One Read Interviews: Zukiswa Wanner

Zukiswa Wanner is the author of books including: The Madams, and London, Capetown, Joburg. In this interview, she talks about her novel, Men of the South, the One Read Book of the Month for May 2021.

One Read: How do you feel about the selection of your novel Men of the South as One Read Book of the Month?

Zukiswa Wanner: Immense honour of course, especially as it is a book that is going through a second life having first come out in 2010 when it was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Best Book.

Can you share a bit about the spark that spurred you on to write the novel?

Three sparks. Afrophobia (through the character of Tinaye), the expectations on contemporary masculinities (and it was sort of a response to my debut The Madams that way), and finally I was of course curious to see whether reviewers who had referred to me as ‘Black chick lit’ after my first two books would now refer to me as ‘penis lit’.

What was the writing process like? How long did it take to actualise your goal for it?

I started by writing Tinaye at a literary festival as a short story during the Afrophobic attacks of 2008. I wanted to imagine what a middle-class raised, well-educated man who, by virtue of a bunch of white men in Berlin was not born in the geographical space that is South Africa but perhaps was in love with Johannesburg, may feel. My mind kept telling me later that there was more to the story though. And so one evening, I started writing Mfundo and for the next two to three weeks, he and Mzilikazi played themselves out of my mind and onto my laptop.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Men of the South, and how did you overcome it?

That would be finding a soundtrack. I can’t write without a soundtrack. But once Mfundo told me he was a jazz artist, Miles and Hugh worked together to help me bring the men to life.

Mfundo’s stance about being a stay-at-home dad is a very striking aspect of the narrative. What did you want to achieve with this ‘battle of the sexes’ tension in the novel?

It’s not so much what I wanted to achieve (I never set out to achieve anything except tell a good story) but I did want my reader to ask themselves questions. What does contemporary manhood mean for many of us? Is there a single way to be an African man as it were?

Themes of love, friendship and family are explored in this book. Why do you think they make for compelling storytelling?

Love, family and friendships have been, I think, have come up in stories over and over again. How do we relationship the same as human beings? How do we do it differently?

Moving away from one’s hometown seems to be a catalyst for change in the lives of some of the characters. Would you agree?

Absolutely for all three of the men. Mzi becomes freer to be who he is, Tinaye perhaps a little less lucky and Mfundo wins professionally.

If you had to choose just one character in the novel, who would you say tugs at your heartstrings the most and why?

I think as annoying as she is, Mfundo’s sister. I am an only child but I can only imagine how painful it is to work so hard and be the best that you can be and yet you know you will never be your living parent’s favourite because there is this loser (according to her) that her parent prefers.

What do you hope your African reading audience takes away from this book?

I hope we will become a little less judgmental and treat each other with a little more kindness because we don’t always know someone’s journey.

Tell us a bit about your current reading.

I am revisiting Angolan writer Ondjaki’s Good Morning, Comrades for June’s Virtually Yours event, as well as South African writer Mphuthumi Ntabeni’s The Wanderers, out in July. I will be performing Mphuthumi’s book for an Artistic Encounters I am staging here in Johannesburg in the next few weeks before I return to my other home in Nairobi.

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