cables in the area.

Replacing a cable costs every household 200 rand ($27.38; £17.49), reports say.

"After spotting the van people blew whistles and vuvuzelas and found these men with a gun and a bolt cutter," said Captain Mpande Khoza.

"The three men in the back of the bakkie [van] ran away but the three in the cab could not escape," he explained.

The residents set the vehicle alight with the three men still inside.

On Tuesday night, two men accused of stealing clothes were killed by a mob in Mthatha, in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province.

"Two boys were assaulted by an angry crowd and were rushed to Mthatha Hospital where they later died," Superintendent Mzukisi Fatyela said.

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  • Country profile: South Africa