Pervasive, but not politicised: everyday violence, local rule and party popularity in a township in Cape Town


  • Joanna S Wheeler Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation



everyday violence, local rule, insecurity


This paper explores relationships between political actors, local governance and violence in a community, through the case of security provision in the township of Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town. It traces the actions of key actors including SANCO, the City of Cape Town and ordinary residents in respect of crime, taxi violence, xenophobic attacks, protection rackets and service delivery protests. The extensive and varied nature of violence in Imizamo Yethu is related to uneven political legitmacy. Further, this weak governance is attributable to a lack of legitimacy of both the City of Cape Town and informal community leaders. The latter are take the form of the local branch of a civic association, the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) allied to the national ruling party, the Africa National Congress (ANC). In Imizamo Yethu, SANCO is weak and riven by factionalism, but the legitimacy of the ANC remains high and there is no violent contest for local leadership positions. Social cohesion in IY is in flux, and violence is alternately used to shore up particular notions of social cohesion; while in other examples violence erodes social cohesion. In short, inadequate state governance and informal rule co-exist with high levels of political support for the ANC and its allies, high levels of violence and uncertain implications for social cohesion.

This account runs against three common key assumptions. The first is that, under conditions of weak rule, violence is primarily about contests over political power. The pervasiveness of violence by a variety of social actors in Imizamo Yethu, but not so much by SANCO or the ANC, challenges this assumption. The second is that the violence is constitutive of informal rule in such contexts. However, in Imizamo Yethu the importance of party identification and ability to extract resources from the local state are more important to effective local rule than violent capacities. Lastly, the case of IY illustrates that effective local rule is not necessarily an important condition of party legitimacy, which is rooted in larger dynamics of national and race politics. Indeed, such is the extent of political adherence , as opposed to social cohesion, that violence forms no part of competition within the ANC family for local office and political control.


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