Zukiswa Wanner has written an enticing tale about finding love and making ends meet. Set in South Africa’s Johannesburg, this is a story about what happens next after finding everything in life or losing just as much.
Mfundo, Mzilikazi and Tinaye are the Men of the South. Their self-narrated stories in first person divide the book’s three chapters. Zuki does more than shine through the voices of her three main male characters and doesn’t grapple with writing in the voice of an opposite sex, like many writers do – leaving me in awe at her beautiful mind.
Mfundo and Mzilikazi are childhood buddies and have shared a lot, from secret youth pleasures like threesomes to tough challenges as grown ups. They both grow up under the scrutiny of a society that expects them to achieve certain things and live in a certain way.
It is Mzi who is everyone’s connecter. He is best friends with Mfundo, and ends up introducing him to the future love of his life – Slindile. Mzi also indirectly introduces his friend Tinaye to his other best friend Sli.
It’s a swirl of events when, after years of friendship Mfundo discovers that Mzi has a queer sexuality. Mzi, a married man, breaks up his marriage to find his sexuality. How Zuki writes about a blooming relationship between two men simply plays out the innocence of how true love unfolds between two, irrespective of sex or cultural inclinations. Mzi’s finding of true love reminds me of Frank Ocean’s We All Try. As the song goes, “I believe marriage isn’t between man and a woman but between love and love”.
Read my review of Frank Ocean’s EP Nostalgia, Ultra
Through Zuki’s characters, the 2010 book brings to light pertinent issues in African societies like being homosexual (considered a taboo by many) and xenophobia. It never escapes her for a moment that, like many other countries, South Africa and its society is not a perfect picture – as painted by many. At the tail end of the book, her main characters all unite over some beer and end up discussing xenophobia, a recurrence in modern-day South Africa. Recent South African government figures indicate that the unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25%. Many residents have accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes, yet it is a crime what the very same residents are doing – murdering and attacking foreigners, even blazing up their business premises.
As Mfundo’s sister Buhle defends the intent behind violent attacks directed at people of other nationalities living and working in South Africa, Mfundo interjects saying, “Some of our people are stuck in a comfort zone, waiting for the government or someone else waiting to do something for them”
To acquire a work permit Tinaye, a Zimbabwean working in South Africa, is forced to marry or risk losing a job that he’s worked for all his adult life. Sli discovers that she can’t be with the man she fell in love with. Mfundo thinks his life is over if he can’t have both his music and family by his side. When the perfect couple Sli and Mfundo break up; though unexpected there is something for Mfundo and surprisingly someone for Sli. Mfundo and Mzilikazi both turn out quite differently from what the society deems fit. How everyone rises above their seemingly non-erasable mistakes is powerful for the reader, Zuki’s way of telling us one thing – you could never be so fucked up not to start over again.
Zuki’s triumphant twist to all these scenarios is the ultimate beauty of Men of the South. How her characters’ life challenges play out is a reminder of my own life and that of my friends. It’s extremely attractive how Zuki’s writing is so original yet so relatable in relation to city life and the challenges of modern societies.
You will love Zukiswa Wanner’s wit and charm. Like a good stir-fry, she has mixed up some comedy and thought-provoking tales that dance around our everyday reality. I really love Zuki for twisting the book’s ending. Just when you expect it to end this way, she takes a different route that either leaves the reader with the power to re-write it or the feeling that the book just started afresh.
Desperately needing to know what happened next, I ask Zuki (a friend of mine – always good to namedrop where you have no other choice), “I am dying to know – did Sli respond to Tinaye’s text? And what did she say????” Her response, “Kwaa. I don’t know. Imagine that’s the end? But as one of my more intelligent readers I know you have your own good ending 🙂 ” I actually do and I am considering blogging it out for fans of the Men of the South.
BONUS: The South African writer Zukiswa also blogs. She has written about why we should all #Boycott South Africa till South African government takes stern action against xenophobia, what she terms afrophobia.
Men of The South was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. To my lovely cousin Sharon – thank you for lending me Men of The South – my first Zuki book 🙂 Now can’t wait to read her other books: Behind Every Successful Man, Maids in SA and The Madams.