(Minnesota)In my day, Africa was seen as a world of unrestrained --- one might say naked --- passion. The only place one could find photographs of naked women (and men, with carefully scratched-out privates) depended on whether your family had a subscription to The National Geographic. How long ago that was!
The binary element, according to Hoad, was and is the reputed "black lasciviousness, white spirituality." The Church of England was on hand to "convert the natives." The good fathers were informed in their hot pursuit of cleansing the world of primitive sexuality by the image of the "Hottentot Venus," a N'khosa who had been sent off to England in 1810 to titillate the masses of eminent pre-Victorians.Colonialism was masculine and heterosexuality was compulsory. Countries such as South Africa, Uganda, Swaziland, and the present day Zimbawbe and Namibia were forced into a unified standard of enforced Christian behavior. Today, we --- and they --- continue to live under the induced amnesia of these cultural oddities.
African Intimacies deals at length with the strange twist brought about by the 13th Lambeth Congress of Anglican Bishops of 1998. A resolution had been proposed to recognized same-sex relationships, but there was a revolt among the religious leaders of Africa, which continues to this day.
The Bishop of Uganda declared that blessing same sex unions might cause "serious damage and scandal to Christ and his church."
Homosexuality is unknown in their regions and proscribed by the Bible, even if it were known.
Bishop Lugar stated that "In the Sudan we know nothing of homosexuality."
Their statements were supported by political leaders. Daniel arap Moi of Kenya said that homosexuality was against African tradition and Biblical teachings.
I will not shy away from warning Kenyans against the dangers of the scourge.
President Museveni said, "When I was in America some time ago, I saw a rally of 300,000 homosexuals. If you have a rally of 30 homosexuals here, I would disperse it." Museveni (of Uganda) said that his local CID --- the criminal investigations unit --- was "to look for homosexuals, lock them up and charge them."
And President Nujoma of Namibia addressed university students in 1996 as follows: "We combat this with vigor. We will make sure that Namibia will get rid of lesbianism and homosexuality.
Police are ordered to arrest you and deport you and imprison you ... Those who are practicing homosexuality in Namibia are destroying the nation.
"It is the devil at work," he concluded.
§ § §
Hoad's musings juxtapose these ascetic declarations at a time of an HIV/ AIDs epidemic in Africa, a disease that has reached a full quarter of the population. The European vision of "the lasciviousness of savages" vs. white spirituality is multifaceted, for it embraces a colonial Puritan legacy, blended with such unusual sights as a march in Cape Town (prior to South Africa's first democratic election) where Albis Sachs, "long time ANC activist and now a judge on the Constitutional Court," marched with Miss Langa,
the ruling drag queen from the large black township of the same name, outside the city. "We don't want a president. We just want a queen"
was the cry.
Hoad's treatise is not an easy read. In the chapter "White Man's Burden, White Man's Disease," we are treated to the discussion of a cartoon of the national leader Robert Mugabe dressed up in drag, saying "the peasants are hungry? Let them bash gays." There is some discussion of the image of Marie Antoinette ("Let them eat cock") which then, the author states, gives the notion of "homosexuality as a problematic transnational commodity:"
If we remember Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the revolution and counterrevolution are always in drag. These images, shot through with the legacies of racism and misogyny, speculate on Southern African lesbian and gay human rights as part of a European enlightenment legacy, as a decadent Western import...
At times one wonders where all this is leading, but the tension that the author creates is considerable, and African Intimacies turns into an even-handed, profoundly insightful study of the colonial legacy, linked with --- or warring with --- a new sexual and political freedom. This in turn creates a home-grown religious/political prejudice against these very freedoms.
Hoad is given to subtle hints and poetic turns, none more profound than at those rare times when he reveals not only what he thinks about such contradictions, but who he is. While on the subject of lesbian and gay rights, half-way through the text, he states, matter-of-factly, "My own complicity in this cannot go without saying, though raising it risks a certain self-aggrandizing chest beating, which I would rather avoid."
In tracking the complicity of the intersections of my subject positions, I write as a privileged economic migrant to the north, as a gay white (South) African, as displaced not-quite-not-native, informant, and as a professor at a large U. S. university.
To up the intellectual ante, the footnote here states, "Here I am riffing Homi Bhabha's famous formulation in 'Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.'"
I will resist quoting endlessly from my dog-eared copy of African Intimacies. Suffice it to say it is a finely-balanced study of a paradox presented by the inversion of contemporary sexual norms pitted against the dominant colonial heritage. It is an cunning overview of religious and political prejudice mounted against newly created minorities. It is a persuasive look at the whole question of "transnational sex." And, finally, it is a profoundly witty view of the contradictions of political and religious leaders who are not condemned to repeat the past because they have never studied, much less understood, it. Says Hoad,
We are left with an immobilizing paradox: To say that Africans suffer from HIV/AIDS is to participate in the vicious ideological edifice of European racism, and thus fail in the responsibilities of the African intellectual and professional classes. To say that Africans contract HIV/AIDS through sex is to compound the racism.--- R. J. Rohan, MA