ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

'Vigilantism and State Crime in South Africa (Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 2012, pp. 217-234)'

  • Vigilantism and State Crime in South Africa, James Martin, State Crime Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn 2012), pp. 217-234


Vigilantism is a crime often associated with parochial gangs and rampaging mobs. Yet the conditions that catalyse vigilantism are beyond the remit of these groups, and instead implicate states in wilful acts of exploitation and criminal neglect. Across much of South Africa, the poverty and lawlessness created by apartheid has been left unaddressed in the nearly twenty years since democratic transition. Elites and others with sufficient means isolate themselves behind increasingly sophisticated layers of private security. Outside the walls, vigilantes emerge as what is often considered a necessary evil, providing one of the only options for security and also an avenue of protest identity. This article examines South African vigilantism through the prism of state crime, arguing that the state, and particularly its agents, the South African police, are guilty of crimes of omission, and of fostering a vigilante culture whereby private citizens have few alternatives but to turn upon one another in the name of justice.