Crime as punishment: A legal perspective on vigilantism in South Africa

Nel, Mary (2016-12)

Thesis (LLD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : This study aims to remedy a gap in legal literature by addressing the phenomenon of vigilantism from a legal perspective, and seeking to conceptualise and understand the problem. To this end, it first arrives at a working definition of vigilantism for a legal context by critically analysing previous (non-legal) efforts to define vigilantism and identifying and discussing elements of a proposed crime of vigilantism. The focus then shifts to interrogating the relationship between (the erosion of) state legitimacy and vigilante self-help. After demonstrating the usefulness of the concept of legitimacy as an overarching framework for understanding the state-vigilante relationship, three dimensions of legitimacy (legal, normative and demonstrative) are explained and the assumed nexus between (deficient) state legitimacy and vigilantism is clarified. Next, factors precipitating state delegitimation in the criminal justice context are identified so as better to grasp the role of deficient state legitimacy in fostering vigilantism – and concomitantly, how the state might remedy such shortcomings. While it is argued that state delegitimation is by no means the only factor contributing to the emergence and prevalence of vigilantism, a common thread running through many vigilante narratives is that the failure of criminal justice agents to do their job properly opens a law-and-order gap that vigilantes are only too willing to fill with their own brand of “justice”. To appreciate the role played by vigilantes as informal criminal justice “providers”, vigilante counter-legitimation strategies and rituals are then explored. They are compared to those utilised by their formal counterparts, with the aim of better delineating the common ground (or lack thereof) between state-sanctioned criminal justice and vigilantism. Thereafter, various divergent state responses to vigilantism are outlined and critically evaluated, divided into chapters focusing on state relegitimation strategies premised on exclusion (e.g., criminal prosecution) and inclusion (e.g., restorative justice). The emphasis throughout is on how to address vigilantism in such a way as to balance a non-negotiable respect for human rights with the need to respond to pressing community order and security concerns. It is concluded that vigilantes may indeed be willing to abandon violent means of problem-solving sufficiently to legitimate – and work in partnership with – a formal criminal justice system committed to addressing issues of crime and disorder in a community-responsive, inclusive, respectful and restorative manner.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Die oogmerk van hierdie studie is om die leemte wat tans in regsliteratuur bestaan te remedieer deur die verskynsel van vigilantisme (“vigilantism”) te konseptualiseer, begryp en aan te spreek vanuit ʼn regsperspektief. Ten einde die bogenoemde oogmerk te bereik, word daar eerstens ʼn bruikbare definisie van vigilantisme in die regskonteks afgelei deur die kritiese analise van voormalige (nie-wetlike) pogings om vigilantisme te definieer. Verder word die elemente van die voorgestelde misdaad van vigilantisme identifiseer en bespreek. Daarna verskuif die fokus na ʼn ondersoek van die verhouding tussen die (verbrokkeling van) staat legitimiteit en vigilantisme. Nadat die nuttigheid van die legitimiteitskonsep as ʼn oorkoepelende raamwerk vir die begrip van die staat-vigilante verhouding gedemonstreer is, word drie vlakke van legitimiteit (wetlik, normatief en demonstratief), bespreek en die aangenome nexus tussen die (onvoldoende) staat legitimiteit en vigilantisme word verduidelik. Volgende word die faktore wat lei na die ontkenning van staat legitimiteit in die konteks van die (straf)regspleging identifiseer, ten einde die rol van onvoldoende staatslegitimiteit in die bevordering van vigilantisme te begryp. Daar word ook gefokus op hoe die staat hierdie tekortkominge kan regstel. Daar word aangevoer dat alhoewel die ontkenning van die staat se legitimiteit nie die enigste bydraende faktor tot die ontstaan en algemeenheid van vigilantisme is nie, daar ʼn duidelike en algemene denkpatroon onder vigilantes heers dat die gebrek aan ʼn doeltreffende strafregstelsel ʼn gaping in die reg skep. Vigilantes is al te geredelik bereid om hierdie gaping met hulle eie vorm van geregtigheid aan te vul. Ten einde die rol van vigilantes as informele kriminele geregtigheid “verskaffers” beter te verstaan, word die teen-legitimasie strategieë en rituele van vigilantes ondersoek. Hierdie strategieë en rituele word dan vergelyk met dié wat deur formele eweknieë aangewend word, met die oog op die uitbeelding van ʼn gemeenskaplike basis (of die afwesigheid daarvan), tussen straf wat goedgekeur is deur die staat en vigilantisme. Hierna word verskeie uiteenlopende antwoorde op vigilantisme uitgelê en krities geëvalueer. Dit word verdeel in hoofstukke wat fokus op strategieë vir die herlegitimasie van die staat, beide gebaseer op uitsluiting (bv. strafvervolging) en insluiting (bv. herstellende geregtigheid). Daar word deurgaans gefokus op hoe om vigilantisme aan te spreek op so ʼn wyse dat daar ʼn balans getref word tussen ʼn nie-onderhandelbare respek vir menseregte en die behoefte om antwoord te bied op die dringende orde en sekuriteit bekommernisse onder die gemeenskap. Die gevolgtrekking wat gebied word, is dat vigilantes wel bereid sal wees om gewelddadige vorms van probleemoplossing te staak, mits ʼn legitieme, saamwerkende en formele regsplegingstelsel, toebetrou tot die oplossing van misdaad en wanorde in ʼn gemeenskapsbetrokke, inklusiewe, respekvolle en regstellende wyse, geskep kan word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/100325
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