Theses Doctoral

The Partisan's Violence, Law and Apartheid: The Assassination of Matthew Goniwe and the Cradock Four

Pillay, Suren

This dissertation is a study of an instance of political violence that took place during 1985 in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, but which had a wider resonance across the country. It involved the killing of four prominent anti-apartheid activists, known as the Cradock Four, by a state security death squad. It is an instance of political violence that allows us to ask ontological questions about the relationship between law, rights and violence; colonial violence and the Cold War, as well as questions about the epistemologies that surround violence in relation to questions of justice.

Revisiting this violence, as mediated through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this study asks: how does this violence relate to the law itself, since apartheid was after all explicit in its claim to being the product of a legal regime? It argues that we need to think about how this violence against the Cradock Four, committed by a 'death squad'--and therefore orphaned through denial by both law and an official political narrative--related to the constitution of a South Africa political community, a political community we also have to remind ourselves, which had a colonial genealogy. To answer these questions I have traced the figures of Matthew Goniwe and his political comrades in two ways.

The first half of the dissertation is a study of how they are fashioned in legal discourse--over time mainly as victims of human rights abuses through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The second half of the dissertation is a study of their constitution in political discourse, where they become transformed from activists to absolute enemies of the state. In my discussion of this latter transformation, I trace and wish to recover what has become a subaltern narrative: thinking about these activists as instantiations of the forms of what I have called `the natives revolt', and therefore apartheid's concrete enemy: they are reluctant urban native subjects; neither properly rural and neither properly urban. It is this subject which I argue, finally disrupts the colonial ambitions of apartheid.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Pillay_columbia_0054D_10040.pdf Pillay_columbia_0054D_10040.pdf application/pdf 2.16 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Mamdani, Mahmood
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 27, 2011