Contradictions of Democracy

Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa
by Nicholas Rush Smith
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Publisher: Oxford University Press

Series: Oxford Studies in Culture and Politics

Publication Date: January 17, 2019

ISBN: 9780190847210

Binding: Kobo eBook

Availability: eBook

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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.