Vigilantism and state crime in South Africa

James Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-234
Number of pages18
JournalState crime
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • South Africa
  • vigilantism
  • South African Police Service
  • state crime
  • Zandspruit


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