n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - The impact of crime on the legitimacy of the South African political system

Volume 17, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



This article analyses the empirical relationship between crime and legitimacy. Using data obtained from a sample of 3 258 South Africans involved in an empirical study conducted in 1997, the author attempts to assess the impact of crime on political legitimacy. Legitimacy is operationalised as specific support (support for political authorities) and diffuse support (the reservoir of goodwill citizens have toward their government, measured here as compliance with the law).

The findings indicate that perceptions of crime is not based on personal experience with crime but rather on popular knowledge. Surprisingly, the findings show that whites are more positive toward the police than the other race groups. Furthermore there is no universal support for the rule of law although attitudes differ across race groups. Africans show a much higher level of confidence in the legal system as compared to whites and Indians, while whites and coloureds support greater powers for the police to deal with crime.
With regard to the relationship between crime and legitimacy, the findings show a high correlation between perceptions of policing and specific support for the police, but a low correlation between perceptions of policing and compliance. Crime has a greater impact on specific support than on diffuse support which may affect legitimacy negatively. Low levels of legitimacy threaten the consolidation of democracy.

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