A history to remember: “Who says being queer is unAfrican?”


In “The frightful development of this vice amongst the Natives”: Who says being queer is unAfrican?” Zackie Achmat traces the role of missionaries and the colonial state in the control and disciple of the African male body. He begins with a brief account of his own imprisonment at the age of 16 where he was first placed in a cell with a group of adult men including murderers and rapists. Expecting unimaginable acts of violence against him, the experience changed his own perception of prison gangs.

I could hardly understand the language they spoke. Two or three words were derived from Afrikaans, but the rest was from a mixture of African languages I could not identify at the time. Cups instructed one of the younger lads to call the other cells: “Ons wil met die Generaal tjaizana.” (“We want to talk to the General.”)

Within minutes all the toilet bowls in the Remand Section were flushed and all the water was removed from the one in our cell. In this way, the sound was carried through the entire sewage system of the block. This system allowed prisoners to communicate with each other illegally, with a diminished threat of punishment and discovery by the warders. When we arrived the 28s had to report to their General — they had to account for the loot gained from the newly arrived prisoners. MaPinda and Cups took turns talking into the “phone.” Basil, known in the cell as “die Moffie,”4 spoke to me in a grave tone: “Hulle discuss nou vir jou. MaPinda en Cups wil altwee vir jou he en nou vra hulle virrie Generaal wat hulle moet maak.” (“They are talking about you now. Both MaPinda and Cups want you, and they are asking for the General’s guidance.”) I had not had sex since my detention and felt deprived, but Mapinda was not my idea of a sex partner. Basil interrupted these thoughts with the verdict: “Die Generaal se die rules moet apply. Cups is jonger en is nie die baas nie, maar hy is MaPinda se luitenant. Mapinda het nourie dag ‘n wyfie gekry wat Cups wil gehad het en nou is dit Cups se kans/’ (“The General says the rules must apply. Cups is younger and is not the cell boss. He is MaPinda’s lieutenant. And, the other day MaPinda took a young wife (boy) Cups wanted so now it is Cups’ turn.”)

The post begins with a review of the film “Apostles of Civilised Vice”: ‘Immoral Practices’and ‘Unnatural Vice’ in South African Prisons and Compounds, 1890-1920 Zackie Achmat (1992) 

For, to one native on whose heart the good seed has fallen, who returns to the kraal in native garb and with the glowing message of an apostle in his heart, there are ten thousand who by their speech and countenance are apostles of civilised vice, who through their bodies spread the diseases of the white man over the face of wild Africa.(1) “Ethelreda Lewis (1934).

Continued. …..