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social sciences

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South Africa  
 
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The African National Congress (ANC), a resistance group that had been formed in 1912 to oppose the oppression of black South African workers, was banned in 1960 when it turned to militant tactics to fight back against apartheid. Many leaders of the resistance movement were killed or imprisoned. Nelson Mandela, for example, was jailed for twenty-seven years for "sabotaging" the apartheid government.

Another courageous young activist who was unjustly imprisoned was Tseko Simon Nkoli (1957-1998), an openly gay man who had worked to end apartheid for several years before his arrest in 1984. Though he faced the death penalty, he spoke out for gay rights while in prison and after his release in 1987.

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Nkoli's courage and that of other gay anti-apartheid activists earned them the respect of important members of the ANC.

By the 1980s an international anti-apartheid movement had begun to call for divestment and boycotts of the racist state. Internal resistance, coupled with international pressure, finally resulted in negotiations to dismantle apartheid in 1990 and to establish a democratic government.

Nelson Mandela was elected president of the new republic in 1994, and in his victory speech, he denounced prejudice and discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

When a new constitution was written and ratified in 1996, the Republic of South Africa became the first nation in the world to include sexual orientation as a fundamental freedom.

Homosexuality Before Liberation

Homosexuality has always existed in South Africa, both before and after colonization. Many of the indigenous cultures had healing or spiritual traditions that included cross-gender roles, cross-dressing, or same-sex ritual marriages.

While traditional African homosexuality is poorly documented and often deliberately obfuscated, perhaps as a result of the Christian and Islamic animus against homosexuality that was introduced into Africa by colonizers, there is no doubt that same-sex sexual relations existed in traditional African societies in varying forms and degrees of acceptance.

As colonialization progressed, communities of miners, isolated from society in much the same way that prisoners are, developed a particular form of homosexual relationship, mkehlo, a male marriage that met needs for sex, intimacy, and support in all-male environments.

During European rule, was a common law crime, which was ultimately codified with a punishment of seven years imprisonment. Nevertheless, discreet homosexuals, such as leading colonist Cecil Rhodes, seem not to have been targeted for prosecution. Later, however, the sodomy law and other anti-homosexual legislation were used to outlaw social gatherings and political activities by gay men.

In 1957, a law forbidding the congregating of homosexual men for any erotic activity was passed.

In 1968, the government proposed increased anti-homosexuality legislation, inspiring one of the first organized actions for gay rights in South Africa. A group of mostly white, middle-class gay men formed the Homosexual Law Reform Fund, which successfully—yet fairly discreetly—campaigned against the harsher laws.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, South African police routinely harassed gay men with sporadic enforcement of anti-gay laws, but after the early 1970s enforcement of the sodomy law became rare. From 1972 through the abolition of the sodomy law in 1994, there were no prosecutions for private consensual sodomy in most regions of the country, though public sex was occasionally prosecuted under the sodomy law in some areas.

Although the sodomy law was only rarely enforced after 1972, it nevertheless made itself felt as a tool of insult and intimidation, wreaking psychological damage on the self-esteem of members of sexual minorities.

Similarly, although sex between women was never criminalized, anti-homosexual legislation added to the cultural stigma against lesbianism.

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