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Vigilantes unmasked: An exploration of informal criminal justice in contemporary South Africa.

Martin, James
June 4, 2015

Source: (2009) Australia and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference 2009: Conference Proceedings. Pg. 142-150.

Vigilantism has a long and troubling history in the Republic of South Africa. Particularly since the latter days of apartheid,
vigilante violence has become a regular feature of life in many poverty-affected and marginalised communities. This
disturbing tendency indicates a ready inclination on the part of some ordinary citizens to embrace excessive violence in the
name of informal justice. This paper will explore how vigilantism represents a systemic, conditioned response to crime, fear,
poverty and other socio-cultural and historical factors. While in the past, scholars investigating South African vigilantism
have tended to focus on the practice in terms of its criminality and threat to state legitimacy, recent studies suggest that
the reality of contemporary vigilantism may be more complex and ambiguous. In the context of state failure to provide
security and reliable criminal justice mechanisms vigilantism has, in some communities, come to be a respected homegrown
response to criminality and deviance. This paper will examine the emergence and evolution of vigilantism in South
Africa and seek to address crucial questions regarding its legitimacy and role in South African life. (Authors abstract).


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