The end of apartheid brought constitutional change to South Africa. However, the gap between paper rights and reality has been a source of contention throughout the post-apartheid era. Here, Rebecca Hodes writes on the extent of homophobia in South Africa. Rebecca Hodes is a medical historian based at the Institute for the Humanities in Africa (Huma), University of Cape Town. Her current research is about history of abortion in South Africa. This article is adapted from a longer piece about homophobia and political elites in Africa, published by e-International Relations on 25 July 2012, available at ttp://www.e-ir.info/2012/07/25/populist-hatred-homophobia-and-political-elites-in-africa/
The question of whether this homophobia was echoed and endorsed by key figures in the anti-Apartheid resistance is controversial, challenging nationalist framings of African National Congress (ANC) history as characterized by only the highest commitment to the ideals of freedom and equality. Some scholars have argued that black anti-Apartheid activists used the opportunity provided by their political mobilisation to resist the sexual conventions of their elders, resulting in greater sexual liberation. Others contest this, arguing that the necessity of moral consensus among leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement, and fear of security police exploitation of any supposed weakness, resulted in the repression of gay identity and the denial of queer behaviour in black communities.
In the discourse of the anti-Apartheid struggle, and in much radical historiography, homosexuality among the black community was portrayed as a result of Apartheid’s unjust labour systems, and as a ‘western import’. However, as documented by Saskia Wieringa and Ruth Morgan in their study of homosexuality in seven sub-Saharan African countries (South
Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe among them), same-sex practices existed in Africa long before the onset of colonialism, and it is homophobia, rather than homosexuality, that appears to have been imported from the west.
A burgeoning literature shows that same-sex practices are indigenous to many African societies. However, numerous South African political leaders continue to cast homosexuality as a Western perversion, alien to ‘native’ communities. In 2006, for instance, and during his tenure as the Deputy President, Jacob Zuma told an audience: ‘When I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out.’ The Sowetan quoted Zuma as saying that same-sex marriages were ‘a disgrace to the nation and to God’.
Zuma later apologized for his comments, but homophobic slurs and allegations remain a frequent feature of public discourse. One recent example is the public call by Contralesa (the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa) for a review of the Patekile’s invocation of popular support for homophobia among the South African public to support Contralesa’s call for a Constitutional Review reveals the expedience of homophobia as a moral and political enterprise. Despite constitutional protections and other explicit legal sanctions, key political figures continue to proffer rhetorical support for homophobia, and gay South Africans continue to be persecuted and brutalized on the basis of their sexuality.e section 9 of the Constitution, which precludes discrimination on the basis of sexuality. In explaining Contralesa’s position on gay rights, its President, Patekile Holomisa, stated: ‘the ANC knows that the great majority of South Africans do not want to promote or protect the rights of gays and lesbians’. He went on to state that homosexuality ‘is not part of our culture… African culture’.
Patekile’s invocation of popular support for homophobia among the South African public to support Contralesa’s call for a Constitutional Review reveals the expedience of homophobia as a moral and political enterprise. Despite constitutional protections and other explicit legal sanctions, key political figures continue to proffer rhetorical support for homophobia, and gay South Africans continue to be persecuted and brutalized on the basis of their sexuality.