Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.4 (2002) 570-609
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Randy on the Rand:
Portuguese African Labor and the Discourse on "Unnatural Vice" in the Transvaal in the Early Twentieth Century
Ross G. Forman
Centre for Asian and African Literatures, School of Oriental and African Studies, and University College London
IN THE RIDGE OF THE WHITE WATERS, an account of his visit to the Transvaal published in 1912, William Charles Scully proclaimed:
I have now to refer to a most unpleasant subject: to refer to one of those evils incidental to the disproportion of the sexes which is so marked in the vicinity of the mines. It is an undoubted fact that the Natives from some of the East Coast recruiting areas, as well as from parts of the Tropics, are addicted to those unnatural vices which, according to Holy Writ, occasioned the destruction of the Cities of the Plain. I fear that Natives from Basutoland have, to a certain extent, been demoralised by the example of their northern room-mates. The Shangaan Natives are the worst offenders. I should not like to think that there was any danger of Natives from the Cape Colony being contaminated in this direction. In view, however, of the signs of demoralisation I observed, it is to be feared there is at least a possibility. 1
Scully was not the only Briton to see sex and sin at the core of the compound system developing to house the burgeoning male labor force working in South Africa's gold mines. Nor was he unique in believing the sin to have come across a border, from the Portuguese colony of what is now Mozambique, the homeland of the Shangaans and the source of manpower for Transvaal gold operations. [End Page 570]
This essay traces the development of "European," or white, attitudes toward same-sex behavior among black Africans working the mines in the early twentieth century. 2 It connects these attitudes both to the internal concerns of South Africa in the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 and to external concerns about the relationship between the British and non-British African colonies. It shows how political tensions were refracted through reference to non-European sexualities in order to enhance the fiction of South Africa as a morally constituted settler colony. It also situates turn-of-the-century ideas associating male-male sexual contact with contamination and contagion in several contexts: the expansion of Portuguese power in southern Mozambique; the British disapproval of Portuguese methods of colonization across the world; and the conception of the Portuguese within Europe as a marginalized "Other." Specifically, this essay analyzes the text of the January 1907 "Confidential Enquiry into Alleged Prevalence of Unnatural Vice amongst Natives in Mine Compounds on the Witwatersrand." 3 In the process, the essay contributes to recent critical attention to the development of homosexuality in the European imagination by suggesting how rural and colonial settings offered sites for thinking about same-sex behaviors among nonwhite and working-class populations rather than among members of Britain's urban middle classes.
The "Confidential Enquiry" was conducted between 18 and 30 January 1907 by John Glen Leary, resident magistrate at Zeerust, and H. M. Taberer of the Native Affairs Department, later special commissioner of the Transvaal Government in the native labor recruiting areas of British South Africa. Their inquiry was prompted by and followed on the heels of an explosive 1906 investigation of "immorality" among the indentured Chinese laborers brought to the Transvaal after the conclusion of the Anglo-Boer War, for the earlier investigators had heard repeated testimony that the "Mozambique Natives" could teach the Chinese more vice than the Chinese could teach them. The 1907 inquiry began in response to letters written in December 1906 to the high commissioner and the attorney general by the director of the South African Compounds and Interior Mission, Albert Weir Baker. Baker's letters expressed concern about the incidence of "unnatural...