n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Resorting to community justice when state policing fails : South Africa

Volume 18, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



In reviewing the response of South African communities to crime, one is struck by the two contradictory reactions - on the one hand, there is adherence to the formal structures of the criminal justice system, whilst on the other, communities are taking it upon themselves to mete out justice for crimes committed. Reports indicate that practices of community justice are especially prevalent amongst the poorer black communities of South Africa and are often a response predicated on a fundamental mistrust of the police and a belief that state policing has failed the community. Proponents of community justice argue that poor service delivery, weaknesses with the criminal justice system and processes and police corruption are key factors causing people to support community justice and vigilante activities (see http://www.iss.co.za/CJM/SpecialInterest/Vigilantism.html). In short, the resort to community justice is symptomatic of the state's evident incapacity to secure the people and the people's rights.

On the other hand, whilst it is understandable for all people to wish to protect themselves, the question that one must answer is whether community justice and vigilante activity help or hinder the maintenance of law and order. South Africa is a constitutional democracy, striving to uphold the principles of natural justice, due process, and the rule of law. In her paper presented at the 22nd Law and Society Conference in Brisbane, Singh (2004) posed the question: 'For how long can a country sustain such blatant disregard for the rule of law before sliding into lawlessness and anarchy?' However, a more apposite enquiry might have been: 'Is there any manner of developing a synergy between the traditional practices of the criminal justice system and community justice?' In its conclusion, this paper responds briefly to the question, considering specifically the option of restorative justice and its place in creating a synergy between community justice and the current formal state processes.

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