During its transition to democracy in May of 1996, South Africa adopted one of the most progressive national constitutions of its time—the first in the world to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, along with other identity classifications such as gender and race. Yet despite the various steps towards social equality following the enactment of this constitution, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2006, vast social inequality still persists throughout the nation almost two decades later. Using the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) social movement as a case study, this essay seeks to examine the factors which continue to inhibit the achievement of social equality within South African society following the transition to independence and democracy.
The paper, which is organized in four parts, will first provide a brief history of the LGBTQIA social movement up until the passage of the post-apartheid constitution. The second part of the paper serves to demonstrate the lack of social equality within South African society by illustrating the key issues that LGBTQIA citizens have faced during the post-apartheid era. This section will be followed by a discussion of the theoretical frameworks regarding social movements and equality that will be used to frame the essay’s further analysis. The final section of the paper will explore the dominant tensions and discourses functioning within South African society that serve to illustrate why social equality has yet to be achieved. It is important to note that this essay does not seek to portray South Africa as inherently homophobic or engage in what Jasbir Puar terms the “geopolitical mapping” of homophobia in non-Western countries, a phenomenon which removes all guilt of homophobia from those in the West. Ultimately, it is evident that South Africa is still in the midst of negotiating the processes of social change and transformation that are central to a postcolonial political transition.
Evolution of the LGBTQIA Movement in Apartheid South Africa
Some of the first instances of gay and lesbian political organizing emerged within South Africa during the 1960s, coalescing in response to repression from the apartheid state. Mirroring the exclusionary racial politics of the time, this early activity was conducted predominantly by white South Africans rather than those of color. These early movements, however, diminished in scope over the course of the following decade due to increased attention and suppression by state authorities. During this time, those involved with the LGBTQIA movement chose not to conflate their political activism with anti-apartheid efforts, shifting towards a more closed and apolitical movement that focused on the security of LGBTQIA individuals and the creation of safe spaces for socializing and leisure.
Responding to pressure from national and international groups, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the visible gay and lesbian movement, which had preserved its predominantly white constituency, shifted towards an inclusive style of organizing that combined LGBTQIA rights activism with a political condemnation of apartheid, as illustrated by the formation of groups such as Gays and Lesbians Against Oppression (LAGO).
This period also was characterized by the growth of inclusive multiracial organizations such as Gays and Lesbians of the Witwatersrand (GLOW), which was able to garner significant political power. During the democratic transition away from apartheid in the early 1990s, organizations used the period of social change as an opportunity to pursue greater LGBTQIA rights, such as adoption, marriage, and immigration rights for same-sex couples. Within the period leading up to South Africa’s first democratic elections, LGBTQIA activists became especially prominent in their lobbying of the African National Congress (ANC) and other political parties—even in the midst of significant levels of public homophobia. Despite these difficulties, during the early 1990s the LGBTQIA movement as a whole successfully aligned its goals with the general themes of equality and non-discrimination championed by the ANC. As a result, LGBTQIA social movement organizations successfully influenced the composition of the Equality Clause of the South African Constitution which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, thus securing national legal protection of LGBTQIA identities.
Current Issues Facing LGBTQIA South Africans
The transition to democracy within South Africa marked the end of de jure heterosexism by the apartheid state by providing legally guaranteed equality, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. Yet despite this improvement, there is still a disconnect between equality guaranteed by the constitution and the realities of everyday life, thus remaining a key issue affecting true social equality for LGBTQIA South Africans. As Allanise Cloete et al. note, “[the] constitutional right protects the freedom of sexual expression but its implementation and transformation of social and cultural daily practice have not been realized by many South Africans.” This disjunction between the expectations of equality and its reality is apparent in the words of LGBTQIA South Africans themselves. After a performance as part of Johannesburg’s Pride Parade, one of the most visible celebrations of LGBTQIA identities within South Africa, a drag queen being interviewed declared: “I’m in the constitution!” When prompted to further explain what this legal recognition meant for her, she stated, “My darling, it means sweet … nothing at all. You can rape me, rob me, what am I going to do when you attack me? Wave the constitution in your face? I’m just a nobody black queen.”
