Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa

ISBN : 9780190847197

Nicholas Rush Smith
264 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Apr 2019
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Despite being one of the world's most vibrant democracies, police estimate between five and ten percent of the murders in South Africa result from vigilante violence. This is puzzling given the country's celebrated transition to democracy and massive reform of the state's legal institutions. Where most studies explain vigilantism as a response to state or civic failure, in Contradictions of Democracy, Nicholas Rush Smith illustrates that vigilantism is actually a response to the processes of democratic state formation. In the context of densely networked neighborhoods, vigilante citizens often interpret the technical success of legal institutions-for instance, the arrest and subsequent release of suspects on bail-as failure and work to correct such perceived failures on their own. Smith also shows that vigilantism provides a new lens through which to understand democratic state formation. Among young men of color in some parts of South Africa, fear of extra-judicial police violence is common. Amid such fear, instead of the state seeming protective, it can appear as something akin to a massive vigilante organization. An insightful look into the high rates of vigilantism in South Africa and the general challenges of democratic state building, Contradictions of Democracy explores fundamental questions about political order, the rule of law, and democratic citizenship.


Chapter 1 - Vigilantism and the Contradictions of Democratic State Formation
Chapter 2 - The People's Justice: Historical Antecedents of Contemporary Vigilantism
Chapter 3 - Spectacles of State Craft: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Post-Apartheid Law Making
Chapter 4 - Rights in Translation: Vigilantism and the Meanings of Institutional Effectiveness and Failure
Chapter 5 - Taking Charge: The Contradictory Pleasures of Citizen Crime Fighting
Chapter 6 - The Risks and Rewards of Vigilantism
Chapter 7 - The Racial Geographies of Criminal Panic: Protesting Crime in the Suburbs
Chapter 8 - Against Vigilantism: Citizen and State Action to Combat Vigilantism
Chapter 9 - Law-Making and State-Making as Vigilantism

About the author: 

Nicholas Rush Smith is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York--City College.

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