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Vigilantism v. The State: A case study of the rise and fall of Pagad, 1996-2000
1 February 2005

Pagad began as People Against Gangsterism and Drugs. It ended as Pipe-bombers and Gunmen and Detonators. Pagad evolved rapidly into an organisation with a political power agenda, purging dissenters, intimidating the Muslim establishment, as well as liberal and feminist Muslims, and attacking police, prosecutors and judges. Media photos and videos focused on Pagad’s use of religion as an ideology to mobilise supporters and to legitimate killing. It rarely perceived this organisation as part of the social phenomenon of numerous vigilante groups springing up around the country to combat the worstever crime wave.

It is also essential, however, to analyse the dimension of Pagad as one of numerous popular initiatives against South Africa’s worst-ever crime waves. Pagad also challenged the young South African democracy with two difficult tests. First, could the post-apartheid police and prosecutors break Pagad? Second, could the police, prosecutors and judiciary, caught in the upheaval of transformation, suppress its terrorism without detention, torture and other violations of the rule of law, and the Constitution’s Bill of Human Rights? 

About the author

Keith Gottschalk is head of the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape. His thirty academic publications include apartheid’s death squads, political party rivalry during South Africa’s first decade of democracy and the founding of the African Union. His first poetry collection, Emergency Poems, was published in 1992. He is also deputy chair of the South African Writers’ Association and of the Cape Centre of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.

The publication of this paper was supported by the Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs.