As I approach the street where Raha.com internet is located, I see a crowd gathering, and I know it can only be one thing. A mwizi.
Tanzanians are known, and I bare witness, for the peaceful nature of their country – especially compared to other countries in Africa.
However, there is one specific area where this peace breaks down – when it concerns a mwizi, or thief. In response to a corrupt law enforcement system, that releases thieves back into society after only a couple days, Tanzanians take matters into their own hands – when a thief is caught, every able bodied man in the area beats him, right there, until he dies. Sometimes, they bind the mwizi with tires and set him on fire.
There he is, the left side of his head and shoulder drenched in blood from the blows to his head. Apparently, he stole the machine that makes the garage-like door located on some cargo trucks go up and down. As much as I want to, I can’t take my eyes from the scene. A policeman is there, laughing, making little effort to calm the crowd.
“They will kill him,” an elderly man watching beside me says.
Brick in the air and down on his head.
A cycling ice cream man rides up. His speakers play, “the more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”
You know it – let’s go ahead and finish the song,
“Cause your friend is my friend, and my friend is your friend.
Oh, the more we get together the happier we’ll be.”
The time is going so I force myself up the stairs into Raha to buy more Internet for the office.
“They’re beating a thief out there. Right out there. In the street,” I tell the man who is helping me.
“Oh really?” he says, as if I’ve just told him there’s a sale at Shoprite. “Right outside?” He chuckles.
“If you were out there, would you beat him too?”
“Of course,” he shrugs. “Why not? I hate those guys. Would you?”
For some reason I feel guilty when I tell him that, “no. I don’t think I would. It’s not really the custom in my country.”
By the time I get outside again, they’ve left, but the elderly man is still there and tells me they took him to the police station. I guess the policeman decided to do his job, but I wonder – how soon will the mwizi be back in the street to steal something else? It’s not that I want them to kill him, but I guess I begin to understand the conflict Tanzanians face.
The first time I saw a mwizi was outside the orphanage. He was lying on the ground, and the crowd was kicking him. Somewhere along the way, they realized he was the wrong man. Unfortunate. Thankfully, they did not kill him before realizing this. As he walked passed the orphanage, he looked much like the man I saw today. Blood all over his head and chest.
The children and I stood outside the orphanage and watched him as he passed. When he was gone, we went back inside and returned to what we were doing.