Bone the beloved countryby Brendon Bosworth / 23.04.2009
Pieter-Dirk Uys has a way of making you think. Five minutes before interval during his latest politically incorrect production, Erections and Elections, he dives into a deep monologue about a boy-on-boy experience between himself (then age 22) and a coloured dude. Speaking softly, sincerely, without a trace of Evita, he recounts the night of a digs party in Cape Town back in 1967. After slatting a few beers, he leaves with his hook-up en route to what he believes is the Cape Flats. In the passenger seat, his boytjie cowers low, not to unzip his pants but to hide from the wolfish eyes of the police as they drive onto the N2. To Pieter’s relief, and confusion, they land up in the leafy suburbs of creamy white Kenilworth. Pieter is commanded to keep quiet as they pull up to a swanky home. His bra is walking on eggshells as he unlatches the gate, sneaks into the garden, holding his breath. Then it hits young Pieter – his stuk is the ‘garden boy’ – the sub-human who lives in a wooden box in the garden, sleeps propped against the lawnmower. Rakes and spades – the only tools he’s permitted to operate.
They make it to the shed, light a candle and get down to a bit of adult consensual, all the time keeping the volume low. The next morning, Pieter awakens to the petrified orbs of his lover. You’ve got to get out of here now! the guy demands. No time for a morning cuddle, breakfast, or exchange of numbers. The dude is stressing hard. If caught consorting with a white man, there is jail to think about. Serious shit. Our beloved comedian scratches a hasty retreat, doesn’t even get his name.
Take a minute to contextualize. It’s the late 60s; Verwoerd’s separationist chimera is at its apex: complete segregation, District Six is a near and bitter memory, brutal state repression, the Immorality Act – no intercourse between people of different skin tones. Gay men, moffies to use the nomenclature of the day, no matter if they’re as dark as coffee or white as cream, face the prospect of seven years in jail if caught with their pants down. Fuelled by a skewed and self-promoting brand of Christianity, the apartheid machine was blatantly homophobic, even though many of its members are sure to have been queens trapped in the tightest of closets. Bizarrely, during the 1970s and 1980s military psychologists administered Mengelean ‘treatments’ to homosexual recruits, often against their will. The barbaric therapies included electroconvulsive therapy, chemical and physical castration, forced sex-change operations, and a twisted form of aversion therapy, where subjects were made to view pictures of a naked men and told to fantasize whilst being drilled with jolts of electricity. One flew over the fucking cuckoo’s nest.
Pieter’s vignette and his vivid portrayal of the visceral fear experienced by his mate got me thinking about myself as a twenty-two year-old back in 2004, ten years after democracy. Our new constitution had been the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Thanks to the ANC, I had the freedom to take home anyone I pleased. As a heterosexual in a monogamous relationship, I was strictly with my (white) girlfriend at the time. But the point is – if I was single and I macked it right, I could do the dirty with anyone who flicked my switch, without the fear of being bundled into a police van with a free ticket to spend hours of quality time with Johnny Mongrel in Pollsmoor. To be honest, if I cruised the streets of my deep south Disney Land with a coco vixen on my arm, eyebrows would arch. Prejudice still lives in the middle to upper-class coastal suburbs. If I strolled down the backwater lanes with a dark Venus from Gugs hanging off my shoulder, there might just be an emergency AGM. I may even wake up to find a straw man burning outside my window, with local church members jiving with pillow cases over their heads.
Prejudice is ubiquitous; anyone who says otherwise is delusional. But prejudice, alone, is not necessarily volatile. I’m prejudiced against fat people. Without a verified medical condition, such as diabetes or a genetic deficiency, I cannot accept any reasons for humans to let themselves expand unnecessarily, especially since it can negatively impact on their health. But this doesn’t mean I want to lock them away without trial; I have no urge to kill fat people or force them to partake in Unit-731 medical experiments in order to shave off their extra adipose. No, I just have a problem identifying with them. That doesn’t make me a fascist. It’s when prejudice is the basis for repressive state policy or, worse still, the reason for murder, ethnic cleansing, and the host of crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated by dictatorial regimes bent on iron-fisted domination that we see it at its most dangerous.
In parts of South Africa gay people still fear for their lives. The stories of curative rape – lesbians being violently gang-raped in order to teach them how to be ‘normal’ heterosexuals – that emanate from the townships are soul-shattering. It’s unacceptable that these things are still happening in a country where people legally have the right to choose their sexual orientation without fear of persecution. But at least, on paper, we have this right, inked into our groundbreaking constitution. We all have the right to choose who we want to shag: white, brown, black, yellow, man, woman, hermaphrodite. As long as it’s between consenting adults, sex is not going to land you in jail or even get you a smack over the wrists. Your Anglican parents might not invite your gay partner round for Sunday tea; it’s unlikely your auntie from Orania will tell you to bring your black boyfriend over for Christmas lunch, but who cares? That’s their problem, not yours.
Our fledgling democracy still has its flaws and sometimes it’s hard to stay positive, but when it comes to sex we’re light-years away from where we were 15 years ago. And that is something to proud of.