A 2013 Pew Research Center study that reported that only thirty-two percent of South Africans agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. While this statistic must be read critically, considering the survey’s relatively small sample size and significant margin of error, other instances also suggest an undercurrent of homophobia within South Africa. This is illustrated by various homophobic comments made by President Jacob Zuma, who has said: “When I was growing up, an ungqingili [a gay person] would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out.” President Zuma has also argued that same-sex marriages are “a disgrace to the nation and to God.”
As eluded to in the interview at Johannesburg’s Pride Parade, one of the clearest examples of the disconnect between South Africa’s equality legislation and the everyday realities for LGBTQIA citizens is the persistent threat of homophobic violence. This violence often manifests itself through acts of rape, gay-bashing and in some cases the murder of LGBTQIA persons on the basis of their sexuality. One of the most troubling incarnations of this violence is the prevalence of the euphemistically termed act of “curative” or “corrective” rape—sexual violence used to “cure” LGBTQIA South Africans of their nonconforming sexual orientations. While these crimes are traumatizing and condemned within the LGBTQIA community little attention is given to these issues in South Africa’s mainstream media. In a similar vein of invisibility, another issue facing LGBTQIA South Africans is securing adequate access to health or support services without receiving discrimination. This is particularly important for HIV-positive LGBTQIA South Africans, who experience a “layered stigma” due to both their HIV-status as well as their sexual orientation. As Cloete et al. state, “in addition to dealing with the issues of discrimination and stigma, many HIV positive MSM [men who have sex with men] find it challenging to access services that meet their HIV treatment and care needs,” an issue that is compounded by the fact that “MSM are still discriminated against by healthcare practitioners working in mainstream public health facilities.” In this way, it is evident that the conditions of everyday life for LGBTQIA South Africans do not align with the legislative guarantees of non-discrimination that are enshrined within South Africa’s constitution.
A Theoretical Framework for Studying Social Movements and Equality
Barry D. Adam et al. asserts that “there has been a surprising neglect of gay and lesbian movements among social movement theorists,” with studies that have specialized on these movements being predominantly Eurocentric. This essay seeks to establish a theoretical framework for analysis based on themes such as the politics of visibility and intersectionality, as well as the role that democracy plays in social change. As Ashley Currier notes, “visibility matters to social movements. Public visibility imbues them with social and political relevance, enhancing activists’ ability to disseminate their demands and ideas.” Not only does visibility grant organizations increased power, it also empowers individuals in their everyday experiences. Remarking on The Forum for the Empowerment of Women’s (FEW)—a black lesbian social movement organization based in Johannesburg—decision to rent office space in a former apartheid-era prison, Nomsa, a FEW member states: “women used to be locked up here; now women are coming out and saying, “‘We’re free, and we’re speaking our minds,’ in the same place that people were locked up.” This assertion of visibility through the utilization of national symbols and images can also be seen as being part of a broader trend that has been used by other women’s movements throughout the African continent as a means for empowerment. In Burkina Faso, in what has been termed the “spatula uprising,” Burkinabé women mobilized against the government, taking to the streets with broomsticks and spatulas. Justifying the use of national symbols in a similar way to the FEW, a woman from the Burkina Faso uprising explained the importance of the spatula: “the spatula is the most important cooking utensil for women. It has a symbolic weight in our traditions. When it is used to hit a man, it’s a sacrilege; the consequences are disastrous and irreversible … this is the reason the women came out with spatulas.” In this way, the utilization of national symbols and important spaces within the national consciousness have extraordinary power, consequently enabling social movement organizations to achieve their goals.
