Embattled Mapogo Moves Into The Mainstream

Gauteng embraces vigilante boss’s hot brand of crime fighting

When a Johannesburg private hospital received an anonymous bomb threat a year ago, it didn’t call the police, but brought in Mapogo a Mathamaga, a private security company that started as a vigilante group in Sekhukhuneland, Limpopo in 1996.

The Mapogo investigators said they had found a crude device – “a bomb of sorts, though it wouldn’t have exploded”, says a hospital administrator, recounting the tale on condition he and the clinic remain anonymous. Mapogo also came up with “a plausible suspect” – a disgruntled staff member who, on hearing of his being under suspicion, stopped coming to work, sold his house and disappeared.

Growing numbers of companies and well-heeled individuals in Gauteng who have lost faith in the police are turning to Mapogo, which operates as a conventional security agency, taking monthly retainer fees from clients.

But Mapogo offers something different: crime deterrence steeped in fear. Its apparent effectiveness is why the hospital had no qualms about hiring an organisation branded as a purveyor of violence. “The name came up when we were discussing what to do, and somebody said they’d had success in other cases, so we called them,” says the administrator.

Stories about Mapogo’s fear factor are legion. When a factory manager brought in the agency to recover a stolen cellphone, the phone mysteriously reappeared in a men’s room. When a northern Johannesburg business woman noticed several thousand rand missing from her home, the Mapogo investigators “persuaded” the housekeeper to hand back the money.

“They were entirely calm and professional; not intimidating at all. If I’d called the police, I know I would never have got the money back, and it would have carried on,” she says.

Whether true or not, such perceptions have spread from the impoverished and underpoliced black rural areas of Limpopowhere Mapogo began, through the white farming communities of the north and into the white urban heartlands of Gauteng.

Last year national police commissioner Jackie Selebi accused Mapogo of trading on racism and intolerance, and of using apartheid-era policing methods. “It’s amazing how many cars driven by white people, and how many homes of white people, have this sticker of Mapogo a Mathamaga ,” he told a workshop on police violence. “I’ve never seen Mapogo a Mathamaga – having arrested a white person – flogging that person as they do to Africans.”

It’s a charge spurned by Mapogo’s 59-year-old founder and leader, Monhle Magolego. “I hate crime. It does not matter who is the perpetrator or who is the victim. I will fight it,” he says .

Nevertheless, he still advocates corporal punishment – what he calls “the African way” – as the most effective crime deterrent, and he wants to convince government to legalise it again. That’s why, he says, he joined the ANC last August (after campaigning for the National Party in 1994 and Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement in 1999).