Queering apartheid: the National Party’s 1987 ‘Gay Rights’ election campaign in Hillbrow

Conway, Daniel (2009). Queering apartheid: the National Party’s 1987 ‘Gay Rights’ election campaign in Hillbrow. Journal of Southern African Studies, 35(4) pp. 849–863.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070903313210

URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0305707...


This article investigates the anomaly in apartheid history of the ruling National Party's (NP) fielding a ‘pro-gay rights’ candidate in the Hillbrow constituency during the 1987 whites-only election in South Africa. The NP was aided in its Hillbrow campaign by the gay magazine Exit, which encouraged its readership to ‘vote gay’ in the election and published a list of candidates who were favourable to gay rights in South Africa. The Hillbrow campaign is intelligible when the intersections between race and sexuality are analysed and the discourses wielded by the NP and Exit are spatially and historically situated. The Hillbrow/Exit gay rights campaign articulated discourses about the reform of apartheid in white self-interest and conflated white minority and gay minority rights, thereby contributing to the NP's justification for apartheid. The NP candidate's defeat of the incumbent Progressive Federal Party (PFP) MP for Hillbrow, Alf Widman, was trumpeted by Exit as a powerful victory and advance for gay rights in South Africa, but the result provoked a sharp backlash among many white gay men and lesbian women who organised to openly identify with the liberation movement. The Exit/Hillbrow campaign problematises the singular assumptions that are often made about race and sexuality in apartheid South Africa, and illustrates how political, social and economic crisis can provoke reconfigurations of identities vis-à-vis the status quo.

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