Intersectionality can be defined as a theoretical approach that views various identity oppressions as not only linked, but also multiplicative. The importance of an intersectional analysis is demonstrated in Lisa Vetten’s work; she notes that, “gender identities generally structure social relations in a hierarchical fashion, with women subordinate to men. South Africa’s particular colonial and apartheid histories, almost by definition, impose race (and racism) on top of these gender identities.” In this way, Vetten raises the importance of racial identity as an equally important factor in the achievement of equality within South African society. When considering the prevalence of homophobic violence that affects the LGBTQIA population, violence against queer women can be understood as an incarnation of a broader trend of gender-based violence. Further, an intersectional analysis is particularly relevant considering that black South Africans are disproportionately affected by this violence. Thus, as Henriette Gunkel notes, “homophobia in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa cannot be separated from discussions around gender and race.” Further, an intersectional analysis is also relevant when exploring LGBTQIA organizing itself. Teresa Dirsuweit argues that LGBTQIA governance among groups in South Africa “has not been exempt from painful exclusionary politics with tensions existing along race, class and gender fractures.” Similarly, Shireen Hassim explains that social movements that pursue “inclusionary” rather than “transformative” politics—as many LGBTQIA organizations do—have a tendency to become elite-based, thus functioning upon a hierarchy of identities. Therefore, intersectionality provides a useful framework to analyze the lack of social equality in South Africa for LGBTQIA persons.
Studies of democratization as a vehicle for the creation and maintenance of social change also serve as an integral factor to consider when analyzing the LGBTQIA movement in South Africa. As Aili Mari Tripp writes, within Africa, “in general, the shift from one-party to multiparty politics … created favorable conditions for greater participation for sectors of society long marginalized under authoritarianism.” This was clearly the case for the LGBTQIA social movement in South Africa, which successfully aligned itself with democratic principles of equality in the transition from apartheid. It is evident that the transition to democracy in South Africa allowed for the passage of numerous pieces of progressive legislation protecting individual rights and enshrining principles of non-discrimination based on identity. However, this de jure transition to democracy is characterized by Staffan Lindberg as remaining “one-party dominant with well-known problems for democratic accountability and representation,” as the ANC has remained in power since the transition to independence. This assertion raises significant questions surrounding the future of social change and the ability for the LGBTQIA movement to generate further progress, especially considering that some authors are now arguing that democracy in South Africa has “stalled.”
The Inequalities of Geographic and Spatial Locations
A significant factor that perpetuates social inequality in South Africa can be seen in the disparities between various geographic and spatial locations throughout the country. A 2011 Human Rights Watch report about homophobic violence in South Africa asserted that LGBTQIA persons, specifically black lesbians and transgender men who are “living in townships, peri-urban and rural areas, and informal settlements are the most marginalized and vulnerable members of South Africa’s LGBT population.” Further, the prevalence of LGBTQIA-friendly venues in certain areas of Durban, Johannesburg, and Pretoria is highly dependent on their geographic location in relatively urbanized areas—areas which are devoid of the various factors that “make such a sociocultural space unthinkable in the townships,” such as greater acceptance of same-sex relationships. In reflecting on her time spent in South Africa conducting research on LGBTQIA organizing, Ashley Currier states that:
Although LGBT activists and I experienced travelling in Johannesburg somewhat similarly, our safety concerns differed because of where we lived. Many activists returned home to sometimesifficult township lives, whereas I was able to rent a room in an apartment in the white, gay neighborhood of Melville and, later, a room in a house in the adjacent, white neighborhood of Westdene, with numerous security features. My class position insulated me from the more volatile aspects of living in Johannesburg and its townships.
In this excerpt, Currier not only addresses issues of geographic and spatial disparities that are present within South Africa, but also alludes to the importance of intersectionality when she mentions how her class status ameliorated her experience. Through qualitative research with LGBTQIA South Africans, Mikki van Zyl similarly found that LGBTQIA persons who lived in townships felt less physically safe than those who lived in more developed urban areas. Clearly, one of the key issues affecting LGBTQIA South Africans’ physical security is the disparity between rural and urban areas.
