An acquaintance of mine is a close relative of the man who was brutally murdered in Parkwood last week.
Abongile Mafalala, an e-hailing driver from Du Noon, was picking up passengers on Tuesday, when he was robbed.
It’s believed the robbers masked their own crime by loudly accusing the 31-year-old of having abducted a child.
Already freaked out by rumours of abductions, a crowd gathered and Abongile was beaten, stoned and burned to death inside his car, on an open veld along the M5.
He was an innocent man, trying to earn a living for himself, but who instead found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and at the mercy of a crazed mob who had been whipped up into a panicked frenzy.
The absolute terror he must have endured in that moment is unimaginable and brings tears to my eyes.
More than a dozen people have since been arrested and face charges related to the attack.
Many see this as just another example of the casual brutality that we expose ourselves and our children to on a regular basis.
And while that is true in part, there is something tragically different about this incident.
I think several factors are at play: the anger and frustration of our times; the fact that so much of our financial fate is out of our hands; the hopeless state of our communities and of course the fact that we are so easily misled by others and by what we see on social media.
Mob mentality isn’t new and is something we have all witnessed before, but social media has come and added an explosive new element to the mix.
These days, fake news can spread faster on Facebook and WhatsApp groups than a wildfire.
Like they say, it’s all fun and games, until someone gets hurt. And lately, that is exactly where we have been finding ourselves.
Social media has given us an easy and fun way to communicate, stay in touch and keep up with what’s happening in the world.
But it has also come and shown us how words can have serious consequences.
Some may argue that making up stories and telling tall tales is part of the human condition; it’s the very thing that makes us the supposedly intelligent species.
But never before has it been this prolific and never before has lies, half-truths and plain nonsense led to brutal inhumanity at such speed.
In Abongile’s case, there wasn’t even enough time for a voice of reason to intervene and stop the hysteria and madness.
A local community leader and peacemaker Pastor Charles Williams says he was moments too late to save Abongile’s life.
For all its value and potential for good, the internet has turned out to be the single biggest threat to human decency, empathy and compassion.
It has allowed the most despicable of human traits to proliferate unchecked and for the ignorant few to connect with one another and infect others.
Previously, the difference was the size of their audience, when their crazy theories would be confined to their family and a few close friends.
These days, they can post it online, for those same people to share and repost to all their own followers.
Before you know it, there’s real fear and panic, with the result that someone’s hard-working, loved one is lying dead in the gutter.
The scary part is that it can now happen to anyone at any time, because there is no attempt from governments or the big tech companies to educate people on how to use social media responsibly.
So we will probably see more of these types of atrocious scenes from a sort of eerie zombie apocalypse.
This is the danger of modern mob mentality; of vigilantism and of armchair activists using words as weapons.
They are able to give legitimacy to their crazy ideas simply by packaging it nicely for their Facebook audience.
And before you know it, there’s a group of mindless, but well-meaning citizens with pitch forks, ready to overthrow a government, loot businesses, vote for a narcissistic nincompoop, or murder an innocent man.
Previously I have called people like this homicidal sociopaths, who take a perverse pleasure in being able to spark widespread mayhem with no remorse.
The irony is that, in this high tech age of instant communication, access to information and shared intelligence, we have regressed back to a time when uninformed mobs would lynch innocent people in the streets, for no good reason.
I would’ve thought that in the 21st century, the last thing a progressing society should have to fear is a mindless horde.