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We Are Fighting the World

A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947-1999

Gary Kynoch

Publication Year: 2005

Since the late 1940s, a migrant African criminal society, known as the Marashea has operated and around South Africa's gold mining compounds. Comprising thousands of members involved in extensive criminal networks, the Marashea were more influential in the day-to-day lives of many black South Africans than were the agents of the apartheid state. These gangs remain active in South Africa. Much has been written about the problems of violent criminality and the historical roots of South Africa's urban criminal culture. In We Are Fighting the World: A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947?1999 Gary Kynoch points to the combination of coercive force and administrative weakness that characterized the apartheid state. As long as crime and violence were contained within black townships and did not threaten adjacent white areas, township residents were largely left to fend for themselves. The Marashea's ability to prosper during the apartheid era and its involvement in political conflict are critical to an understanding of the violent crime epidemic that today plagues contemporary South Africa.Highly readable and solidly-researched, We Are Fighting the World is critical to an understanding of South African society, past and present. This pioneering study effectively challenges many of the orthodoxies that have guided social history research on resistance, ethnicity, urban spaces, and gender in South Africa. Kynoch's interviews with many current and former gang members gives We are Fighting the World an energy and a realism that is unparalleled in any other published work on gang violence in southern Africa.Gary Kynoch is an assistant professor of History at Dalhousie University. He is the author of numerous articles on crime, policing and violence in urban South Africa.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page / Copyright Page

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pp. v

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pp. vii-xii

This book is the first attempt to write a comprehensive history of an African criminal society known as the Marashea, or “Russians,” from its inception in the 1940s to the present.1 It covers the formation of the association in the townships and mining compounds of the Witwatersrand, the massive street battles of the 1950s, and the government’s forced removal schemes that dispersed the Russians from some of their urban...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book would not have materialized without the efforts of Tsepang Cekwane and Booi Mohapi. Along with conducting and transcribing interviews, Tsepang proved particularly adept at finding Marashea throughout Lesotho and in South African townships and informal settlements. His navigational skills saved me from getting lost...


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pp. xv

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1. Urban Violence in South Africa

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pp. 1-11

South Africa is one of the most crime-ridden societies in the world.1 In a country where unemployment runs between 30 and 50 percent and the majority of the population struggles on the economic margins, high crime rates are not surprising. It is the violence associated with so much of the crime that has created a climate of fear. Carjacking...

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2. The Anatomy of the Marashea

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pp. 12-55

The Marashea was founded by adult male Basotho migrants working in South African cities and mines. Age, gender, and ethnicity have remained defining features of the Russian gangs to the present day. The stability associated with adult members who do not graduate out of a youth gang lifestyle has been important to the organizational coherence of the...

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3. Making a Living: Survival in South Africa

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pp. 56-90

Over the course of its fifty-year history the Marashea has been faced with a formidable array of obstacles to its survival. As black, foreign, often illegal migrants partially dependent on criminal activities, Marashea have carved out an existence in hostile environments. They developed strategies to deal with a state dedicated to the maintenance of white...

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4. Urban Battlegrounds

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pp. 91-114

Whereas much attention has been deservedly devoted to the violence employed by the state as a means of subjugating, dividing, and controlling township residents, the different ways in which black urban groups struggled to assert control over their environments have received relatively little scrutiny. These processes cannot be regarded in isolation...

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5. Marashea on the Mines: The Expansion Era

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pp. 115-135

The small fraternity of scholars who have studied the Marashea consider the gangs to be an urban phenomenon that peaked on the Rand in the 1950s but then withered away as a result of increased police pressure and tightening influx controls. Bonner argues that “the more rigorous application of the pass laws began to take its toll on confidence...

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6. Vigilantism, “Political” Violence, and the End of Apartheid

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pp. 136-152

The history of urban violence in South Africa lays bare the fault lines of township societies and demonstrates how the violence both reflected and exacerbated these fissures. Urban African communities were intensely heterogeneous and riven by divisions and tensions. To a large degree, urban violence mirrored the divisions in township communities—youth versus...

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Epilogue: The Future of the Marashea

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pp. 153-156

The Marashea’s history depicts the struggles of a criminally inclined migrant society to survive during the apartheid era. The gangs have been flexible and pragmatic and have adapted well to changing conditions in South Africa. Formed as a defensive association for migrant Basotho, the gangs developed into a fighting society that became notorious for its factional battles as well as conflicts with other adversaries across...

Appendix: Marashea Interview List

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pp. 157-161


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pp. 163-183


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pp. 185-186


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pp. 187-195


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pp. 197-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780821441565
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821416167

Publication Year: 2005