Who participates in communal violence? Survey evidence from South Africa

Christopher Claassen


Little is known about the thousands of people who take part in communal violence. Existing research is largely based on interviews, impressionistic accounts and government records of arrestees. In contrast, this paper examines data from a novel survey of a representative sample of residents of Alexandra, a township in South Africa where a 2008 nation-wide wave of anti-immigrant riots began. Data on participation in the attacks were collected using a method ensuring the privacy of responses, thus potentially reducing response bias. In contrast to the conclusions of existing research, which emphasize the participation of young males, the survey data reveal that a significant number of participants were female and participants were not particularly young, being 34 years old on average. Participants are more likely to support an opposition party, attend community policing meetings and have a high-school education.

  • Communal riots
  • violence
  • participation

Article Notes

  • Declaration of conflicting interest The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

  • Funding The survey was funded in part by a grant from the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Ethical approval for the fieldwork was obtained from the human subjects review boards at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Replication data and files are located at the author’s website (http://www.chrisclaassen.com).

  • Supplementary Material The online appendix is available at: http://rap.sagepub.com/content/by/supplemental-data

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work as published without adaptation or alteration, without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (http://www.uk.sagepub.com/aboutus/openaccess.htm).

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