10.FlowsSexSubst.UnimaginedCommunity.Jun07

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10 Flows of sexual substance: the Sexual Network in South Africa The meaning of sex in southern Africa Expressions of sexuality and acts of sex have been treated as ‘behaviour’—that is, as individual acts primarily motivated by ‘internal’ psychological states of mind or body—in most of the social scientific and psychological literature, while cultural studies and literary approaches have treated it in categorical (as ‘gender’), cultural (‘representations’), or discourse (after Foucault). A cultu
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  149 10 Flows of sexual substance:the Sexual Network in South Africa The meaning of sex in southern Africa Expressions of sexuality and acts of sex have been treated as ‘behaviour’—that is, as individualacts primarily motivated by ‘internal’ psychological states of mind or body—in most of thesocial scientific and psychological literature, while cultural studies and literary approaches havetreated it in categorical (as ‘gender’), cultural (‘representations’), or discourse (after Foucault).A cultural anthropological model, by contrast, must seek to understand the symbolic andsemiotic dimensions of sex and sexuality in southern Africa. Here I examine the ‘traditional’culture of sex and sexuality relying in large part on data from traditional healers ( sangoma s) inorder to discover the deeper meanings of sexuality that link it to marriage and marriagepayments ( lobola , bogadi ), gift exchange (‘payment’, exchange of services such as cooking or useof accommodation, or affection), reproduction, and recreational uses of sex. Sex can be betterunderstood as being  productive of identities rather than a reflex of gender (masculinity,femininity), and its social function in ‘traditional’ southern African societies can be betterunderstood in terms of ‘flows’ of ‘sexual substance’ between males and females, withconcomitant ‘flows’ of material goods. We can see that ‘sexual substance’ flows along the sametraces of the sexual network that HIV does; it is part of the same linked system of socialrelations. Where anthropologists have studied flows of gifts, property, wealth and valuethrough the legitimate network of sexual relations that we call ‘kinship systems’, in this case weobserve a broader field of relations that go beyond ‘kinship’, but have many of the samecharacteristics. Incidents Several incidents over the last five years focus our attention on aspects of sex and notions of blood, body and sex in South African culture— what we might call the national consciousnessof sex and AIDS. 1 These incidents concern the rape of children, the fear that a group of femalesangomas expressed about the danger to men of sexual fluids, and accusations of rape against Jacob Zuma, the former Deputy President, former chairman of the South African NationalAIDS Council, and former husband of the first ANC Minister of Health. These incidentsexpose issues involving sex and the flow of sexual fluids—what I shall call here, ‘sexualsubstance’. These concepts are crucial component of the structures of kinship, family and thecontinuity of generations, and above all, of the configuration and durability of South Africansexual networks. 1 I use the phrase ‘South African culture’ with some trepidation and acknowledge a certain lack of exactitude.South Africa, in fact, is as much or more ‘multi-cultural’ as most large contemporary nations. I simply wish tofocus attention on certain aspects which would appear to be common to a South African culture since they aretreated as such by the public media and in political discourse. Sex and AIDS, and issues that are related to these,seem to have achieved this status of shared national representations and discourses.  150 Baby Tshepang In the remote city of Uppington in the far north of the sparsely populated near desert provinceof Northern Cape, four men went on trial in 2001 for the rape of a 9 month old baby. OnOctober 27, in Louisvale a small township near Uppington, the mother had left the child alonewhile she was drinking, and came back to find it crying and bleeding. The baby survived afterreconstructive surgery, and after many months the men were eventually found not guilty. Thebaby became known as ‘baby Tshepang’. Later that same year in the Johannesburgneighbourhood of Joubert Park, another baby was similarly raped when its mother left it in asqualid room in the tenement near downtown Johannesburg in which they lived. These twocases stirred, but not for the first time, a huge outcry in the press and in parliament about howand why these horrible crimes could have happened.These stories quickly became part of the South African social consciousness. The incident nearUppington inspired a play, Tshepang , by Lara Foot Newton. 2 The play, though based on thetrue story is fictionalised in a way that generalises its content since, in that year (2001),approximately 21,000 rapes of children were reported. 