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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The mark of Zorro: sexuality and gender relations in the Tsotsi subculture on the Witwatersrand
Author:Glaser, C.ISNI
Periodical:African Studies
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:street children
Women's Issues
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
History and Exploration
External link:https://doi.org/10.1080/00020189208707749
Abstract:During the late 1930s a distinctive youth gang subculture emerged amongst the permanently urbanized black population of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. The subculture arose against a backdrop of massive youth unemployment, grossly inadequate schooling and recreation facilities, unstable family units and severe overcrowding in the townships. In the early 1940s these gangsters became known as 'tsotsis'. During the 1940s and 1950s the majority of permanently urbanized black youths in the Witwatersrand was involved, to a lesser or greater extent, in tsotsi gangs. This paper explores the masculine identity of the tsotsi subculture. How was tsotsi masculinity defined and what role did women play in the subculture? Why were females strikingly absent from the central concerns of gang life? The paper shows that tsotsi masculine identity hinged on fighting skill, independence, daring and law breaking, stylishness and success with women. Girls, who were kept at home by their parents, by domestic duties, or by early parenthood, could only play a role as gangsters' molls. There were, however, a few individual women in the Witwatersrand townships who took tsotsis on at their own game. They were prepared to defend themselves with their fists, knives and guns. At least one Witwatersrand gang had a 'women's wing', the Berliners of Sophiatown. Notes, ref.