Twenty years of punishment (and democracy) in South Africa: The pitfalls of governing crime through the community


  • Gail Super University of Cape Town



Punishment, democracy, South Africa, community, violence, crime


This article examines how the ideology of ‘community’ is deployed to govern crime in South Africa, both by marginalised black communities and by the government. Although the turn to ‘community’ started under the National Party government in the late 1970s, there is no doubt that as a site, technology, discourse, ideology and form of governance, ‘community’ has become entrenched in the post-1994 era. Utilising empirical data drawn from ethnographic research on vigilantism in Khayelitsha, as well as archival materials in respect of ANC policies and practices before it became the governing party, I argue that rallying ‘communities’ around crime combatting has the potential to unleash violent technologies in the quest for ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’. When community members unite against an outsider they are bonded for an intense moment in a way that masks the very real problems that tear the community apart. Because violent punishment is one of the  consequences of the state’s turn towards democratic localism, we should question the way in which the ‘community’ is deployed as a tool of crime prevention, and subject it to rigorous scrutiny.


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Author Biography

Gail Super, University of Cape Town

Centre for Criminology






Research articles