Cape Town: The Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African Contexts

About Syllabus 2013 Syllabus 2015 Photos and Videos Faculty Profiles

About

This special course organized by the Barnard Center for Research on Women is designed to introduce Barnard College students to research possibilities in South Africa and to experience transnational feminist pedagogies in practice. Participants concentrate on the politics of gender and sexuality in contemporary South Africa and in its relations with its neighbors.

We do this in the littoral city of Cape Town in which different histories and contemporary struggles converge. These are histories of colonialism and slavery; histories of resistance; histories of liberation struggles; and feminist and anti-imperial organizing. We also consider Cape Town’s relation to South Africa’s immediate and wider neighbors on the African continent, but we make no attempt to universalize either Cape Town or Africa.

Through our host, the African Gender Institute, we focus on spaces in which activists, educators, and artists think and work to imagine their local and transnational relations and affiliations.

The course is designed and co-taught by Barnard Professor of Africana Studies and English Literature, Yvette Christianse, and the Director of the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town, Professor Jane Bennett. Guest speakers are drawn from visiting faculty and researchers at the African Gender Institute, as well as other institutions in Cape Town, exposing students to different pedagogical styles and methods. The seminar first took place in the summer of 2013, and was repeated in August 2015.

Barnard students will be joined by students from Rutgers University while also interacting with students at the University of Cape Town.

Why Cape Town, South Africa? 

Although popular media often stigmatizes South African women and men as being poor and economically victimized, the reality is that the post-apartheid years since 1994  have seen an extraordinary set of ideas about how to think about the past in an era of “new democracy,” and about how to imagine and bring into life initiatives capable of ensuring deep decolonization.

The last country on the African continent to achieve political independence, South Africa is simultaneously the first to be governed by a constitution whose Bill of Rights guarantees protection from multiple forms of violence and discrimination. The last country on the African continent to fight successfully against apartheid-based legislative control of economic injustice, South Africa also remains – with Brazil – first in the world in terms of the size of the gap between its richest and poorest citizens. It is a country of contradiction and vibrancies, one inextricably linked to colonial histories of the Atlantic and Indian oceans as much as to histories of the rest of the continent. And it is also in tenuous, yet wildly energetic and self-referential, debate on what it might mean to “be South African.”

Within all these dynamics, questions of gender and sexualities complicate the shape of what the past, present, and future might mean within South Africa. While at one level, 1994 saw dramatic shifts in the numbers of women in parliament and other formal institutions, at another, the leading profession for urban poor and working class black women remains domestic service. Similarly, while new possibilities of imagining femininities and masculinities play themselves out across media, art, and web-spaces, conservative gender norms concerning “gendered respectability” haunt young people’s options, and lead directly to violence against gender non-conformity. “Seeing” the dynamics of gender and sexualities in the contemporary South African world leads to new ways of asking questions about history, and of making connections between spaces, differently located but equally perplexed by the project of “becoming human’ in economically and politically changing places.

Back to Top

Syllabus 2013

The Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African Contexts
Cape Town 22 July to 2 August 2013
Barnard College, African Gender Institute and Rutgers University

Note to Participants

The aim of this reading list is to provide you with some contexts— politics, theoretical, cultural, social, and historical. These readings include three set books and a set of essays. There is also a selection of suggested further readings and a set of links to music and websites that may be of interest. Some of these first readings concentrate on South Africa, for practical and obvious reasons but you will soon see how connected they are to neighboring countries and further afield.

Be adventurous in your reading. Go online. Go to the library. Follow up any question you have about the work you read. Do not be afraid of starting your own research of any names or issues that come up in your reading. This will help give you a great start to a course designed to be an exciting introduction to some of the key issues and debates underpinning the politics of gender and sexuality in contemporary African contexts.

Required books

  • Bernstein, Alison and Jacklyn Cock. Melting Pots and Rainbow Nations: Conversations about Difference and the United States and South Africa. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
  • Christiansë, Yvette. Unconfessed. New York: Other Press, 2006.
  • Tamale, Sylvia. Ed. African Sexualities: A Reader. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011.

