A Rapid Appraisal Study of the State of Open-source Knowledge on the causes of Civil Violence in South Africa, 2006-2009

A review and the causes of civil violence as presented in open-source literature.



Consultancy team

Andrew Charman and Leif Petersen, assisted by Sean Brown (media researcher) and Teresa Legg (GIS specialist)


Sustainable Livelihood Consultants was appointed to review and assess the causes of civil violence as presented in open-source literature. The consultant was required to describe the causes of civil violence identified
in the following contexts:

  • Political party conflict, both inter and intra,
  • Attacks against local government leadership,
  • Service delivery protests,
  • Taxi violence, in struggles against state policy / government programmes and in conflict over routes,
  • Economic violence, including violence committed by striking workers and attacks on small business
  • Xenophobic attacks on immigrants.


The researchers identified and assembled a substantial sample of the state of knowledge on these various aspects of civil violence. The sample broadly reflected the major outputs of the leading international and South African scholars, think tanks, non-governmental organisations, research institutions, commentators and media analysts over the study period. The evidence, opinion and data within the sample were assessed using a tool that SLC developed as part of the consultancy process to gauge the veracity of the information and to triangulate against existing knowledge. The results of the analysis were then applied in a case study context to illuminate the causes of civil violence in three localities within the Western Cape. The evidence from the case studies was described in geo-spatial formats, evidencing incidence reports and socio-economic data.


The researchers found that the causes of civil violence are to be understood at three levels:

  1. Structural causes (or framework conditions): these relate to the pressures that frame inequality and substantial poverty.
  2. Proximate causes (immediate pressures): these relate to the pressures of political entitlement and the struggle for resources and state patronage.
  3.  Microcon influences: these are the local factors at grassroots level that include organisation and leadership which account for the mobilization of protestors and the leadership decision to use violence to achieve specific objectives.

The literature in the sample highlights that protestors, leaders and organisations that advocate an unrest agenda believe that they have an entitlement to use violence as a means of protest; will be immune from prosecution; and will achieve their objectives expediently and successfully through violence.

The literature indicates that civil violence will occur most frequently and with the greatest intensity in informal settlements. In this context, political organisations, local organisation and economic organisation (such as taxi associations) will use violence as a tool to achieve specific objectives. The data indicates that young men will perpetrate most violence, though leaders will direct the violence and specify the targeting.

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