The Impasses of Politics: Sexual Violence and the ANC in Exile

Presented by Rachel Sandwell

Monday, 31 May, 2021 - 16:00

In the late 1990s, as the hearings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began, stories of past abuse, including sexual violence, within the exiled camps of the African National Congress (ANC) emerged. Despite women alluding to or directly describing violence they had suffered within the ANC, ultimately the final report of the TRC made little reference to sexual violence or violence against women within the ANC. It instead focussed on ‘political’ violence, including torture and execution, meted out to members suspected of being (or found to be) spies. While officially gender neutral, this political violence was inescapably gendered male, as only male victims were discussed, and always within the frame of ‘political violence’, even when the torture they suffered had a sexual character. Women’s experiences were not investigated as political violence. This paper reads the TRC’s and ANC’s deployments of the concept of ‘politics’ to ask how these approaches frame or erase violence against women in the context of a political movement, and how particular violence is defined as ‘political’ or ‘intimate.’ As Redi Tlhabi’s 2017 book Khwezi argues, the legacy of sexual violence in exile continues to be very much unresolved; one argument of this paper is that such narrow and contested definitions of the concept of ‘politics’ itself forestall resolution.

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