Side by Side: Neoliberalism and Crime Control in Post-Apartheid South Africa

By Gordon, Diana R. | Social Justice, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Side by Side: Neoliberalism and Crime Control in Post-Apartheid South Africa


Gordon, Diana R., Social Justice


Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and tolerable administration of justice. -- Adam Smith

Introduction

AS SOUTH AFRICA EMERGED FROM APARTHEID, THE ECONOMIC POLICIES OF THE ANC (African National Congress), triumphant victor in a 40-year liberation struggle, underwent rapid and far-reaching Change -- from calling for "intense ideological struggle against neoliberalism" to the embrace of privatization, fiscal discipline, and market dominance. (1) With hardly a whimper, the development-oriented 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) yielded to the 1996 Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy, which aims for "a transformation towards a competitive outward-oriented economy." (2) Inside the country, the new government's primary allegiance shifted from labor to business; internationally, it scurried to conform its political transition to expectations of market-led growth. Joining the global guild has apparently brought on amnesia, at least in finance minister Trevor Manuel, an ANC loyalist and former Western Cape leader of the United Democratic Front, who chaired the World Bank/IMF summit i n Prague in 2000. Expressing regret that demonstrations outside the meetings had turned violent, he said of the activists, "I know what they're against but have no sense of what they're for." (3)

Almost simultaneous with this shift at the macroeconomic level came changes in criminal justice policy. The political concern about crime expressed in the first local elections in 1995 -- the ANC slogan for those elections was "Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime," and the DP (Democratic Party) promised "More cops, less crime" -- was not solely rhetorical. (4) It resulted in a legislative program that looks strikingly like the "get-tough" approach embraced by the United States over the past generation. This essay describes that development and attempts to make connections between the current macroeconomic strategy and South Africa's emphasis on punitive solutions to rampant crime. I conclude that while the former does not determine the latter, it creates a penumbra of influences that includes an imperative for harsh, state-centered social control, a common forerunner of repression. South Africa's dependence on foreign investment and international donor organizations -- inevitable, perhaps, in the era of globalization -- seems likely to contribute to aggressive law enforcement and harsh penal sanctions for the foreseeable future.

Planning for Justice and Democracy

It would be difficult to exaggerate the democratic euphoria of the vast majority of South Africans in the early 1990s. Ordinary people in townships and villages celebrated the chance to vote and the new society their votes would usher in; scholars and dissident observers of apartheid convened endlessly to fashion a bold new constitution; and anti-apartheid activists basked in their hard-won success. The watchword was "transformation," embracing change that went beyond the establishment of formal requirements of democracy: majority rule in free and fair elections, broad suffrage and access to political candidacy, free and open political communication. Sweeping rhetoric and the longstanding socialist commitments of the ANC called for the overhaul of old institutions that had enforced apartheid and the creation of new ones that could empower those victimized by it.

Even before the 1994 election put an official end to apartheid, planning for a democratic criminal justice system was underway. In 1990, F. W. De Klerk, the newly elected president, announced that police would no longer be used for political ends. (5) Well before that, legal scholars were consulting around the world on the development of a new, rights-oriented constitution. Plans for a criminal justice system that would merge indigenous traditions and Western standards for the rule of law included a communitarian version of community policing, lay participation in criminal trials, and a Constitutional Court whose composition would reflect that of the population. …

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