The summer of 1995 in South Africa was a time of unprecedented change, when unpredictable events never ceased to provide for fascinating juxtapositions. Lesbian and gay activists vigorously lobbied Parliament for the retention of "sexual orientation" as a prohibited basis of discrimination in the guarantee of equality in the Constitution, in the lead-up to the drafting of a permanent Bill of Rights for South Africa. 1 At the same time, in neighboring Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe instigated the exclusion of the group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe from an international book fair, and he described homosexuality as a Western corruption imported to Africa through colonization. National Women's Day became an official holiday on August 9, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the march on the union buildings in Pretoria by twenty thousand women protesting the extension of the "pass laws" to women, which regulated movement by nonwhite South Africans. At the celebrations, women of all races addressed the crowds with statues of Boer heroes looking on stonily. But calls for law reform to allow abortion on demand were met throughout the country by conservative Christian opposition (matched by their opposition to homosexuality). This series of contrasts (and every day in South Africa provides a spate of new ones) illustrates the extraordinary times in which South Africans are living.
This chapter focuses on how this national identity is in a process of being reimagined. The construction of race and its relationship to nation has an overwhelming centrality, and I will examine the relationship of nationalism to race in some detail. Gender, too, has been of crucial importance to national identity. Furthermore, the regulation of sexual acts and identities was also connected to the system of apartheid that continually worked to constitute and separate racial groups. Thus, this chapter will interrogate the ways in which national identity is bound up with race, gender, and especially sexual identity in South Africa today.