Necklacing is the practice of summary execution and torture carried out by forcing a rubber tire, filled with gasoline, around a victim's chest and arms, and setting it on fire. The victim may take up to 20 minutes to die, suffering severe burns in the process.
In South Africa
The practice appears to have begun in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa in the mid-1980s. One incident sometimes cited as the first recorded instance of necklacing took place in Uitenhage on 23 March 1985 when a group of people killed Benjamin Kinikini, a local councillor who was believed to be involved in violence and corruption and having links to a vigilante group. Kinikini and members of his family were dragged out of their house, stabbed to death, and their bodies set on fire. Two of those judged to be the perpetrators, Wellington Mielies, 26, and Moses Jantjies, 23, were hanged on 1 September 1987. But in this case the victims were killed by stabbing, and not by burning tires.
Necklacing "sentences" were sometimes handed down against alleged criminals by "people's courts" established in black townships as a means of enforcing their own judicial system. Necklacing was also used by the black community to punish its members who were perceived as collaborators with the apartheid government. These included black policemen, town councilors and others, as well as their relatives and associates. The practice was often carried out in the name of the African National Congress, although the ANC executive body condemned it. In 1986 Winnie Mandela, then-wife of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, stated "With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country" which was widely seen as an implicit endorsement of necklacing, which at the time caused the ANC to distance itself from her, although she later took on a number of official positions within the party. The number of deaths per month in South Africa related to political unrest as a whole from 1992 through 1995 ranged from 54 to 605 and averaged 244. These figures are inclusive of massacres as well as deaths not attributed to necklacing.
Moloko said her sister was burned to death with a tire around her neck while attending the funeral of one of the youths. Her body had been scorched by fire and some broken pieces of glass had been inserted into her vagina, Moloko told the committee. Moloko added that a big rock had been thrown on her face after she had been killed.
Photojournalist Kevin Carter was the first to photograph a public execution by necklacing in South Africa in the mid-1980s. He later spoke of the images:
I was appalled at what they were doing. I was appalled at what I was doing. But then people started talking about those pictures... then I felt that maybe my actions hadn't been at all bad. Being a witness to something this horrible wasn't necessarily such a bad thing to do.
He went on to say:
After having seen so many necklacings on the news, it occurs to me that either many others were being performed (off camera as it were) and this was just the tip of the iceberg, or that the presence of the camera completed the last requirement, and acted as a catalyst in this terrible reaction. The strong message that was being sent, was only meaningful if it were carried by the media. It was not more about the warning (others) than about causing one person pain. The question that haunts me is 'would those people have been necklaced, if there was no media coverage?'
Author Lynda Schuster writes,
'Necklacing' represented the worst of the excesses committed in the name of the uprising. This was a particularly gruesome form of mob justice, reserved for those thought to be government collaborators, informers and black policemen. The executioners would force a car tire over the head and around the arms of the suspect, drench it in petrol, and set it alight. Immobilized, the victim burned to death.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once famously saved a near victim of necklacing when he rushed into a large gathered crowd and threw his arms around a man accused of being a police informant, who was about to be killed. Tutu's actions, which were caught on film, caused the crowd to release the man.
Necklacing returned to South Africa in 2008 when black South Africans turned against black immigrants from the rest of Africa. The influx of immigrants led to violence, looting, and murder in some of South Africa’s poorest areas; this violence included necklace lynching. This raised concerns that the latent practice might return once more as a form of public protest in the wake of service delivery failures by the ruling ANC.
Some commentators have noted that the practice of necklacing served to escalate the levels of violence during the township wars of the 1980s and early 1990s as security force members became brutalized and afraid that they might fall victim to the practice.
In other countries
This practice of lynching is found in the Caribbean country of Haiti. It was prominently used against supporters of Jean-Claude Duvalier's dictatorship at the beginning of the democratic transition, from 1986 to 1990. There were about 45 or so at the close of 2010, including about 40 in Grand'Anse Department.
In the early 1990s, university students in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire were plagued by burglars stealing from their dormitories. The students took matters into their own hands by capturing the alleged thieves, and then executed them by placing tyres around their necks and setting the tyres on fire. Ivorian police, powerless to stop these necklacings, could do nothing but stand by and watch.
Necklacing was also widely used in the armed insurrection led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in Sri Lanka. A graphic description of one such necklacing appears in the book The Island of Blood by journalist Anita Pratap.
In Popular Culture
- The Shield season two villain Armadillo Quintero used "necklacing" as a means to kill his enemies. The season premier opens with the villain killing a rival drug dealer this way and the episode's plot, entails two of the detective characters attempting to find witnesses that link Quintero to the murder.
- The Americans third season featured a South African politician being put to death through necklacing, for attempting to false flag a bombing with help from his son in order to discredit a college based anti-apartheid group in New York. The show's main characters witness the murder, carried out by a black South African freedom fighter, aligned with the Soviet Union and their sleeper program to infiltrate the anti-aparthied movement.
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