It seems that this story with Binyavanga Wainaina coming out guns blazing about his sexuality isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, last night Binya last night added fuel to that fire was on Jeff Koinange Live alongside Valentine Njoroge talking about the issue and gave their feelings about it. Strongly.
I’m not letting it go just yet either. In my second (and final) blog on gay characters in African literature I give you Men of the South by Zukiswa Wanner. The South African writer’s first two books were The Madam’s (Oshun 2006) and Behind Every Successful Man (Kwela 2008) and they centred on female characters and their lives.
With Men of the South (Kwela 2010) she decides to stay away from the ladies and focus on the gents. This book talks about the lives of three guys Mfundo, Mzilikazi and Tinaye and their relationship with a Slindile aka Sli. The book chats about three different issues with these characters.
Mfundo is a saxophonist who wishes to be the Hugh Masekela of the Free Mandela generation. He marries the love of his life Sli and they have a child together and then he loses his job after a bust up with some Black (no its NOT African) American R&B star. He can’t work in Johannesburg in the music industry and without work he ends up as a happy house husband. He is eventually kicked out of his home by his Sli and he goes of to Europe to be a music star.
Tinaye is a Zimbabwean immigrant who is on the way to marrying a South African woman for papers when he meets Sli and he falls in love. Hard. She was the one. It doesn’t end to well for him as he has to pick either his true love and his girl he is hoping to marry for papers for.
Then there was Mzilikazi aka Mzi who is the best friend of the aforementioned Mfundo (why they don’t also call him Mfu escapes me). He is a Zulu born NGO professional and is the focus of this review. He was raised in the village then came to the city where he becomes urbanised. After college and marriage he has an extramarital affair with a local hoodlum. This relationship is out in the open when he is busted by Mfu (see what I did there?) when at a barbeque. With his secret out he eventually reveals his sexuality to his wife and heads to Cape Town to live his hedonistic lifestyle. Here he finds love. The end.
This very well written functional prose is one of the best things about it which is probably why he it was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize 2010. The South African society both rural and urban is focused on quite intimately so for those out of the country it is a great view of that country warts and all. Also focused on is the NGO business and its idiosyncrasies which for those who have heard about but never know how it works. Its based on the South African NGO sector but I am certain it is not that different from our NGOs here.
What I see from reading both Walking With Shadows and Men of the South is that the gay characters in the books don’t want to be who they are. They get married like everyone else but whereas others hook up either for true love or a regular supply of sex and a home cooked food, the gay in this part of the world marry either to hide their leanings or to be “normal” like everyone else.
You can buy the book online at Amazon and in many stores around the continent. Even here in Nairobi at the Bookstop in Yaya Centre.