A Culture of Violence? Violence and Conflict in South African History, 1880-present: Sources (HIH3031)

StaffDr Emily Bridger - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2.
Co-requisitesA Culture of Violence? Violence and Conflict in South African History, 1880-Present: Context
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Given South Africa’s exceptionally high rights of violent crime, gender-based violence, and police brutality, many observers speak of the country in terms of a “culture of violence”, first bred during the colonial and apartheid periods, and furthered under the post-apartheid state. Violence in South Africa has become normative rather than deviant, and used as a regular means of resolving social, political, and domestic conflict. Together with its co-requisite, this module traces the development of such violence, from the foundations of the country’s mining sector in the 19th century, to the repressive conditions of apartheid and the violent methods employed by those who struggled against it, to the country’s recent episodes of xenophobic attacks, escalating rape rates, and use of vigilante justice.

Drawing on published and digitised sources, as well as those collected from South African archives by the module convener, the module will expose you to a wide range of sources spanning from 1880 to the present day. These will include colonial reports and court documents; anthropological studies; memoirs; oral histories; public histories including museums and monuments; humanitarian organisation reports; films; fiction; magazine articles; and photographs.

Through working with the extensive primary source collections available to this module, you will develop a range of research, analytical, interpretative and communication skills that can be applied in further academic studies or in graduate careers

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the different sources available for the study of social, political, and domestic violence in South African history, together with a very close specialist knowledge of those sources which the students focus upon in their seminar presentations and written work.
  • 2. Analyse the complex diversity of the sources studied.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse closely original sources and to assess their reliability as historical evidence. Ability to focus on and comprehend complex texts.
  • 4. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 5. Follow the changing causes of and responses to state violence, communal conflict, criminality, and gender-based violence in South African history.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Conduct independent and autonomous study and group work, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 8. Present complex arguments orally.

Syllabus plan

This module focuses on the sources available for the study of violence and conflict in South Afrca from 1880 to the present. These sources first highlight the foundations of violence in both urban and rural communities in the early 20th century, before going on to demonstrate the structural violence of the apartheid system, the physical violence employed by the state against non-white and dissenting populations, and the counter-violence used by the country’s various political movements and liberation organisations. Alongside this history of political violence and the liberation struggle, the module also explores the simultaneous development of communal conflict, crime, and gender-based violence within South Africa’s townships and rural areas. It engages students with a wide range of approaches to South African history, providing them with a detailed understanding of social, political, and cultural histories of the country. In particular, it tasks students with understanding the connections between these various forms of violence, and explores how prolonged political conflict and the structural injustices of apartheid bred wider cultures of domestic violence, gang conflict, and violent crime which have remained in the post-apartheid period.

The introductory sessions for this module will provide an overview of the subject and also expose students to the sources themselves. The seminars will focus on sources drawn from published and digitised resources, allowing students to develop their knowledge of the subject in conjunction with the close analysis of historiography provided in the co-requisite module, and to develop their skills in source analysis and acquisition. Some of the sources will be presented by individual students, others will be presented by students working in groups; and on other occasions there will be open discussion; students may also be expected to present and discuss specific sources they have found themselves from the module resources. You will be expected to prepare for seminars by reading and evaluating the relevant sources in advance, and will discuss the issues raised by them in the seminars.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4422 x 2 hour seminars.
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course.1-6, 8Oral from tutor and fellow students.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio702 assignments totalling 4000 words1-7Verbal and written.
Individual Presentation3020-30 minutes1-8Verbal and written.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PortfolioPortfolio1-7Referral/deferral period.
PresentationWritten transcript of 20 minute presentation.1-8

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 4,000 word portfolio of source work, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 20 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Methodological Readings:

Jeremy Seekings, “Whose Voices? Politics and Methodology in the Study of Political Organisation and Protest in the Final Phase of the ‘Struggle’ in South Africa.” South African Historical Journal 62:1 (2010): 7-28.

Sean Field, Oral History, Community, and Displacement: Imagining Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa (New York: 2012)

Luise White, “Telling More: Lies, Secrets, and History,” History and Theory 39:4 (2000): 11-22.

Ann Laura Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance,” Archival Science 2:1-2 (2002): 87-109.

Stephen Ellis, “Writing Histories of Contemporary Africa,” The Journal of African History 43:1 (2002): 1-26.

Published Primary Sources – Indicative Examples

Clifton Crais, The South Africa Reader (Duke University Press, 2013)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources:

African National Congress – Historical Documents: http://www.anc.org.za/documents

Aluka – Struggles for freedom: https://www.aluka.org/struggles

Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives: http://www.aamarchives.org/

Digital Innovation South Africa: http://disa.ukzn.ac.za/

District Six Museum: http://districtsix.co.za/

South African History Online: http://www.sahistory.org.za/

South African History Archive: http://www.saha.org.za/

Historical Papers (Digitised collections from their archive in Johannesburg): http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/

Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): http://www.justice.gov.za/trc/

The O'Malley Archives via the Nelson Mandela Foundation: https://www.nelsonmandela.org/omalley/index.php/site/q/03lv01508.htm

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Other resources-

Exeter Electronic Library resources include:

Empire Online, New York Times, Guardian, The Times

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

South Africa; apartheid; violence; crime; gender; youth