Extortion or Protection?

By Rens Edwards

Tilly (1985) provides a necessary condition for state making, namely capital accumulation. Without capital, a state cannot afford a standing army. Consequently, without an army, protection of the state itself nor expansion is possible. An essential aspect of capital accumulation for upcoming states was to demand money in exchange for protection. It did not matter to the government whether its people actually wanted protection, the government simply created demand for protection.

When multiple parties exercise violence in an area, the costs of protection increase. Therefore, an important requirement was that a state had a monopoly on violence, or protection would become too costly. This created “protection racketeering”, which meant that “customers” paid a given amount of money for the protection granted by the government. By doing so, the government gained more income which was used to form an army and hence finance war.

In South Africa, protection rackets are still part of everyday life. Protection used to be the responsibility of the state. Nowadays however, South Africa does not have a single body that controls violence. Rather, several private companies and informal protective organizations (mainly criminal groups) exist to provide protection to the people. Most private security companies are legitimate. Some companies however, mostly located in Cape Town, are being operated by infamous underworld figures. Those companies are a threat to society, because they often make use of extortion instead of offering protection. Although the people should be protected from violence, these gangs are a danger to their own society.

In short, protection racketeering in South Africa functions among others as a means for criminal groups to get cash quickly, which instead causes more violence in its bigger cities. These gangs demonstrate how violence can be abused in the absence of a monopoly on violence by the state itself.