Detective fictions and sovereign pursuits: further adventures in policing the postcolony

Jean Comaroff John Comaroff

The text presents and analyzes different cases involving issues of police investigation, the empire of law, and the new social order in South Africa after the apartheid. In face of the violence inherited from the authoritarian regime and the coming of democracy, the post-apartheid government seemed unable to effectively monopolize the means of violence. In this context, many cases arise that intertwine police activity, quackery, and the confrontation of the supernatural. A first example is the creation, in 1992, of the "Occult Related Crimes Unit", charged of the investigation of illegal actions resulting from the practice of "occult sciences" and "witchcraft". A second one concerns the history of the "Scorpions", an elite police unit that, in the beginning of the 2000's, fought against crimes of corruption and showed an almost supernatural efficiency in its practices of investigation, until its dissolution for political reasons in 2009. The third narrative about "supernatural policing" involves an incident at the beginning of the year 2000, in a rural South African province, in which a poor family was recurrently molested by a supernatural entity, and in which the police was effectively involved in elucidating the case. All these situations - in which the practice of police investigation is combined with the mysteries of fortune-telling and the powers of the supernatural - occur in a context in which anxiety is enhanced in relation to the empire of law and the construction of the post-colonial order.

Sovereignty; Apartheid; Violence; Policing; Quackery; The Supernatural

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