Crime, Politics and States in Southern Africa: What a state

Political violence in Zimbabwe is nothing short of criminal. Or at least, that’s how it seems to many people in Britain, and quite a few in Zimbabwe as well. As for South Africa, everyone knows just what a problem crime has become. It is important to consider whether a high level of crime means that these countries are heading for disaster, or whether legal and illegal activity are sheltering under state umbrellas.

The World Today Published 1 October 2000 Updated 28 October 2020 5 minute READ

Stephen Ellis

Senior Researcher, Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden, the Netherlands

You do not have to be a cynic to entertain the idea that crime, politics and government have a great deal in common, as that great African intellectual Saint Augustine pointed out rather a long time ago. Common to all three are the accumulation or regulation of wealth and the organisation of coercion. Crime itself is an eminently relative idea: what is criminal in one place or at one moment may not be criminal in another context, and may even be considered laudable.

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