Tensions between tradition and modernity
South Africa’s transition from colonialism and apartheid to independence and democracy has had significant implications for tensions surrounding the competing discourses of tradition and modernity. In his discussion about the pressure felt by newly democratized nations such as South Africa, Neville Hoad notes that, “the emergent nation must simultaneously posit itself as the vehicle of economic and cultural progress—in short, as the agent of modernity— and as the custodian of a fixed (in all senses of the word) identity conferring precolonial past—in short, as the repository of tradition.” The relevance of this tension for LGBTQIA South Africans’ equality lies in society’s portrayal of their sexual identities as either traditional or modern, with sexual identity often being employed as a critique for broader currents of change within the nation. Considering that nonconforming sexualities were repressed under colonialism and apartheid, these sexualities are now portrayed in the contemporary era as un-African and thus a foreign, imperialist import. At the same time, same-sex relationships and the equal gender relations they represent serve to challenge the patriarchal order that was cemented within South African society during the colonial period. As Vetten notes, “the current gap between the previous existing highly repressive controlled society and elimination of old structures of control, on the one hand, and adoption and implementation of new democratic institutions on the other, results in a dangerous transition period,” leading to “a gap between the old authoritarian ways and new democratic values.” This notion of a gap existing between “old” and “new” African ways of life, and the subsequent questions that emerge from this fact can also be seen in Mariama Bâ’s novella So Long a Letter. Bâ’s text explores the often-contradictory decisions that the main character Ramatoulaye must make in negotiating life in a rapidly modernizing Senegalese society, while concurrently maintaining national customs and her traditional roles. Accordingly, LGBTQIA rights are situated within larger South African considerations regarding the recognition of the past and visions for the future.
Implications of international aid and donors
Various LGBTQIA social movement organizations within South Africa receive both funding and ideological support from external donors and organizations, the majority of which are located in the Global North. Relationships with these external groups often allow South African organizations to increase their visibility and lobbying power domestically, while simultaneously becoming integrated within the global development industry. Various authors have argued that this process of NGO-ization is ultimately disempowering rather than beneficial for local groups, as donors often attach demands to their funding, prompting organizations to be less concerned with needs of their constituents and more responsive to the demands of their donors. Further, international LGBTQIA movement organizations that operate in South Africa, such as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), form the basis of what authors have termed the “Gay International”—a group of organizations which couch their efforts in Africa primarily in Western terms, thus rendering their tasks as missionary rather than collaborative and ignore the agency of South African citizens. Further, another significant implication of the relationships between South African LGBTQIA organizations and those from abroad is that highlighting linkages and partnerships with Western organizations is often used by the LGBTQIA movement’s opponents to discredit their work and “African identity.” As Currier notes, “the international dimension and alleged foreignness of LGBT movement organizations’ visibility threaten[s] to undercut their credibility with state actors and unsympathetic audiences within their national sociopolitical fields.” Negative attitudes towards foreign organization’s efforts to eradicate homophobia are emblematic of broader distrust of Western organizations throughout Africa, largely due to the legacy of colonialism and undesired foreign intervention. For example, Habil Oloo et al. note that international organization’s efforts to persuade communities to abandon practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya “[are] largely seen as colonial imperialism.” Thus, while beneficial in providing necessary monetary support for many South African LGBTQIA organizations, international presence has resulted in a movement that is viewed as “un-African” and even as an inherently negative force in South Africa.
