Sexual identity and transformation at a South African university

15 May 2013

Despite the proliferation of policies ostensibly protecting all persons’ rights, and mounting critical academic debate and scholarship on sexuality and sexual orientation, sexual orientation in the academy remains a site of deep contestation. The first section of this paper discusses the national legal framework as a basis from which the state’s new social engineering uses liberal human rights as tools for the democratic transformation of society. In the second section, by focusing on the University of the Western Cape, my critique examines the persisting evidence of prejudice and homophobia in South African society alongside seemingly progressive policymaking and intellectual debate. I consider the centrality of national law and policymaking in the restructuring of the higher education environment and assess the extent to which the new education, labour, and other national policies and legislative measures substantively change the climate and culture of higher education institutions. In developing this critique, I map out some of the everyday struggles which may often be marginalised by an over-emphasis on national and institutional policymaking for change.