UNNATURAL VICE IN THE JOHANNESBURG COMPOUNDS, 1915, BY HENRY JUNOD
The following account of the pederasty practised by those living in the compounds set up for the Bantu-speaking natives working in the gold mines of Johannesburg in South Africa was published by the Swiss Presbyterian missionary and ethnographer Henri-Alexandre Junod (1863-1934) as Appendix III to the enlarged edition of his Life of a South African tribe, published by Macmillan of London in 1927.
The South African tribe that was Junod’s subject, and were particularly involved in this pederasty, was the Thonga or Tsonga, who lived in north-eastern South Africa, Rhodesia and, above all, Mozambique. The Appendix is presented here preceded by a short passage from a section entitled “Other Puberty Rites” in Junod’s first chapter, “The Evolution of Man from Birth to Death”, which also mentioned “unnatural vice” among the Thonga.
Other Puberty Rites
Junod has just described the gangisa, a custom allowing a boy who had undergone the puberty rites to have a sexual liason with an unmarried girl:
If the gangisa spoils the whole life of the young heathen, it is only just to add that they do not practise two vices which are prevalent amongst certain civilised nations, onanism and sodomy. These immoral customs were entirely unknown in the Thonga before the coming of civilisation. Unhappily it is no longer so now, as we shall see in Appendix III on unnatural vice in Johannesburg. [p. 98]
APPENDIX III (See p. 98)
Unnatural Vice in the Johannesburg Compounds.
In January 1915 one of my colleagues passing near one of the Johannesburg Compounds, saw a big company of Natives singing and walking in the direction of another Compound where a great dance was taking place. Amongst them there were a number of women. My colleague asked his Native evangelist how it was possible that so many women should be walking about in that part of the world, where the feminine element is very small. The man told him: “They are not women! They are tinkhontshana, boys who have placed on their chests the breasts of women carved in wood, and who are going to the dance in order to play the part of women. To-night when they return to their dormitories, their ‘husbands’ will have to give them 10/, and only on that condition will the tinkhontshana remove their breasts and comply with the desire of their husbands.” I sent for this evangelist who knew everything about the inner life of the Compounds and asked him about it; this is the information I received:
Unnatural vice (bukhontshana) has become a regular institution in the Compounds. The word nkhontshana seems to come from the Ngoni, a Zulu dialect spoken in the Limpopo plain. The nkhontshana is the boy used by another man to satisfy his lust, and the man is called his nuna, husband. When a gang of new workers arrives in a Compound, the native induna, who has the supervision of the Compound, and the Native policemen, who have their rooms at the entrance of the yard, come and “humutsha” i. e. make proposals to the younger ones, not only to little boys (there are only a few of these) but also to boys up to the age of twenty and more. If these lads consent to become their bakhontshana, they will be treated with greater kindness than the others. Their husbands will give them 10/ to woo them (buta) and will choose for them easy occupations, as, for instance, sweeping the dormitories, whilst the others will have to go to the hard underground work. Those who have not been chosen on their arrival by the policemen will probably receive a similar proposal from their older companions in the mine, and these men will then help them in the difficult task of “be hole” i. e. digging their hole. But the “husband” will have not only to woo this peculiar kind of nsati (wife); he must also lobola her, and a feast sometimes takes place when as much as £ 25 is put on the ground, a goat is killed and a real contract made which binds the nkhontshana to his master for the whole time he remains in the Compounds. The elder brother of the boy will receive the money in this disgusting parody of the Bantu marriage.
Sometimes the husband pays his nkhontshana at the end of each month as much as £ 1.10 and this represents a big increase in the earnings of the boy.
What happens when the contract is broken? The “husband” claims the money remitted by him. If the boy refuses to return it the matter may be brought before the Compound Manager, who generally dismisses the plaintiff, saying: “If the boy does not love you any more, let him go.”
The cause of the evil is not difficult to detect: it is the segregation of the Native miners in these enormous conglomerations of males, far from home, far from their wives, a most abnormal condition of life for men who have always enjoyed the freedom of the African bush. When prostitutes were allowed to live near the Compound, unnatural vice was not so common; when they were driven out, bukhontshana at once increased enormously, and thus the disappearance of one evil brought a new one in its train. On the other hand, my informant asserted that Thongas (Matshanganas, as they are called in Johannesburg) had never much frequented the haunts of prostitution, from fear of venereal diseases. They preferred a nkhontshana; the danger was not so great! As the word nkhontshana comes from the Bilen country, the home of the Matshanganas, it might be thought that this vice was known and practised amongst Natives before it took on such extensive proportions in the Compounds. There is an old Thonga song which says: “You, nkhontshana, get up, the cocks are crowing, be not surprised by the rising sun.” This song warns the girl who has gone during the night to sleep in the lao, the boys’ hut, that she had better run away at once lest she should be found in a place where she ought not to be. But it is a girl who is meant here and not a Johannesburg nkhontshana! No! Greek heathenism knew this refinement of immorality and indulged in it, but Bantu heathenism, whatever may be its corruption, never dreamed of it. Even to-day, though it is said to have penetrated into some parts (as in the Maputju country), the Native kraal feels a real abhorrence of it. I was told the following story. A man, in Bilen, had married a woman; he came to the Rand and took his wife's brother as his nkhontshana. When he returned home, his parents-in-law were very angry with him; they gave him back the lobolo money and took their daughter from him, saying: “You are a hyena! You are a wizard! You might as well sin with your mother-in-law!”... Unnatural vice was taught to the South African Bantus by men of a foreign race; it first invaded the prisons; now it is raging in these big Native miners’ settlements, where it is deflouring the Bantu youth. For if it does not immediately destroy their physical strength, this perversion of one of the most essential functions of man corrupts the sources of moral stamina and endangers the foundations of Bantu social life.
Is there no remedy for this terrible evil?
The worst aspect of the situation is that the immense majority of the Natives themselves do not consider this sin as of any importance at all. They speak of it with laughter. I was told that it is severely prohibited by law and that any boy found guilty of bukhontshana is condemned to twelve months’ imprisonment. But it is extremely difficult to bring the evidence necessary for conviction. The indunas and Native policemen enter into a conspiration of silence, being themselves the first and greatest sinners in this respect. Happily the Mission is fighting the evil as energetically as possible and the Compound Managers help its agents to secure separate dormitories, where a certain number of boys can find a refuge against contamination. A few hundreds or thousands escape in this way, but what is that in comparison with the tens of thousands who are exposed to this frightful temptation in the Compounds fittingly spoken of, by a wise South African statesman, as the University of crime?
My informant, who was perfectly acquainted with the circumstances of life in the Compounds, mentioned the following measures which he thought might be useful in the repression of this vice. Prohibit the use of curtains enclosing two beds, this being an unmistakable sign that bukhontshana is practised behind them. Arrange the beds so that they do not touch each other. (I hear that some Mining Companies have spent and are still spending large sums of money to secure this end, but the actual sleeping accommodation ought to be entirely transformed if the Companies are determined effectively to check the evil.) Introduce a strict watch during the night. Put in electric light everywhere in order to illuminate the dormitories at any time when required. I do not know how far such measures would be effective. The only conclusion I would offer on this painful subject is this. As white civilisation is responsible for the introduction and the frightful development of this vice amongst the Natives, the Whites must not remain indifferent in the face of an iniquity which threatens the very life of the South African Tribe. [pp. 492-5]