- Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa by Ashley Currier, and: South Africa and the Dream of Love to Come: Queer Sexuality and the Struggle for Freedom by Brenna M. Munro
In the last two decades, we have witnessed vigorous debates on the subject of sexual identities on the African continent. A multiplicity of local and transnational LGBTQI organizations and organizing throughout the continent has been accompanied by rich cultural texts and media productions created by African activists, artists, filmmakers, and writers. New academic scholarship on nonheteronormative sexualities and socialities has been published. The two monographs discussed here, both published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2012, contribute to this emerging archive.
Both books focus on LGBT and queer politics in South Africa, with Ashley Currier extending her analysis to Namibia. By doing so she offers some kind of comparison. While the books have a number of issues/concepts in common, they differ in content and analysis. In South Africa and the Dream of Love to Come, Brenna Munro focuses on queer texts and explores what South African history and its present have to offer queer theory today by looking at the imaginary possibilities and implications of literature, as well as popular culture and photography. Currier’s book Out in Africa (the same title as the annual South African Gay and Lesbian Film Festival) instead focuses primarily on realpolitik, that is, on the strategies of visibility in LGBT nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
By posing the key question “how, when, and why have Namibian and South African LGBT movement organizations chosen or been forced to become publicly visible or to withdraw from public visibility?” (4), Currier provides an analysis of two different national contexts: South Africa, with a relatively well documented history of sexual rights campaigns and [End Page 319] movements and a postapartheid constitutional commitment to nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and Namibia, where LGBT organizing seemingly only became visible after independence and being confronted with a discursive framework by the government that reads homosexuality as a betrayal to African culture (3).
Currier’s task is to reread the two countries’ history of LGBT movements through the concept and strategies of visibility employed. Her first chapter, “The Rise of LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa,” is therefore one that necessarily produces unevenness within the depth of analysis, depending on the richness of the national archives and histories. While the different levels of engagement within the struggle for gay rights differ, sometimes in coalition with and sometimes against the antiapartheid movement, the first part of the book captures the shared hope for change felt by LGBTQI individuals in both countries in the years of independence.
After mapping out the historical context, Currier takes the question of visibility into the present by focusing on the different strategic choices made by four very different contemporary NGOs: the Rainbow Project (TRP) and Sister Namibia, a feminist movement organization, both based in Windhoek, Namibia; and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organization, and Behind the Mask (BtM), a media NGO covering news about LGBTQI people on the entire African continent (and which has since ceased to exist), both based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
All four organizations, in one way or another, dealt with homophobia. This is articulated, for example, in the populist notion that reads homosexuality as un-African. The title of her chapter 4, “Homosexuality Is African: Struggles ‘to Be Seen,’” seems to suggest visibility as the best strategy to counteract and indeed dismiss this claim—and “coming out” as always already liberating. Currier argues, however, that strategic choices may differ. Depending on the specific context and public discourses, organizations may sometimes opt for lessened visibility and sometimes even withdraw from public interaction in favor of invisibility, as...