Negotiating a queer African identity
Efforts to secure minority rights and general social equality in South Africa, specifically those relating to LGBTQIA persons, have been refuted largely through the employment of nationalist and Africanist discourse. As Mikki van Zyl notes, “the discourse claiming that homosexuality is un-African is embedded in wider hegemonic relations of power centering “true’ African identities in contrast to perceived colonial identities of ‘Western imports.’” Sylvia Tamale refutes the notion of homosexuality as un-African with her argument that, “although imperialism attempted to racialize sexuality, and while it is true that sexuality has some cultural particulars (which are themselves not inherent, natural, or fixed), sexual orientation transcends racial and ethnic identity.” Despite this reality, “there is a long history of constituting homosexuality [in South Africa] as something outside tradition and culture and thus outside the nation.” Accordingly, discourse that posits homosexuality as un-African allows individuals and political leaders to combat what is seen as Western “gay imperialism”—including Western funding and political lobbying. The detrimental effect of this rhetoric, as Zyl notes, lies in its power to maintain the disconnect between South Africa’s equality legislation and the everyday realities for LGBTQIA South Africans: “in this process of (re)fashioning heterosexual patriarchal ‘African’ identities, collective identities relating to different gender and sexual norms are effectively erased from the Equality Clause … remaining at the margins of society and denied full citizenship.” Overall, the largest implication of the homosexuality as un-African discourse is its power to deny LGBTQIA persons visibility within the larger community and a rightful place in the national consciousness, thus rendering them unequal within society.
It is evident that there is a clear contradiction within South African society between the de jure protection of LGBTQIA rights and the de facto reality of discrimination. This paper seeks to explore the various tensions and discourses that function within society and contribute to the persistence of inequality. First describing the evolution of the LGBTQIA social movement during the apartheid era and transition towards democracy, the paper then explored the contemporary issues facing the movement that illustrate the lack of social equality within the nation. The theoretical framework used to shape the discussion composed of the politics of visibility, intersectionality, and the role of democracy in generating change. The final section of the paper explored the various tensions and discourses circulating within South Africa that influence the national consciousness and ultimately form the basis for why social equality has not yet been reached for LGBTQIA South Africans. As activist Zackie Achmat notes, “In South Africa we have a really good legal framework, what we need now is a change in our social understandings, our attitudes.”
Matilda Steward (’16) is a senior at the University of Sydney.
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Zyl, Mikki van. “Are Same-Sex Marriages Un-African? Same-Sex Relationships and Belonging in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Journal of Social Issues 67:2 (2011): 335-357.
 Mark Gevisser, “Mandela’s Stepchildren: Homosexual Identity in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” Different Rainbows, ed. Peter Drucker (Chicago, IL: Gay Men’s Press, 2000), 113.
 Liesl Theron, ‘Does the Label Fit?’, in Queer African Reader, eds. Sokari Ekine and Hakima Abbas (Dakar, Senegal: Pambazuka Press, 2013), 320.
 A note on terminology: I have chosen to use LGBTQIA in an attempt to be as inclusive as possible within this discussion. Other authors I have quoted use different conceptions of this terminology.
 Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 95.
 Ashley Currier, Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 25.
 Mark Gevisser, Defiant Desire (New York: Routledge, 1995), 45.
 Currier, Out in Africa, 35.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 39.
 Sheila Croucher, “South Africa’s Democratization and the Politics of Gay Liberation.” Journal of Southern African Studies 28:2 (2007): 324.
 Jacklyn Cock, “Engendering Gay and Lesbian Rights: The Equality Clause in the South African Constitution,” Women’s Studies International Forum 26:1 (2003): 35.
 Allanise Cloete, Seth C. Kalichman, and Leickness Chisamu Simbayi. “Layered Stigma and HIV/AIDS: Experiences of Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) in South Africa,” in Stigma, Discrimination and Living with HIV/AIDS: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, ed. Pranee Liamputtong (New York: Springer, 2013), 265.
 Gevisser, “Mandela’s Stepchildren,” 136.
 Pew Research Center, ‘Global Acceptance of Homosexuality’, June 4, 2013, <http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/06/04/global-acceptance-of-homosexuality/>.
