Sovereignty Work: Policing Colonial Capitalism in South Africa, 1867–1936 Restricted; Files Only

Stone, Madelyn (Summer 2022)

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Settler sovereignty entailed the construction of a contested claim. Scholars have tended to frame sovereignty as an absolute assertion, rooted in the authority of a state and articulated through the law. The workings of the law’s enforcement, however, reveal sovereignty to function fundamentally differently. Police, as an extension of colonial power, historically negotiated and defined the sovereign claim through violence. As becomes evident in the analysis of settler colonialism in South Africa, police—not the law—made and remade sovereignty by exercising the capacity to decide the rule and the exception. The settler’s sovereign claim entailed a protracted violence, asserted and reasserted through the work of deputized sovereigns on the ground.

This dissertation examines the colonial settlement of South Africa in the context of the broader imperial moment beginning in the mid-nineteenth century when European powers laid claim to vast African territories. Settlers carving up African lands simultaneously institutionalized policing on the continent, their armed forces bestowing a military inheritance on the units that came to enforce colonial law. In southern Africa, the diamond mines of Griqualand West and the gold fields of the Witwatersrand rapidly industrialized after settlers identified troves of potential wealth in their soils. Vigilantes and soldiers helped perform policing work in a variegated nexus of social control on which settler authorities relied to control the predominantly African labor force. Police had an active role in the primitive accumulation of land as well as labor, capturing a force of workers to facilitate imperial extraction.

Policework enacted sovereignty in part by associating criminality with Black African workers. Legislation regulating so-called vagrants, entrapment operations combatting illegal trading, and the enclosed industrial working spaces called compounds helped police secure and resecure conditions for capitalist accumulation. Vagrancy laws criminalized African men deemed insufficiently employed, trapping practices appropriated racist assumptions of Blackness to catch illicit dealers in the act, and compounds fixed labor in physical and ideological spaces of presumed deviance. Reliant on the discretion of policemen as everyday sovereigns, colonial policing constructed sovereignty in the everyday encounter, negotiated through force above all. 

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments, i

Introduction, 1

Part 1: Police as Force of Conquest: Spaces of Sovereignty Work

Chapter 1: Settling States: Constabularies, Commandos, and Conquest, 38

Chapter 2: Policing Griqualand West: Incorporation and Coercion, 64

Chapter 3: An Unsettled State: Contested Claims in the Policing of the Transvaal, 117

Part 2: Police as Force of Capital: Socioeconomic Sovereignty Work

Chapter 4: The Illegal Idle: Vagrancy and Police Power, 167

Chapter 5: The Trappings of Capital: Police as Criminal, 197

Chapter 6: The Compound Fix and the Colonial Carceral, 257

Conclusion, 298

Bibliography, 307

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