Searching for Reconciliation: Policing, Injustice and Territoriality in Johannesburg

by Darshan Vigneswaran

Working Papers WP 10-06 
August 2010
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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The police force is one of the main instruments that states use to address ethnic and cultural diversity. While migration scholars regard border controls as the archetypal means of dividing populations, the everyday police officer on his or her beat regularly and directly enforces spatial segregation and accentuates differences between community members. This paper studies this phenomenon by using the case study of Johannesburg, a place where segregational policing was taken to its illogical extreme. The paper specifically focuses on the manner in which the legacies of Apartheid are unravelling in the present, and the complex interplay between authoritarian policing traditions and democratic communal resistance. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork of the South African Police Services and Community Policing structures in the Johannesburg inner-city, the paper critically interrogates the dichotomy which tales of historical injustice often draw between oppressor and victim. Instead, honing in on the emergence of new vigilante policing practices, the paper shows how and why actors switch sides, forget past injustices and repeat the sins of the past.

Darhan Vigneswaran is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (MMG), Department for Socio-Cultural Diversity, Göttingen. He is a Senior Researcher at the Forced Migration Studies Programme, University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), South Africa.