This article critically examines recent legislation in South Africa intended to systematically overhaul the country's juvenile justice system. Developed and heatedly debated over the course of a decade, the Child Justice Act implements novel procedural protections and large-scale restorative justice programs. By analyzing the political history, social context, and evolving text of the Child Justice Act, I call into question prevailing assumptions about post-apartheid South Africa's socio-legal history. Close examination of the Act's major drafts (in 2002, 2007, and 2008) reveals a set of tensions in the political and rhetorical status of youths as alternately victims of circumstance and threats to society. Rather than confronting and resolving this tension, which subverts the linear logic of post-apartheid “transition,” the act reinscribes that tension in a new vocabulary and logic of governance and social management. Contemporary South African history thus demonstrates a pattern not of transition but of problematic permutations.