Political Violence in South Africa

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Repression by the South African government during the apartheid era, has hurt the ability for civil society groups to form. Instead of channeling grievances through civil society organizations that act as a “safety valve” for discontent in a more peaceful way, most South Africans who want to get their voices heard end up using violence as a tool in order to bring political gain.1 The use of violence as a component of South Africa's political culture was originated during the 1980s anti-apartheid struggle, where the ANC and other underground anti-apartheid groups would use violent and militaristic actions, language, and ideas to get their voices heard as part of social mobilization. Even after the end of apartheid and the establishment of the democratic regime, the elements of formal democracy such as competitive electoral politics, lobbying of interests, and open public debate have not replaced the violent and militaristic actions, rhetoric, and ideas that were the political norm of the 1980s.2 Civil society organizations still remain weak and shallow even under the current post-apartheid democratic regime, due to heavy co-optation of many civil society groups into the ANC.3 The weakness of civil society in South Africa and the reluctance of many South Africans to organize such groups under an environment of heavy political dominance of the ANC makes it possible for violent action to happen in many South African protests.4

How is it used?

Political violence in South Africa is employed in many different ways. In some cases, many violent protests do not require the use of armed weapons like machetes. In one article by Independent Online on September 15, 2005, that is cited in the Reddy article, a protest by high school studen...

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...y and the authoritarian tendencies of the state from the apartheid era could return, especially in a possibility of extremist ANC factions using political violence to take power in such a scenario. The reduction of state capacity by the ANC due to the violent and factional infighting and the lack of a strong, viable political opposition could herald a long period of political instability and uncertainty for the South African people.


Fields, Karl, Patrick O' Neil, and Don Share. “Cases In Comparative Politics” (New York, London: W.W. Norton, 2013)

Pinnell, Sabrina. “Topic 7: South Africa” Lecture, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, March 18, 2014).

Reddy, Thievn. “ANC Decline, Social Mobilization and Political Society: Understanding South Africa's Evolving Political Culture,” Politikon 37 (December 2010): 185-206
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