The Commercialization of Assassination: “Hits” and Contract Killing in South Africa, 2000-2015

Author: Mark Shaw and Kim Thomas                                                     Publication Date: 2016

Abstract: Targeted killings or ‘hits’ have become a feature of South Africa’s political economy, both licit and illicit. Given their current and potential impact they are understudied. In this article, we present data for hits for a 16-year period from 2000 to 2015. Hits represent the application of targeted violence aimed at removing particular individuals and sending wider signals about power relations to promote a variety of political, economic or criminal interests. Given that they are increasingly contracted out to hired killers, hits are themselves a commercial arrangement, and we argue that they represent a shift from more ideological motivated killings during the political struggles of the 1980s and 1990s. They are also deeply symptomatic of the broader challenges of corruption and rent seeking in South Africa, particularly at local and provincial levels. Such killings, and the availability of killers for hire, draw on several ‘nurseries of violence’ and they link to wider sets of criminal activity, such as in the taxi industry, in gangs and organized crime, in the private security industry, as well as within state agencies.

Full Citation: Shaw, Mark, and Kim Thomas. ‘The Commercialization of Assassination: “Hits” and Contract Killing in South Africa, 2000-2015’. African Affairs, 2016, 1–24. doi:10.1093/afraf/adw050.

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