I was invited to participate in this year’s Cape Town Open Book Festival, as organised by The Book Lounge and staged at The Fugard Theatre. What a great privileged it was to participate on specifically Heritage Day in the discussion: Is Afrikaners plesierig? (Are Afrikaners joyous?), which referred to how Afrikaans-speaking South Africans define, express and experience their sexuality.
The discussion centred on my recently published book: Seks nou wat is die eintlike storie? (Sex, what is the actual story?) and the literary work, Bloots, which is a collection of short stories with its focus on sensuality and sexuality. The title Bloots was an excellent choice, as it means to go bare-back on a horse or to experience something undiluted.
We found many connections between the intention of these two publications, even though mine was rooted in academia and the other in literature. The intention of both these publications was to portray sexuality in its diverse complexity as being multi-levelled and multi-storied. This reminded me of the constructions we hold in terms of sexuality and how these are formed. The meanings we put to sexuality, are socially constructed, yet many continue to believe there is only one sexual reality to which we should prescribe and accept.
I reason that the expression of sexuality should include and accept a multitude of realities and multiple story lines. However, it is often portrayed as a single line story with predictable outcomes. If one should accept such a single story line, what would this be for South Africa, in other words what is South Africa’s heritage in terms of sexuality?
Sadly, I must admit that this is not a heritage to be proud of, as for many the most constituting factors are that of fear, shame, suppression, but most of all violence and silence. Sexual violence seems endemic to our society, nevertheless, with the exception of a few annual campaigns, there is mostly a persistent silence – even in literary works – which enables it to continue to breed and prosper pervasively.
It was interesting to note that Bloots included stories which spanned beyond heteronormativity, race and class, yet did not included stories about sexual violence. Even in this groundbreaking literary work the silence regarding sexual violence pervaded, despite the fact that South Africa holds the invidious title of the rape capital of the world. Rape being the reality of so many, I postulate that it will reflect in people’s stories about sexuality. Does the absence of stories about sexual violence speak of how power politics and gender prescriptions continue to restrict, censor and determine what is spoken with regards to gender and sexuality in South Africa?
Looking to the future we need ask ourselves, what heritage and legacy are we busy creating in terms of sexuality in the South African context? Furthermore what role should we as writers, academics and social commentators play in creating a live-giving sexual heritage for our children and their children?