Zukiswa Wanner's novel, Men of the South, centres on three close friends, two men and a woman: Mfundo is a struggling jazz musician, Mzi(likazi), works in a national development assistance agency, and Sli(ndile) is a doctor in a community hospital. Their relationships, nurtured since childhood, become, understandably, more complicated as they grow into adulthood. Mzi had originally introduced Mfundo to Sli; he is the confidante to both. When Mfundo falls madly in love with Sli and they move together, Mzi's friendship to both does not substantially change and the three are known to hang out together. Other events in their lives, however, challenge their loyalty to each other. Mzi feels he has to leave their small town and settles in Johannesburg. The political past is catching up with Mfundo leaving him without a job or money. This and other developments in the Mfundo-Sli love relationship bring them to breaking point. Gender identity, prejudice and perceived traditional gender roles in South African society become an important theme. Zukiswa Wanner explores these topics in depth and from different angles. She introduces another male character into the mix, Tinaye, whose experience as a refugee from Zimbabwe adds a new aspect of social behaviour into the story.
The novel is written in three distinct parts and from three perspectives: Mfundo, Mzi and... no, not Sli, but Tinaye, whose ties to the three friends is recent. By using three different voices for the narration, we find a certain degree of overlap in time periods and duplication in description of events. Yet, the reader also receives a better understanding of context and background. For example, the three childhood friends come from very different social backgrounds and upbringing. Understandably, their individual perspectives on life and circumstances can result in disagreement and even conflicts. They also each have to contend with their family members, who can create an even more difficult and tense environment for the friends individually and together have. Tinaye, as the outsider and in precarious circumstances - he needs to get work with a work permit so that he can continue to support his family in Zimbabwe - adds another level of complications to the group. It will come as no surprise that he also falls in love with the beautiful Sli...
Zukiswa Wanner's novel, Men of the South, is a fast and engaging read. She writes fluidly and, while touching on serious societal issues, she maintains a lighthearted and at times humorous touch in her story telling. Her characters are well developed and their circumstances realistically depicted. While some aspects of the character's behaviour and the connected storyline are predictable, the novel brings out the issues clear and convincing. The author was born in Zambia to a South African father and a Zimbabwean mother. She was educated in Zimbabwe, studied journalism in Hawai and lived for a while in England before settling in Jo'burg.
3.5 stars [Friederike Knabe]