Pre-Arrival Videos

  • Cape Town (2012): A modest video introduction to Cape Town, thanks to YouTube.com: This gives you a sense of the city. And it even shows the road you will take coming from the airport in the first moments. There is a voice over that gives a set of introductory remarks. The video shows you one of the places that we will visit: the Old Slave Lodge. You will also see the BoKaap or Upper Cape, which is a national monument and not far from where you will be lodged.
  • Cape Town and Surroundings – South Africa Travel Channel  This is a professional, ‘touristy’ video that refers to Cape Town as a ‘she,’ but it also gives you good sense of the place to which you are going.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTw59IdzG8I (unavailable) This video by journeyman.tv/BBC that gives the primarily masculine political overview of Robben Island, which you will also visit (weather permitting). The earlier history is covered in Unconfessed.

Essays/Articles

  • Abrahams, Yvette. “Your Silence Will Not Protect You”: Silence, Voice and Power Moving Beyond Violence Towards Revolution in South Africa.’ Outliers: A Collection of Essays and Creative Work on Sexuality in Africa. No. 1: 30-45.
  • Bennett, Jane. ‘Subversion and Resistance: Activist Initiatives.’ African Sexualities: A Reader. Ed. Sylvia Tamale. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011: 77-100.
  • Daymond, M. J. Et al, ‘Introduction.’ Women Writing Africa: The Southern Region. Vol. 1. New York: The Feminist Press, 2003: 1-82.
  • Horn, Jessica. ‘A Night in Zanzibar—Life Story and Poem.’ African Sexualities: A Reader. Ed. Sylvia Tamale. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011: 184-186.
  • Lewis, Desiree. ‘Representing African Sexualities.’ African Sexualities: A Reader. Ed. Sylvia Tamale. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011: 199-216.
  • Massaquoi, Notisha. ‘The Continent as a Closet: The Making of an African Queery Theory,” in Outliers: A Collection of Essays and Creative Work on Sexuality in Africa. Vol 1: pp. 50-60.
  • Nyek, S. N. ‘Impossible Africans.’ Outliers: A Collection of Essays and Creative Work on Sexuality in Africa. No. 1:5-8.
  • Tamale, Sylvia. ‘Introduction.’ African Sexualities: A Reader. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011: 1-6.
  • _______. ‘Researching and Theorising Sexualities in Africa.’ African Sexualities: A Reader. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press: 2011, 11-36.
  • Nkabinde, Nkunzi Zandile. Black Bull, Ancestors and Me: My Life as a Lesbian Sangoma. Auckland Park: Fanele, 2008: 1-25, 77-95, 121-131.
  • Neema, Ghenim. ‘The Chess Game.’ Outliers: A Collection of Essays and Creative Work on Sexuality in Africa. No.2: 56-58.
  • Shaikh, Sa’diyya. ‘Morality, Justice and Gender: Reading Muslim Tradition on Reproductive Choices.’ African Sexualities: A Reader. Ed. Sylvia Tamale. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011: 340-358.

Suggested Further Readings

Anthology Excerpts

  • Lihamba, Aminata and Fulata L. Moyo, M. M. Mulokozi, Naomi L. Shitemi, and Saïda Yahya- Othman. Eds. ‘Introduction.’ Women Writing Africa: The Eastern Region. Vol. 3. New York: The Feminist Press, 2007: pp. 1-67.
  • Susan Arndt. ‘African Gender Trouble and African Womanism: An Interview with Chikwenye Ogunyemi, and Wanjira Muthoni.’ Signs. Vol. 25, No. 3 (Spring 2000): 709-726.
  • Sutherland-Addy, Esi and Aminata Diaw. ‘Introduction.’ Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel. Vol. 2. New York: The Feminist Press, 2005: 1-83.
  • Nowaira, Amira and Azza El Kholy, Marjorie Lightman, Zahia Smail Salhi, Fatima Sadiqi, Moha Ennaji, Nadia El Kholy and Sahar Hamouda. Eds. ‘Introduction.’ Women Writing Africa: The Northern Region. Vol. 4. New York: The Feminist Press, 2009: 1-59.

Reading—Essays/Articles

  • Graham, Lucy Valerie. ‘A Hidden Side to the Story’: Reading Rape in Recent South African Literature. Kunapipi: Journal of Post-Colonial Writing. Vol. 24, Nos. 1-2: 9-24.
  • Hay, Margaret Jean. ‘Queens, Prostitutes and Peasants: Historical Perspectives on African Women, 1971–1986.’ Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des Etudes Africanes. Special Issue: Current Research on African Women. Vol. 22, No. 3. (1988): 431-447.
  • Ndebele, Njabulo. ‘Thinking of Brenda.’ Paper delivered at Grahamstown Arts Festival, Winter School, 2000.
  • Ogundipe-Leslie, Molara. ‘The Female Writer and Her Commitment.’ African Literature Today, Special Issue: Women in African Literature. Eds. Eldred Durosimi Jones et al: 5-13.
  • Samuelson, Meg. ‘The Rainbow Womb: Rape and Race in South African Fiction of the Transition.’ Kunapipi: Journal of Post-Colonial Writing. Vol. 24, Nos. 1-2: 88-100.
  • White, E. Frances. ‘The Dark Continent of Our Bodies: ‘Constructing Science, Race and Womanhood in the Nineteenth Century.’ The Dark Continent of Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996: 81-116.