3 The play is a restrained andharrowing, brutal yet sensitive response to these facts. It exposes the poverty of emotionalresources as much as the economic poverty of the main protagonists and attempts to explain therape as a consequence of the previous severe childhood abuse of the rapist who turns out to bethe impoverished mother’s boyfriend. A repeated line, as if from the chorus of a Greektragedy—‘Nothing ever happens here’—exposes the multiple dimensions of poverty that issocial, economic, moral and emotional. The play is powerfully effective in conveying a sense of the weight of past abuse and violence that must be carried by those who have suffered it. In theplay this is dramatised for the mother by making her carry a baby’s cradle strapped to her back,a symbol of both her embodiment of the violence, her shared guilt, and grief. Althoughaddressed to, and experienced by only the very small theatre-going audience in South Africa, itdoes suggest the cultural significance that events of this kind have come to have in the firstdecade of the twenty-first century South Africa. It makes an effort to come to terms withsexual brutality of this kind, an effort that is also seen in other aspects of South African life,from the popular press such as The Sun (a sensationalist tabloid popular in Soweto), for instance,to community radio stations that are heard by the majority. The incident, once brought to thepublic attention, soon elicited many other stories of the rape of children in South Africa. BabyTshepang was placed in foster care. In the play as in the press, the cause of the evil is held to besocial rather than individual, collective rather than personal. Blame is not assigned to theperson but to ‘the people’.The outcome of the second high-profile case in Johannesburg has been extensively discussed byClaudia Ford who adopted the baby and wrote a book about the process. 4 This child is now ahealthy and happy child after reconstructive surgery and loving care. These cases areexceptional, however. The vast majority of children who are raped are not cared for in anyway out of the ordinary, and very few prosecutions result in conviction. 2 ‘Tshepang: The Third Testament’ is a play by Lara Foot Newton (2005), was first performed at theGrahamstown National Arts Festival, 3-5 July, 2003, and has been performed several times in South Africa and theUK. It has been performed for instance, at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London (UK Premier, 21 September – 16 October 2004), at the Dublin Theatre Festival (October 2005); The Barney Simon, Theatre, Market Theatre, Johannesubrug, March, 2005, and at the Wits University Theatre (where I saw it), among others. 3 For statistics on rape of children, the category was defined as those under 18 years of age in the police statistics.Dempster 2001; CNN, 2001, Swarns 2002. 4 Ford 2005.  151Emerging out of these cases a consensus formed around the notion that many men—especiallypoor uneducated black men—believe that AIDS could be cured by having sex with a virgin. Itwas believed that they had selected babies of around one or two years old because they wereguaranteed to be virgins. This ‘explanation’ has never been confirmed as a motive by the actualperpetrators of these crimes, and may therefore be more the stuff of ‘urban legends’.Whatever the status of this belief, and whether or not it actually motivates rape of this kind, ithas captured the South African imagination. The claim that some people hold the belief has, atleast, the status of fact. It has been targeted by AIDS interventions and education programmes.The newspapers and TV channels carry ‘educational’ messages that ‘sex with a virgin will notcure you of AIDS’. Community education literature on HIV/AIDS similarly carries warningsthat this is not the case. Whether or not it is actually believed, or that it actually motivatessome criminals, it appears to be sufficiently plausible to be a belief, and some, indeed, might acton it. The intense focus on this apparent absurdity, however, directs our attention to theconnection between sex and healing, sex and age or life-stage, and values attached to thepresence or absence of sex in the process of healing and illness. Specifically, it points to anotion that sex has a power to ‘heal’ and that some ‘power’ or ‘substance’ in female virgins caneffect changes in the male. The healing takes place through flows between people, not withinany single person. Healing, like illness, has social causes. ‘We are killing our men’ In another time and place, I sat with a group of sangomas who were attending a trainingworkshop on HIV/AIDS in Acornhoek, a small town in the lowveld region of LimpopoProvince. The facilitator told them that they should advise all of their clients to use condoms,and as is usual in such workshops, demonstrated how a condom should be put onto the penis.He used a broomstick to demonstrate although this caused much derisive laughter about howunrealistic a broomstick was as a model. Since a great deal of the healer’s work concerns sexualor romantic problems, they were scarcely naïve about penises. In particular, the healersdeclared, the condom could interfere with sex, and cause poor health, or even disease andmadness. Discussion, however, centred on the dangers of condoms. Condoms, it was declared,could cause a dangerous ‘back-up’ of semen in the male and therefore lead to dangerous illness.Furthermore, condoms could come off and ‘disappear’ inside the woman. It was held,however, that condoms could be useful in preventing male contact with menstrual blood, asubstance that was truly dangerous, and could also prevent contact with women who hadrecently attended funerals and who thus carried a dangerous impurity that could kill men. ‘Weare killing our men’, one woman declared, by not being sufficiently careful about preventingsuch dangerous contact with menstrual fluid and in not strictly avoiding sex after contact withdeath. The discussion of HIV had been sidetracked into discussion of other kinds of dangeroussubstances that could be absorbed by men through sexual contact with women. 