 Finn Reygan and Ashley Lynette, “Heteronormativity, homophobia and ‘culture’ arguments in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa,” Sexualities 17:5/6 (2014): 708.
 Thabo Msibi, ‘Not Crossing the Line: Masculinities and Homophobic Violence in South Africa’, Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity 23:80 (2011): 50.
 Teresa Dirsuweit, “The Problem of Identities: The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Social Movement in South Africa,” in Voices of Protest: Social Movement in Post-Apartheid South Africa, eds. Richard Ballard et al. (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2006), 325.
 Cloete et al., 264.
 Barry Adam, Jan Willem Duyvendak, and André Krouwel, eds.,The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics: National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1999), 2.
 Currier, Out in Africa, 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Dan Moshenberg, ‘The Burkinabé Women’s Spatula Uprising’, Women in and Beyond the Global, October 30, 2014, <http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=16001>.
 Moshenberg, ‘The Burkinabé Women’s Spatula Uprising’.
 Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43:6 (1991): 1241-1293.
 Lisa Vetten, ‘Gender, Race and Power Dynamics in the Face of Social Change: Deconstructing Violence against Women in South Africa’, in Reclaiming Women’s Spaces: New Perspectives on Violence Against Women and Sheltering in South Africa, ed. Yoon Jung Park et al. (Nisaa Institue for Women’s Development, 2000), 48.
 Henriette Gunkel, The Cultural Politics of Female Sexuality in South Africa (New York: Routledge, 2010), 5.
 Dirsuweit, 325.
 Gunkel, The Cultural Politics of Female Sexuality, 7.
 Dirsuweit, 325.
 Shireen Hassim, ‘The Challenges of Inclusion and Transformation: The Women’s Movement in Democratic South Africa’, Voices of Protest: Social Movement in Post-Apartheid South Africa, eds. Richard Ballard et al., eds (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2006), 352.
 Ailli Mari Tripp, ‘The New Political Activism in Africa’, Journal of Democracy 12:3 (2001), 142.
 Croucher, 324.
 Gabrielle Lynch and Gordon Crawford, “Democratization in Africa 1990-2010: an Assessment,” Democratization 18:2 (2011): 287.
 Currier, Out in Africa, 15.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘“We’ll Show You You’re a Woman”: Violence and Discrimination against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men in South Africa’, 2011, <http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/southafrica1211.pdf>.
 Neville Hoad, African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality and Globalization (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 74.
 Currier, Out in Africa, 172.
 Mikki van Zyl, ‘Are Same-Sex Marriages Un-African? Same-Sex Relationships and Belonging in Post-Apartheid South Africa’, Journal of Social Issues 67:2 (2011): 351.
 Hoad, African Intimacies, 75.
 Ibid., 69.
 Zyl, “Are Same-Sex Marriages Un-African?,” 338.
 Vetten, “Gender, Race and Power Dynamics.” 57.
 Mariama Bâ, So Long a Letter (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2012).
 Currier, Out in Africa, 19.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 21; Joseph Massad, ‘Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World’, Public Culture 12:2 (2002): 362.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 21.
 Habil Oloo (with Monica Wanjiru and Katy Newell-Jones), “Female Genital Mutilation Practices in Kenya: The Role of Alternative Rites of Passage,” Feed the Minds 2011, 7.
 Hoad, African Intimacies, 71.
 Zyl, ‘Are Same-Sex Marriages Un-African?,” 340.
 Sylvia Tamale, ‘Confronting the Politics of Nonconforming Sexualities in Africa’, African Studies Review 56:2 (2013): 40.
 Gunkel, The Cultural Politics of Female Sexuality, 27.
 Ian Barnard, Queer Race: Cultural Intervention in the Racial Politics of Queer Theory (New York: Peter Lang, 2004), 7.
 Zyl, ‘Are Same-Sex Marriages Un-African?’, 351.
 Cock, 40.