Music

Chiwoniso

Brenda Fassie (Madonna of The Townships)

Dobet Gnahoré

  • Gnahoré, Dobet. Na Afriki. Cumbancha, 2007. CD.

Freshly Ground

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Karen Zoid

Useful Websites

Back to Top

Syllabus 2015

Cape Town: The Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African Contexts

August 3 – August 14, 2015

Department of Africana Studies and Barnard Center for Research on Women (Barnard College), African Gender Institute (University of Capetown), and the Institute for Women’s Leadership (Rutgers University)

Overview

Given the fact that the course will be hosted by the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town, in Cape Town, South Africa, the course will open by asking questions about “reading a South African context” from within the Cape Town city space, and then spend sessions focusing on broader South African realities. Intellectually, we will be interested in several theoretical questions.

The first concerns the difficulty of “reading” space and history from the perspective of the “outsider,” and we will draw on theories of transnational knowledges and positionalities to develop discussion. The second question asks about the location of the politics of gender and sexuality within hegemonic narratives of oppression, liberation, and democracy, phases of South Africa history typically generated within popular discourse. As we will discover, such phases may not be helpful in coming to terms with questions of embodiment, violence, reproduction and desire and intimacy.

The course will include visual, spatial, written (archival, theoretical, imaginative), and “embodied” texts, and will require in-depth participant engagement with these.

Because the African Gender Institute is located in a city saturated in the meaning of slavery, colonial machinery, the culture of the liberation struggles, and the experiences of diverse forms of feminist and anti-imperialist organizing, the course will include visits to different spaces in the city and engage with artists, community-based leaders and activists.

This course is especially designed for juniors and seniors in a range of majors who want to forge new linkages between their knowledges of global political change, gender and sexuality, and feminist theory and activism. An interest in African contexts will clearly be essential, but there is no expectation in the curriculum that participants will already have spent a lot of time studying these contexts.  The course will focus on South Africa, but will also include some discussion on colonial pasts and legacies throughout the continent,  as these have had a profound impact on the contemporary politics of gender and sexuality in South Africa.

Shape of Curriculum

The course is designed to cover ten full days of engagement with textual and visual material, lectures, participant-based input, interaction with a wide range of sites (such as art galleries, activist NGOs), and with students based at the University of Cape Town. A typical day will include travel to at least one site of interest, formal input by the course lecturers and/or a guest lecturer, visual material, intensive discussion, and the opportunity for personal reflection and exploration.

Participants will need to READ 25-35 pages in preparation for each day’s work, and on most evenings, to compete a short homework writing/visual-creation assignment.

Participants will be asked to create writing, in a numbers of genres, engaging the course materials and discussions, and this will form a key part of the curriculum.

