Vigilantism and informal social control in South Africa

J. R. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


South African vigilante organisations offer a unique perspective of non-state, informal community policing. Over the past 25 years, the incidences of private citizens banding together to dispense their own “street justice” have proliferated, particularly in areas suffering from high crime and socio-economic disadvantage. Many vigilantes operate with significant community support and while vigilantism offers the promise of security to millions of South Africans left unprotected by the public police or by private security companies, a more sinister side to the vigilante phenomenon has emerged. Reports detailing systematic class and generational persecution, accompanied by consistent and brutal human rights violations, have tarnished the image of these often proudly patriarchal “autonomous citizens”. By drawing on theories of nodal governance, this article explores how the young, the poor, women and the socially marginalised have proven especially vulnerable to vigilante violence, and the ways in which vigilantism reproduces a domineering, highly conservative and patriarchal mode of social control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-70
Number of pages18
JournalActa criminologica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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