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Vigilante justice rocks once quiet Mozambique

Lynchings of suspected thieves – and riots over lack of police protection – have shaken the southern African donor darling.

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The robbers struck again during the early morning hours of Feb. 23 – the latest in a string of violent home invasions in this normally calm city.

Within days, at least two suspected bandits had been lynched, the police station had been damaged, a child had been shot, and Chimoio was added to the list of Mozambican cities that have been rocked by riots in recent weeks.

In early February, more than 250 people were injured and at least four killed during riots in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, after the government upped the cost of the minibus taxis that many rely upon for transportation.

In Beira, the country's second largest city, six suspected criminals have been lynched this past year, in riotlike conditions. And then there was the Chimoio riot – a disturbance that continued into last week with at least four more lynchings, including one of a man accused of stealing corn from a farmer's field.

Rising crime and vigilante justice are quickly becoming serious problems for this donor darling, long considered a stable, postconflict African success story.

The violence reflects growing inequality and increasing mistrust of authorities, observers say – sentiments often hidden beneath widely praised macroeconomic figures showing consistent growth.

"When people do not have trust in the system, when people do not feel that they are part and parcel of problem-solving, they organize themselves," says Themba Masuku, a senior researcher at the Centre for Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg, South Africa, who has studied vigilante justice. "And they take the law into their own hands."

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