Readings

  • Abrahams, Naeemah, S. Mathews, R. Jewkes, L. J. Martin, and C. Lombard. “Every Eight Hours: Intimate Femicide in South Africa 10 years later.”  MRC Research Brief (August 2012)
  • Ben-Ascher, Noa, R. Bruce Brasell, Daniel Garret, John Greyson, Jack Lewis, and Susan Newton-King. “Screening Historical Sexualities: A Roundtable on Sodomy, South Africa and Proteus.” GLQ. Vol. 11, No. 3, 2005: 437-455. Print & Electronic.
  • Christianse, Yvette. excerpts from Unconfessed. Cape Town: Kwela Book, 2007.
  • Deacon, Harriet. excerpts from The Island: A History of Robben Island: 1488-1990. Cape Town: David Philip Publishers and Mayibuye Centre, 1996.
  • De Kok, Ingrid.  “What Kind of Man?” Terrestrial Things. Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2002: 25-27. Print.
  • Henry, Yazir.  Testimony. Case No. CT00405. Truth and Reconciliation Commission: UWC Victims Hearing. Tuesday, 6 August, 1996.
  • Jobson, G., Theron, L., Kaggwa, J. and H-J Kim. “Transgender in Africa: Invisible, inaccessible or ignored. “ SAHARA-J 9, no. 3 (November 2012). (accessible on VULA).
  • Kapstein, H. “A Travel Paradise: Tourism Narratives of Robben Island.” Safundi 10, no 4 (2009).
  • Le Roux, G. “Proudly Africa and Transgender.” In Women: A Cultural Review 23, no. 1 (2012).
  • Mashanini, Emma. excerpts from Strikes Have Followed Me All My Life
  • Matebeni, Zethu. Introduction to Queer Afrika
  • Matthews, Shanoaz, N. Abrahams, L. J. Martin, L. Vetten, L. Merwe, and R. Jewkes. “Every six hours a woman is killed by her intimate partner’: A National Study on Female Homicide in South Africa.” MRC Policy Brief, no. 5 (June 2004).
  • Mgqolozana, Thando. excerpts from A Man Who is Not a Man
  • Mhlope, Gina. excerpts from The Toilet
  • Moele, Kgebetli. Room 207. Kwela Books, 2011.
  • Motsemme, Nthabiseng. “The Mute Always Speak: Women’s Silences at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Current Sociology (September 2004): 909-932. Print & Electronic.
  • Muholi, Zanele. “Thinking through lesbian rape.” Agenda 18, no. 61 (2004).
  • Ngcobo, Lauretta. excerpts from And They Didn’t Die
  • Ratele, Kopano. “Apartheid, Anti-Apartheid and Post-Apartheid Sexuality.” In M. Steyn and M. van Zyl, The Prize and the Price, Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2009.
  • Samuelson, Meg, “‘Lose Your Mother! Kill Your Child!’: The passage of Slavery and Its Afterlife in Narratives by Yvette Christianse and Saidiya Hartman,” Studies of English in Africa 51, no 2 (2008).
  • Wiccomb, Zoe. excerpts from You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town
  • Xaba, Makhosazana. excerpts from Running

Archives

Professor Christianse will facilitate a special engagement with the colonial archives, exploring documents, which offer ‘a reading’ of historical lives of enslaved women, people criminalized as ‘sodomites,’ and others. Examples of such documents include:

  • KAB LEER 1/2/1/2. The King versus Christoffel Rudolph Botha. Sodomy. Record of Proceedings of Criminal Case. Circuit Court, Somerset. No. 7. 1828.
  • _______. The King versus William Robertshaw. Sodomy. Record of Proceedings of Criminal Case. Circuit Court, Somerset. No. 8. 1828.

Films and Theatre

  • Proteus (2003), John Greyson.
  • excerpts from Jerusalema (2008)
  • screening of Over the Hill (1985), Paul Slabolepszy.
  • Difficult Love (2011), Zanele Muholi.
  • Nothing But the Truth (2008), John Kani.
  • Born in the RSA, Barney Simon.

Suggested Additional Readings 

Anthology Excerpts

  • Lihamba, Aminata and Fulata L. Moyo, M. M. Mulokozi, Naomi L. Shitemi, and Saïda Yahya- Othman. Eds. Introduction to Women Writing Africa: The Eastern Region, vol. 3. New York: The Feminist Press, 2007: pp. 1-67.
  • Susan Arndt. “African Gender Trouble and African Womanism: An Interview with Chikwenye Ogunyemi, and Wanjira Muthoni.” Signs, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Spring 2000): 709-726.
  • Sutherland-Addy, Esi and Aminata Diaw. Introduction to Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel, Vol. 2. New York: The Feminist Press, 2005: 1-83.
  • Nowaira, Amira and Azza El Kholy, Marjorie Lightman, Zahia Smail Salhi, Fatima Sadiqi, Moha Ennaji, Nadia El Kholy and Sahar Hamouda. Eds. Introduction to Women Writing Africa: The Northern Region. Vol. 4. New York: The Feminist Press, 2009: 1-59.