5 None of thewomen spoke of specific incidents, but spoke instead of categories (men and women) and of flows between them. There were no specific shocking instances, or couples named; talk was of general flows through networks of lovers. They might have been epidemiologists talking aboutrandomised contagions. In fact, they were concerned with their own networks of relations.Many if not most African traditional healers prefer not to recommend condoms; partly becausethey believe that their own medicines are more effective in preventing HIV transmission orSTIs, but also because they believe that condoms present significant dangers. Many people inSouth Africa believe that lubrication on condoms, or so-called ‘condom oil’ was absorbed by 5 This case was observed in Acornhoek, Northern Province, at a meeting of the Traditional Healers Organisation,led by the founder of the organisation, Nhlavana Maseko, in 1995.  152both men and women during sex with condoms and that this led to impurity of the blood thatcould only be treated with traditional medicines. 6 I have heard, too, that some people fear‘worms’ in packaged condoms that can be seen if a small amount of water is placed in thecondom and it is held up to the sunlight. 7 Others say that condoms can ‘get inside’ women orthat it can ‘blow up in the uterus’ and cause damage or death. Some fear that the semen thatought to flow out is forced back into the man’s blood by the condom and thus causes a newform of illness. All of these beliefs limit use of condoms, and thus may have consequences forpublic health, but they also point towards some important cultural truths. These cases andbeliefs suggest strongly that substances—menstrual blood, ‘pollution’ from death and funerals,or substances from the condoms themselves—can be absorbed into the bodies of both sexualpartners. Some informants suggest that sex with a condom is not really sex at all. 8    Jacob Zuma’s shower At the beginning of 2006, the trial of the former Deputy President, Mr. Jacob Zuma for rapebrought sex and beliefs about sex into the South African public consciousness again with greatforce. Sex and AIDS these days is never far from the public consciousness in South Africa, butthe Zuma trial brought anxieties about politics, power, gender and sex into close connectionwith each other and raised interest to a near fever pitch. The judge delivered his judgment onMonday, 8 May 2006. The entire reading of the judgment was publicly broadcast on several of South Africa’s leading radio channels with millions of listeners. After six weeks of hearings inthe Johannesburg High Court, the judge found Zuma not guilty of rape. There was never anyquestion that penetrative sex had occurred and that Zuma had not used a condom. The judgeruled, however, that the sex appeared to have been consensual.Although the judgment evoked some surprise, especially among the AIDS activists andwomen’s groups that had held demonstrations throughout most of the court’s proceedings inthe street outside of the court building in downtown Johannesburg, most people agreed that the judgment itself was correct: although there were many ambiguities involved in the testimonyabout the event, there was simply not enough evidence to convict of rape, and muchcircumstantial evidence to suggest that the woman had not explicitly resisted sexualintercourse. What emerged from the case was evidence of a different kind, evidence of beliefsabout sex, desire and the body that might have been difficult to elicit in any other way. Beforehis removal from the government as the result of indictment on corruption charges, Zuma hadbeen a member of the presidential AIDS commission and had declared himself to be a force formoral regeneration. In the aftermath of the baby Tshepang rape stories, Zuma had toldreporters that he blamed apartheid for ‘sowing the seeds for the breakdown of the institution of the family,’ and explained that the molestation of children and infants today is a symptom of this degeneration. 9 Such generalities are simply not helpful in advancing our understanding of the rape ‘epidemic’ in South Africa; significantly, Zuma did not attempt to use this logic indefending himself. 6 Wojcicki and Malala 2001. 7 I have tried this. If a small amount of water is put into a condom and it is held up to a strong light, cloudy whitestreaks that look something like worms can indeed be seen. This may be the result of partial mixing of thelubricant and water that causes differential refraction of sunlight through the swirling mixture, or from reflectionsfrom the latex sides of the condom. 8 Collins and Stadler 2001:333, Stadler 2003. 9 Dempster 2001.
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