Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Brenna Munro

Second Committee Member

Pamela Hammons

Third Committee Member

Tim Watson

Fourth Committee Member

Neville Hoad


My dissertation analyzes competing discourses of sexuality in contemporary South Africa, and contributes to a much-needed nascent critical conversation engaging postcolonial studies, African studies, and sexuality studies. South Africa’s 1996 constitution is celebrated as the most progressive in the world in terms of gender and sexuality, but this legal achievement is belied by the on-going, much-publicized rape crisis -- including the “corrective” rape of lesbians. This crisis has occurred in the context of an AIDS epidemic and government denial of the increase of both rape and AIDS. I argue that authors and artists respond to this crisis by representing stigmatized aspects of female sexuality in ways that refuse to be “corrected,” thus reaffirming the right to South African belonging for non-conforming sexual citizens. Claiming desire in the face of sexual violence, as these texts do, is a form of defiance towards ideas about what constitutes a “good” South African woman. For example, in Achmat Dangor’s novel Bitter Fruit (2001), the protagonist heals from her experience of rape by a white apartheid-era police officer through same-sex fantasies. In doing so, she rejects the lens of victimhood through which her husband and the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission define her sexuality. The range of texts that I assemble reflects the urgent need to reach multiple publics in unconventional ways, and includes the legal transcripts of Jacob Zuma’s contentious rape trial, Zanele Muholi’s photographic “visual activism,” Makhosazana Xaba’s provocative and erotic short story, Lisa Combrinck’s revisionist collection of poetry, and Dangor’s best-selling novel.


South Africa; Queer; Sexuality; Rape; Trauma; Literary Studies