Nicky Falkof
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Drugs, crime and consumption in Alexandra
in Worrier state
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This chapter is concerned with the ‘plasma gang’ scare that took place in Alexandra township, in Johannesburg, in 2013. This localised urban legend swirled around gangs of criminals that were allegedly stealing plasma televisions from township homes, often using muti to sedate the inhabitants. The plasma from the screens was then apparently either used as drugs by the thieves themselves or sold to dealers to make nyaope, a street drug that is an object of much concern in South Africa. The chapter uses social and mainstream media material, supplemented by a series of interviews with Alex residents, to follow the process of the scare and isolate its narrative components. It employs Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff’s work on the narrative, mythic and experiential features of crime in South Africa (2016) to reveal the way in which this urban legend coalesced a number of existing anxieties – xenophobia, fears of crime (often perpetrated by acquaintances), fears about drug dealers and police corruption – into one overdetermined folk devil that allowed for the collective expression of local senses of insecurity. Drawing on southern African studies of class and consumption (Alexander et al. 2013, Iqani 2015, Posel 2010), it argues that the plasma gangs story shows the complexity of living a hypermodern, aspirational and urban life within a space that is often coded as high risk, meaning that everyday citizens are caught between the neoliberal desire to own and display high status goods and the fear that doing so in itself leads to increased precarity.

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Worrier state

Risk, anxiety and moral panic in South Africa


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