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The South African Sexual Offences Act and Local Meanings of Coercion and Consent in KwaZulu Natal: Universal Human Rights?

  • Judith L. Singleton


In 2007 South Africa's Parliament passed the Sexual Offences Act, which had been debated since 1999. The law includes a statutory provision with new legal definitions of rape and consent. Influenced by Western human rights ideology and vocabulary, the Sexual Offences Act represents one form of discourse in South Africa about sexual coercion and consent. By using ethnographic methods, this article examines the wide disparity between some of the state discourses about coercion and consent and local beliefs and practices about the meanings of these terms in the Zulu township of Mpophomeni. Proponents of South Africa's new democracy often ignore poor young women's and men's local understandings of rape and of the violence they encounter on a daily basis. Against this background, the article offers recommendations to improve the current law and its effectiveness.


Le parlement de l'Afrique du Sud a finalement ratifié en 2007 un projet de loi sur les délits sexuels qui était en débat depuis 1999. La loi contient une clause statutaire avec de nouvelles définitions sur la notion de viol et de consentement sexuel. Influencée par l'idéologie occidentale des droits de l'homme et son vocabulaire, cette loi représente une forme de discours en Afrique du Sud sur la coercition et le consentement sexuel. À l'aide de méthodes ethnographiques, cet article examine la grande disparité entre certains discours officiels sur la notion de coercition et de consentement, et les croyances et pratiques locales dans la commune Zulu de Mpophomeni. Les partisans de la nouvelle democratic sud africaine ignorent souvent les perceptions locales desjeunes hommes etjeunes femmes vivant dans la pauvreté sur les viols et la violence qu'ils rencontrent au quotidien. Dans ce contexte, cet article offre des recommandations pour améliorer cette loi et son efficacité.



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