Why are We Such a Violent Nation? The Legacy of Humiliation in South Africa

  • Lyn Snodgrass
  • Anja Bodisch


This article seeks to explore why, 21 years after apartheid, South Africans are so violent and why crime, even petty crime, is unique because of its extraordinary level of violence. This article seeks to interrogate the role of humiliation in extreme violence and its devastating consequences for an emerging democracy. The article discusses the psycho-political theories and approaches that inform the theoretical perspective adopted, and explores the historical and patriarchal roots of entrenched humiliation in South Africa. It engages with the ‘humiliation dynamic’ to explore the on-going and escalating violence in South African society. The article concludes that systemic humiliation, peculiar to South Africa and its apartheid history, is central in understanding extraordinary violence. Humiliation, deeply-rooted in the landscape of social memory, endures and is fuelled by the frustration of human rights, which leads to further and more extreme forms of violence and crime.