|dc.description.abstract||Prompted by a perception that a gay sub-culture developed in the major urban
areas of South Africa, and that this formed a threat to state security and to the
established mores of society, the Minister of Justice, PC Pelser, appointed a
Parliamentary Select Committee in 1968. The essence of the task given to the
Select Committee was to provide clarity to the Department of Justice about a
definition of homosexual acts as well as the causes, manifestations and extent
of these practices. In addition, the Committee had to ascertain whether South
African society was ready to decriminalise sodomy and “unnatural” sexual
practices. A major concern was whether gay men were a danger to minors. The
Committee received numerous written submissions and held regular meetings
to hear oral testimonies, which covered a wide spectrum of opinions and
issues. Representatives of the South African Police and the Afrikaans churches
vehemently opposed homosexuality and homosexual activities. Ministers from
the English churches pleaded for tolerance but with very specific preconditions.
The position of the lawyers, psychiatrists and psychologists was clear: that
homosexuality was not a threat, could not be “cured” and should be accepted.
The investigation resulted in widespread debate, revealing facets of the moral
dynamics of white South African society in the 1960s. Inter alia, issues such as
the right of the state to make laws on morality and intrude on the privacy of
individuals, diverse interpretations of the Bible, the level of intolerance for the
“other” and the apparent difficulties to enforce any amendments to the Act - as
far as homosexuality was concerned - were raised.
By emphasising these issues, the intention of this article is to give an
indication as to what extent gay white men were tolerated. To realize this,
a discussion of the context of a very strong conservative government that
underpinned the activities of Select Committee was essential. The upshot was
that the deep-rooted conservatism of the state prevailed, finding expression
in harsher and specific measures in the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969.
The strong arguments from some church representatives, as well as the medical and legal fraternities, were discarded. Clearly the time was not yet ripe for
liberalising sexuality in South Africa.
Research for this article relied on the extensive testimonies before the Select
Commission as published in its final report. In addition, relevant submissions
in the Gay and Lesbian Archive at the University of the Witwatersrand helped
to form a comprehensive picture and made qualitative analysis possible.||en_US