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African indigenous same sexualities in a democratic society: a case study of rural women in KwaZulu-Natal.

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Gender and sexuality education remain a taboo subject in African communities, a point of view which is not easily transformed. Issues pertaining to sexualities are mostly excluded from everyday social discourses. In rural communities, this topic occupies a sacred space which is entrenched in African traditions. It may be perceived as old fashioned, but the taboo is important to the communities who implement it as it concerns the respecting of privacy. Africans have their own way of doing, living, and teaching, and given the fact that most learning institutions in South Africa adopt Western ways of teaching and learning, this renders the African way of life seemingly less effective and invisible. These are some of the challenges facing the subject of same sexualities. This research follows on from an earlier Masters research that focused on same sexualities among traditional healers or izangoma. There are two reasons why this study focuses on traditional healers, firstly, they are known as fonts of libraries of indigenous knowledge, religion and culture. Secondly, the availability of existing research and literature on izangoma is a fair starting point for a researcher who intends to investigate indigenous issues. The Masters research revealed several unattended issues on same sexualities, but what has become evident, is the influence the ancestral spirits exert on gender ambiguity. It is noted that most African communities view same sexualities amongst izangoma as something rooted in the ancestral spirits. They believe that the ancestral spirits can modify the sexual behaviour of an individual. Mkasi assert this by saying, if a female sangoma is possessed by a male spirit, there is a possibility that she maybe be interested in another female. Since ancestors are not bound by gender, they can possess anyone, irrespective of gender (2012, 148). The izangoma community is aware of people who are not heterosexual, but this does not concern them as their sexuality is not a social issue. However, the cultural beliefs of the community at large do not support the practice of same sexuality; they acknowledge their existence but expressing their feelings on the matter is another issue altogether. The decisive turning point was the passing of same sex legislation (The South African Constitution, 1996:2(9)(3)) awarding rights to same sex individuals (hereafter SSI). Democracy provided researchers with a number of opportunities to engage in debates and to develop theories on this subject, as existing evidence shows that such sexualities do exist in African communities. Although knowledge on this topic has increased exponentially in recent years, it has remained a contentious and evaded topic in the rural communities of KwaZulu-Natal. Thus, the focus of this research is on women in the rural communities. This study investigates the perceptions held in many rural communities that same sexualities is an ‘abnormal’ sexual behaviour. In an attempt to introduce same sex indigenous discourses into rural areas, the research focuses on women in rural communities. The reason for this is that the majority of these women experience challenges in their lives due to the patriarchal social structures in these areas. Traditional structures that determine the day to day functioning of the communities are led by males which invariably result in the oppression of women in same sex relationships. These women are perceived as a threat to traditional structures which favour heterosexual relationships. The males also perceive these women as a threat to their patriarchal hierarchy and its concomitant stability, a behaviour which goes against the status quo, as African traditions are underpinned by patriarchy. The success of this study depended on the framework used for this study, hence the African indigenous knowledge system was employed in this research. This method provided the researcher with appropriate ethical means to conduct research in rural communities. Moreover, it assisted the researcher to understand issues of morality in these communities while approaching the issue with sensitivity. Through the indigenous knowledge system approach, the researcher has been able to identify several issues, one being that there is a paucity of knowledge on same sex discourses in these areas. Furthermore, certain members of these communities tend to subscribe to urban lifestyles which negatively affect rural life which is still steeped in African traditions. Nonetheless, this research serves as an introduction to indigenous same sex discourse. It is worth noting that the participation of the traditional leaders such as the chiefs, the traditional council and traditional healers in the rural communities assisted immeasurably in finding a suitable approach to this sensitive issue. Moreover, as much as the study is about women, there are also male voices, as in rural communities, men are more vocal than women, particularly when it comes to sexual matters.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.