In recent years the South African government has found itself increasingly challenged by the continuing violence and instability in certain communities that have been caused by street gangs and so-called vigilantism or popular justice. Street gangs have been a particular problem in predominantly coloured communities in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The phenomenon of popular justice has become characteristically associated with black African townships, and instances of popular justice have flared up in various townships. At face value, the extreme violence which is endemic to both the street gang and vigilantism would appear to be meaningless and senseless. However, these phenomena do pose a serious underlying challenge to the state. This article seeks to reflect on street gang and vigilantism as examples of symbols of resistance to the state. Through an analysis of the socio-cultural contexts of both, the author shows how the street gang and vigilantism are symbols of the challenge to state authority.