Essays/Articles

  • Graham, Lucy Valerie. “‘A Hidden Side to the Story’: Reading Rape in Recent South African Literature.” Kunapipi: Journal of Post-Colonial Writing, Vol. 24, Nos. 1-2: 9-24.
  • Hay, Margaret Jean. “Queens, Prostitutes and Peasants: Historical Perspectives on African Women, 1971–1986.” Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des Etudes Africanes. Special Issue: Current Research on African Women. Vol. 22, No. 3. (1988): 431-447.
  • Ndebele, Njabulo. “Thinking of Brenda.” Paper delivered at Grahamstown Arts Festival, Winter School, 2000.
  • Ogundipe-Leslie, Molara. “The Female Writer and Her Commitment.” African Literature Today, Special Issue: Women in African Literature. Eds. Eldred Durosimi Jones et al: 5-13.
  • Samuelson, Meg. “The Rainbow Womb: Rape and Race in South African Fiction of the Transition.” Kunapipi: Journal of Post-Colonial Writing. Vol. 24, Nos. 1-2: 88-100.
  • White, E. Frances. “‘The Dark Continent of Our Bodies’: Constructing Science, Race and Womanhood in the Nineteenth Century.” The Dark Continent of Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996: 81-116.

Music

Chiwoniso

Brenda Fassie (Madonna of The Townships)

Dobet Gnahoré

Gnahoré, Dobet. Na Afriki. Cumbancha, 2007. CD.

Freshly Ground

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Karen Zoid

Useful Websites

Back to Top

Faculty Profiles

Jane Bennett is the Director of the African Gender Institute and has disciplinary backgrounds in literature, linguistics, sociology and feminist theory, and has worked at the State University of New York, Barnard College, and since 1999, within the University of Cape Town. Her research interests are in feminist theory, sexualities, pedagogies and violence and she has published many articles and book chapters in these areas. She is also interested in research which is allied to political activism, in different areas, within and beyond university spaces within the African continent. She writes both fiction and non-fiction. She works regularly with colleagues at the University of Buenos Aires, Makerere University, the University of Ghana, the University of California (Davis) and the Human Sciences Research Council. She also works with a number of NGOs across Southern and Eastern Africa. In the African Gender Institute, she is responsible for teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses, postgraduate supervision, research development and networking, research and publication, and the convenorship of core programmes in the School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics.

Yvette Christiansë is a South African-born poet, novelist, and scholar. She is the author of two books of poetry: Imprendehora (published in South Africa by Kwela Books/Snail Press 2009) and Castaway (Duke University Press, 1999). Imprendehora was a finalist for the Via Afrika Herman Charles Bosman Prize in 2010 and Castaway was a finalist in the 2001 PEN International Poetry Prize. Her acclaimed first novel, Unconfessed, is based on the life of a slave woman in the Cape Colony and was a finalist for the 2007 Hemingway/PEN International Prize for First Fiction. It was also shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2008, and nominated for the Ama Ata Aidoo Prize 2010. Her poetry has been published in the U.S., South Africa, Australia, Canada, France and Italy. She is also the recipient of The Harri Jones Memorial Prize for poetry (Australia). She teaches poetry and prose of former English colonies (with an emphasis on South Africa, the Caribbean and Australia), narratives of African Diaspora, 20th Century African American Literatures, poetics and creative writing. Her research interests include the nexus between theories of race and gender, class and postcoloniality. She has been a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Duke University’s John Hope Franklin Center and a Visiting Professor at Princeton University’s Center for Creative and Performing Arts. She has also been a National Research Council Fellow at the University of Witwatersrand and a visiting writer at the University of Cape Town. Her manuscript on Toni Morrison’s poetics and is forthcoming from Fordham University Press. She is currently writing a book on representations of Liberated Africans or Recaptives between 1807 and 1886. Christiansë was born in South Africa under apartheid and immigrated with her parents to Australia at age 18.

Tami Navarro is the Associate Director of BCRW, Managing Editor of the Center’s online journal, Scholar and Feminist Online, and Director of BCRW’s Transnational Feminisms Initiative. She holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University and is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Virgin Capital: Financial Services as Development in the US Virgin Islands.

Catherine Sameh is Assistant Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies at University of California, Irvine. Her research interests include gender and Islam, women’s human rights, social movements in Iran and the Middle East, and transnational feminisms. Her current book project investigates a campaign among feminists in Iran and the diaspora to reform Muslim family law, and explores the role of transnational networks in coalescing new political cultures. Previously, Catherine was Associate Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, and managing editor of The Scholar & Feminist Online.

Back to Top

The Barnard Center for Research on Women engages our communities through programming, projects, and publications that advance intersectional social justice feminist analyses and generate concrete steps toward social transformation.

© 2017 Barnard Center for Research on Women | 101 Barnard Hall | 3009 Broadway | New York, NY 10027