Historicizing Sexual Violence in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, 1848-1927


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation traces the history of sexual violence in South Africa’s Eastern Cape from the precolonial period through the passage of the Native Administration Act. While precolonial Xhosa law punished both consensual and non-consensual illicit sex, colonial law punished consensual illicit sex more readily than rape. In response, rural Xhosa communities redefined sexual violence as seduction or adultery, while in urban areas, women struggled to attain any form of redress. In the twentirth century, fears of “black peril” (the rape of white women by black men) diverted the attention of both white and black elites from sexual violence aimed at black women. As elder men lost control of younger generations, new masculine identities justified sexual violence as a male prerogative.