Men of the South

Men of the South traces the stories of three very different Johannesburg men whose lives are linked to one woman, Sli.

Mfundo is a struggling musician who decides to be a house husband. But his girlfriend and mother of his daughter, is not willing to be the breadwinner and “man of the house”. This ultimately collapses their relationship. Mzi is a 100 % gay Zulu man. His background forces him to hide his sexuality. He gets married to Siyanda and has twins. When his secret is revealed, it is his childhood friend, Sli, who rallies around him. But Mzi succeeds to “protect” his father from his secret. Tinaye is a British educated Zimbabwean who struggles to make it in Johannesburg. Out of desperation, he marries Grace as a conduit to South African papers. But his relationship with Grace complicates when Tinaye meets Sli, who he falls in love with.

In this light yet captivating read, Wanner handles critical contemporary issues that are bugging “modern” Johannesburg. She starts off by dealing with the theme of the “African” man who lacks role models. He is a happy go lucky in the township and not ready to leave his parents home because he can’t pay his bills or take care of himself.

On the other hand are strong township women. This underlines the relationship between Mfundo (failed musician) and Sli (a medical doctor). When circumstances force Mfundo to be a “house husband” Wanner tests our definition and understanding of “work”, “breadwinner/provider”, “a man”, “abuse”. As a feminist I found myself conflicted. I could relate to a frustrated Sli. Whilst I want a liberal husband, I also want a man. In her frustration Sli “abuses” Mfundo emotionally and ultimately “physically”. But is Mfundo not abusing Sli “financially”?

Out of Mzi, Wanner creates a very effective character. He is an ordinary person born in rural KwaZulu Natal to an ordinary family. He is respectful to his stepmother, his father and friends. He holds a job and progresses professionally. Essentially Wanner, through Mzi educates her readership that gay men are ordinary people getting on with their live like us. I really did fall in love with Mzi.

Men of the South could have been three different short stories or books. The stories are cleverly tied together into one book through one character, Sli. On the other hand, the book is indicative of the different lives that make Johannesburg to be the vibrant place it is. On the other hand, perhaps the underlying theme is that tradition holds people back from being the best that they could be in this community (Mfundo as a house husband, Mzi as a gay; Tinaye not marrying Sli because she has someone else’s child)

I found it interesting that in a story narrated through a male voice, women characters are quite strong and dominant in shaping men e.g. Sli, Mfundo’s mother, Mzi’s stepmother, Buhle (Mfundo’s sister), Grace.

Men of the South is a light and subtle read. I went through it in one afternoon. It is Wanner’s 3rd novel. I highly recommend it to those interested in gender studies.

By Zukiswa Wanner – (Published by Kwela Books 2010 – R200)