The dockets remained untouched on the back seat until they were carried up again to his oﬃce at the end of each day. One of the most pervasive experiences of my ﬁeldwork was learning how
much time police oﬃcers spent pursuing private aﬀairs during working hours. The activities varied from pastime activities, to maintaining social networks, to matters pertaining to the improvement of their livelihoods. At ﬁrst I saw it simply as a convenient way to make use of occasional opportunities that cropped up, or as exceptional deviations from duty – as one police oﬃcer had defensively mentioned: ‘instead of taking our lunch break we go sporting’. However, as my ﬁeldwork progressed the extent of these activities became apparent. In fact I came to think of unoﬃcial business as a constituent element of policing work rather than as an exception to the rule. My experience and observations show that the pursuit of personal activities
has come to fundamentally structure police oﬃcers’ everyday practice and their relationship with the public. This has resulted in a deep, albeit uneven, entanglement of police oﬃcers with the city and its heterogeneous sociality. From the perspective of ordinary people, especially those living at the margins of society and under precarious, informal conditions, this entanglement conﬁrms their experience of the police as primarily unpredictable, if not dangerous and predatory. At the same time it oﬀers new opportunities that allow people to claim police oﬃcers as personal friends. It thus valorises the imaginary of ‘your police – my police’1 and of the police oﬃcer as informal ‘private security’, as elaborated on in the previous chapter. To advance my point about entanglement, and to qualify simplistic
notions about corruption, I draw on Marcel Mauss’s theory of the gift, and on the concept of the frontier and its critique, which has a long history in South Africa.2 From there I turn towards what this means for human rights policing. To elucidate this question the chapter introduces some additional ethnographic material. This material shows that in an environment of informality and precariousness, human rights are not recognised for what they purport to be, namely a means to universal justice, but rather for the access they oﬀer to state power in a personalised form – very often as brute force. It shows that the imaginary of ‘your police – my police’ produces a continuum of meaningful practice that ranges between a police oﬃcer who maintains personal relationships with city dwellers and one who tries to put human rights into practice. What all the approaches on this continuum have in common is an openness and willingness to engage in a form of exchange that leads to blurring the boundary between state and society. Using the concept of human rights to turn a police oﬃcer into a form of
private security might easily be considered to be a wrongful use of human rights. However, rather than asserting that such an interpretation has nothing to do with human rights, I propose that the notion of fake human rights deserves serious consideration. In fact I argue that local interpretations – what I call vernaculars – must be understood as fakery. Very much like the
trade in counterfeit products, the fakery human rights reveals a fundamental discrepancy between a middle-class state project and the conditions under which people on the margins of society actually live. The notion of human rights as counterfeit rights thus speaks to the exclusivity of the human rights project, and might in fact be the only way in which some of its radiating promise can be taken up for those who are actually most in need of it. This leads me to conclude that the way in which human rights are being absorbed in the South African Police force reveals something quite central about the concept itself: despite being positioned as counterforce to state violence, the use of ‘human rights’ as a state practice is actually in itself a form of violence; in this case state violence.