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Jokin Alberdi Bidaguren and Daniel Nina

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Governability and Forms of Popular Justice in the New South Africa and Mozambique: Community Courts and Vigilantism

This article analyzes problems of governability in the administration of justice in Mozambique and South Africa by exploring various experiences of popular justice that continue to exist in the new democratic contexts of these countries. The weakness of the South African and Mozambican states is reflected in their judicial systems. In spite of democratic reform, most citizens of these countries, particularly the less well off, have no guaranteed access to justice. This weakness of the state in terms of guaranteeing order and security long since prompted a response from society. In the current context of representative democracy, a distinction may be drawn between (1) responses that directly call into question the legitimacy of the new states (fundamentalist religious groups such as People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, organized crime, vigilante groups, and other ways of taking justice into one’s own hands) or that contribute to the breakdown of society and the state; and (2) those that accept the new constitutional framework and respect human rights (some community courts, religious courts, traditional authorities, and legal assistance projects for conflict resolution set up by various nongovernmental organizations). Authors Bidaguren and Nina provide a context for the current links between society and the state in Southern Africa. They consider theoretical points concerning the consolidation of the state, such as the governability crisis, the globalization of democratic and judicial systems, weak fragile states, and the construction of collective identities in multicultural contexts. Then we look at problems of access to justice in Mozambique and South Africa in terms of the lack of financial and human resources (a characteristic of fragile states) and how ill suited Western legal traditions are to the various conflict-resolution practices of the different communities in these countries. Next, they consider different cases to draw a distinction between responsible community justice and systems that the state should attempt to eliminate. Finally, they stress the need for a redefinition of the values and principles of these states from a transcultural, “non-standardizing” perspective that can help to integrate the values and concepts of African cultures into their legal systems.

Mozambique and South Africa, popular justice, globalization of democratic and judicial systems, organized crime, vigilante groups

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 31, Nos. 1-2 (2004): 165-181