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social sciences

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South Africa  
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Gay Life

South Africa's diverse glbtq community both thrives and struggles amid the contradictions between a conservative traditional culture and some of the most progressive gay rights legislation in the world.

Homosexuality certainly exists in rural South Africa, but visible gay life in South Africa seems to be an urban phenomenon. The major cities, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town, all have substantial gay communities.

Even smaller cities, such as Blomfontein, Port Elizabeth, and East London, are known as gay-friendly areas, while Knyna hosts the annual Pink Loerie Mardi Gras, which attracts gay men and lesbians from across the country.

Sponsor Message.

In the cities of South Africa, numerous businesses, from bars and restaurants to real estate offices, cater to glbtq customers. In addition, there are many cultural, political, sports, and religious organizations that welcome gay men and lesbians.

Both Johannesburg and Cape Town have annual Pride celebrations that attract large crowds. Cape Town is often described as the "gay capital of Africa."

As the most gay-welcoming African country, South Africa has become an important gay tourist destination, attracting visitors from Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the rest of Africa.

Despite some homophobic politicians and cultural attitudes, the South African glbtq communities have also received significant support from such revered figures in the country as Nelson Mandela, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Dutch Reformed Church theologian Dr. Allan Boesak.

Tina Gianoulis

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arts >> Overview:  African Art: Traditional

Many forms of ambiguous sexuality can be found throughout the traditional arts of Africa, including images of androgyny, hermaphroditism, and transvestism; and much of erotic sculpture and theater can also be seen as homoerotic.

social sciences >> Overview:  Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence

With reports from hundreds of sub-Saharan African locales of male-male sexual relations and from about fifty of female-female sexual relations, it is clear that same-sex sexual relations existed in traditional African societies, though varying in forms and in the degree of public acceptance

literature >> Overview:  African Literatures

The treatment of same-sex relationships in African literatures has been influenced by the traditional belief systems of various African societies, the imported views of Christianity and Islam, and the political and legal legacies of European colonialism.

social sciences >> Overview:  AIDS Activism

In the United States, glbtq people have played an integral and often leading role in AIDS activism, greatly influencing AIDS treatment and advocacy.

social sciences >> Overview:  Aversion Therapy

A form of behavior modification that employs unpleasant and sometimes painful stimuli, aversion therapy was one of the more popular treatments for homosexuality and cross-dressing in the 1950s and 1960s.

social sciences >> Overview:  Parades and Marches

Both parades and marches have served to render the glbtq community visible; whereas marches typically attempt to effect political change, parades and pride events affirm identity and community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy Laws and Sodomy Law Reform

Sodomy laws, which provided the legal basis for police harassment of sexual minorities, were conclusively overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 2003, after more than half a century of efforts at reform.

social sciences >> Achmat, Zackie

South African activist Zackie Achmat has been a pivotal figure in his country's progress in the area of glbtq rights and in its response to AIDS.

arts >> Callow, Simon

Versatile British actor Simon Callow has played a wide variety of roles on the stage, in films, and on television, but has remarked on his special affinity for gay roles.

arts >> Hawthorne, Sir Nigel

Somewhat to his chagrin, British stage and film actor Nigel Hawthorne was acclaimed as the first openly gay actor to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor.

social sciences >> International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) is a worldwide federation of local and national groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for glbtq people.

social sciences >> Nkoli, Tseko Simon

Simon Nkoli was both the founder of South Africa's black gay movement and a prominent participant in the campaign for black freedom.

literature >> Plomer, William

Although overt homosexuality is absent from William Plomer's novels and poems, the relevance of his sexuality to his work is evident.

literature >> Renault, Mary

After five novels which included suggested lesbianism, Mary Renault turned to open male homosexuality in the last nine, which included The Charioteer and eight celebrated historical novels set in ancient Greece.

social sciences >> Rhodes, Cecil

Throughout his adult life, Cecil Rhodes, one of nineteenth-century Britain's most ambitious imperialists, conducted romantic friendships with younger male associates.


Behind the Mask: The Voice of Africa's LGBTI Community website:

"A Brief History of the African National Congress." African National Congress website:

Brulliard, Nicolas. "South Africa Debates Same-sex Marriage." Global Post (October 16, 2009):,0

Davis, Ken. "Hamba Kahle (Farewell) Simon Nkoli." Green Left Weekly (Australia) 345 (January 20, 1999):

Frank, Liz. "Touring Queer Johannesburg." Sister Namibia 19.3 (July 2007): 7.

Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) website:

"Gay Friendly South Africa." South Africa Discover Our Drakensberg website:

Gevisser, Mark and Edwin Cameron, eds. Defiant Desire: Lesbian and Gay Life in South Africa. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Goodman, Ryan. "Beyond the Enforcement Principle: Sodomy Laws, Social Norms, and Social Panoptics." California Law Review 89.3 (2001): 643-740.

Harrison, Philip. South Africa's Top Sites: Gay and Lesbian. Kenilworth, South Africa: Spearhead New Africa Books, 2005.

Kelley, Annie. "Raped and Killed for Being a Lesbian: South Africa Ignores 'Corrective' Attacks." The Guardian (March 12, 2009):

Luirink, Barry. Moffies: Gay Life in South Africa. Cape Town: David Philip, 2000.

Massoud, M. F. "The Evolution of Gay Rights in South Africa." Peace Review 15 (March 2003): 301-307.

Out in Africa website:

Ross, Robert. A Concise History of South Africa. 2nd ed. Cape Town: Cambridge University Press, 2008.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: South Africa  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2011  
    Date Last Updated March 25, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2011 glbtq, Inc.  


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