Apartheid's Immorality Act and the fiction of heteronormative whiteness

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12 Citations (Scopus)


This article traces both the centrality and fragility of the figure of the heterosexual white male to the moral and ideological core of the apartheid regime. Through a comparative reading of Zakes Mda's The Madonna of Excelsior (2002) and Gerald Kraak's Ice in the Lungs (2006), the article examines how apartheid's Immorality Act functioned as the legislative mechanism to produce and police heteronormative whiteness. The randomness and unpredictability of sexual desire in both historical novels expose the tenuousness of this idealised heteronormative whiteness that lay at the centre of the apartheid project. Situated within the moral panic and political turmoil of the 1970s, the novels identify sex as a powerful lens through which to read the history of apartheid. While Mda's satirical novel focuses on transgressive interracial sexual desire, Kraak's realist text explores same-sex desire and intimacy. My reading of the two novels engages with the political history of apartheid's sexual policing and insists on the inextricable entanglement of its heteronormative and racial supremacist provisions. The traditional ideological centrality of the vulnerable white woman is displaced in the novels by white men whose transgressive sexual desires for black women (in Mda's novel) and other white men (in Kraak's) refuse the certainty and naturalness of heteronormative whiteness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-128
Number of pages18
JournalTydskrif vir Letterkunde
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Apartheid
  • Heteronormativity
  • Historical fiction
  • Ice in the Lungs (Gerald Kraak)
  • Immorality Act
  • The Madonna of Excelsior (Zakes Mda)
  • Whiteness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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