Anticrime Activism and the Feminization of Vigilantism in South Africa

Outlaw Vigilantes
By Laurent Fourchard

Patrolling and securing one’s neighbourhood is an old practice in South Africa, reflecting a widespread insecurity linked to the high prevalence of violence in urban areas since the colonial period. This long history of citizens’ initiatives in the field of policing is reflected in the now abundant literature dedicated to vigilantism in South Africa. Too often, however, vigilante groups appear as unified and homogeneous. On the basis of two life stories and an ethnographic and historical investigation on the outskirts of Cape Town, we have adopted a different perspective, which emphasizes two points that until now have received scant attention in the literature on vigilantism: its feminization and its biographical dimensions. The moral careers of women for long involved in these groups reveal a series of individual vulnerabilities, be it in their personal, family or professional lives. At the same time, these individual trajectories emphasize the role of the state in shaping citizen initiatives in the field of policing, especially in a context of impoverishment and mass unemployment.

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