In 1965 apartheid was declared a crime against humanity. Taking apartheid as a moment in the career of colonial law in South Africa, Pillay’s essay considers the political effects of a debate among a section of South Africa’s liberal critics. It hinged on whether or not to work within the categories of apartheid law, and what the strategic yield of that choice might be politically. In reconsidering this debate, this article explores the relationship between law and politics and considers how working within the legal tradition of colonial and apartheid law framed the objects of political criticism, making more prominent the problem of human rights violations, and rendering more obscure the foundational settler colonial question. It considers whether the politics of this choice was to have the effect of bringing apartheid as such into question, or whether its effect was rather a civilizational one: to secure the law, as a Western legal tradition on the southernmost tip of Africa.