Elizabeth Thornberry uses historical evidence to shed light on South Africa's contemporary epidemic of sexual violence. Drawing on over a thousand cases from a diverse set of courts, Thornberry reconstructs the history of rape in South Africa's Eastern Cape, from the precolonial era to the triumph of legal and sexual segregation, and digs deep into questions of conceptions of sexual consent. Through this process, Thornberry also demonstrates the political stakes of disputes over sexual consent, and the ways in which debates over the regulation of sexuality shaped both white and black politics in this period. From customary authority to missionary Christianity and humanitarian liberalism to segregationism, political claims implied theories of sexual consent, and enabled distinctive claims to control female sexuality. The political history of rape illuminates not only South Africa's contemporary crisis of sexual violence, but the entangled histories of law, sexuality, and politics across the globe.
Elizabeth Thornberry is Assistant Professor of African History at The John Hopkins University. She has researched and published widely on the history of gender, sexuality, and law in South Africa. She co-edited Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (2010) and is currently writing a book on the intellectual history of customary law in South Africa. She has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Fulbright Institute for International Education, and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton University, New Jersey.
Introduction: writing the history of rape; 1. Custom and consent in Xhosaland; 2. Sex and spiritual power; 3. Liberalism and the colonial law of sexual violence; 4. Rape and racial boundaries; 5. Navigating the politics of consent; Conclusion: rape and the postcolony.