The underlying theme of sexuality and rape in The Goat Herder is in some parts vivid and detailed while in other parts subtle and secretive. It is yet another topic which illuminates the distinction of cultures.
I have attempted to make the love-making scenes between Nathi and Ruth respectful as well as tender. It is interesting to see the difference in how Nathi, a Zulu and Ruth, Jewish, from a well-to-do family, view themselves in the context of their sexuality. The reader should be able sense Nathi’s shyness and uneasiness with Ruth’s direct and open approach. His Zulu upbringing and traditions have taught him that sexual abstinence prior to marriage is vital where the risk of AIDS threatens to decimate whole populations. Similarly, the Zulus recognize and appreciate the physical and emotional need of growing children and, therefore, teach and condone non-penetrative sex. Once released, Nathi’s latent passion erupts in full force. Here is an excerpt from the novel to illustrate:
“Nathi continued carving but listened to every word of his sister’s story. It made him
think of how he ‘did it’ when he was with a girl. It was mostly kissing, touching, fondling, rubbing each other’s bodies against one another and having intercourse between the girl’s thighs. Dumisani told him about the latter technique. A very pleasurable alternative to the real thing as long as the girl kept her thighs tightly pressed together.”
South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC), in the BBC’s World Today Programme,
said there is a higher prevalence of rape in South Africa than in other countries. It said practices such as gang rape were common because they were considered to be a form of male bonding. The above-mentioned story Nathi was listening to so intently was about a girl from one of the neighbouring villages, whose uncle, known to be infected with HIV, had raped her.
Shame and embarrassment made her keep it a secret. The girl’s father heard of the rape because the villagers were talking about it. They were saying that the girl had seduced her uncle because she had been so desperate for a man.
The reader is also dealt two examples of homosexuality in the novel. The subject, taboo in Zulu culture, is still affected by cultural prejudices. There is the vividly described scene of the young Nathi being raped by two men in a forest and there is the character of Jacob, Nathi’s friend, who the reader learns has feelings for Nathi.