the shooting at Uitenhage, South Africa, 1985: the context and interpretation of violence



This article examines the fatal shooting by the South African Police of 20 people among a small crowd in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. It explores some cultural characteristics of violence as a social process and social form. In this incident, the intentions of the actors were not simply confrontational, yet the event had the shape of other “classic” confrontations in South African history. Since direct political chains of command were not functioning at the time, explanation is sought in terms of the actors' cultural representations of “community,” “self,” and “the state,” rather than in terms of instrumental action within a formal political system. Here, social power is presented as the ability to impose an interpretation among competing interpretations after the occurrence of violence, rather than as the ability to cause violence as the instrument of policy or as the intended consequence of intentional social action. [South African politics, violence, explanation in the social sciences, political culture, cultural representations, conflict]