As African romance fiction continues to make inroads, Dudu Busani-Dube’s self-published love and marriage series, Hlomu the Wife, has staying home and binge-reading – and then tracking down her new favourite author for an interview
here was a week a few months ago when I turned down all invitations to go out on the town. I clocked in at work at exactly 9am and never left a second later than was absolutely necessary. My entire life for those few days revolved around a series of books written by Dudu Busani-Dube.
The Hlomu the Wife series is an epic love story centred on eight Zulu men, whose surname is Zulu, and the women they come to love and marry. It shouldn’t be an earth-shattering experience to read a book about tall dark taxi drivers involved in shady business, but in a space where the story of black love is not told that often in print, the series is nothing short of a double Jameson at the end of a long day.
When I first meet Busani-Dube in the lobby of a hotel, I suffer severe logorrhoea. I can’t stop ranting about the books and she gives me an almost bored look. Clearly I’m not the first person to go on about this. I’m almost frustrated that she doesn’t seem to get how important her books are.
With a much clearer head, I invited her to the City Press office for a chat about how the series came together. She is much more prepared for my excitement this time. Dressed in a black jumpsuit, the journalist by day quickly makes herself at home on a bright orange couch, where she tucks her feet underneath her body and leans her chin on a fist, flashing a knowing smile at me, dimples and all.
In the first book of the series, she writes that everyone comes to Johannesburg looking for something: “Some will find it; others will lose themselves trying to find it.”
Busani-Dube left the excitement of KwaMashu to come and ply her trade as a journalist in the early 2000s, but her storytelling began long before her trek to the City of Gold. The author in her was first discovered by a high school teacher who was fed up with her “troublesome” ways and tasked her with writing a fictional story as punishment.
Inspired by the short stories in the seminal To Kill a Man’s Pride anthology and the style of writing in Drum magazine in its heyday in the 50s, she dreamt up a story about a young boy becoming a thug.
And the series I am talking to her about today is about a family of thuggish brothers. She laughs it off, saying that every girl loves a bad boy.
It is years later, in 2014, that she rekindles her storytelling passion. Because no good story ever starts with eating a salad, she finds herself hunched over her laptop on Facebook, with a glass of wine, thinking to herself, “I’m drunk, let me write a book.”
She explains: “I worked on the book from April to September and I released a quarter of it on Facebook. I asked all my friends to give it a read and then edit it for me, but they didn’t; they just got caught up in the story line.”
It is through one of Busani-Dube’s friends that I came across the books. She sent the manuscript of the first half of the last book via email. To be honest, I really wasn’t sold. The style of writing in first person seemed a bit odd and the grammar was messy.
“When you write in first person, you become that character,” she explains, while fiddling with the colourful chunky items hanging around her neck.
The feedback she got on social media was positive, so she knew she had something good going. It was getting to people outside of her circle that became the problem.
“Had I given it over to a publisher, it would have lacked depth for me. I didn’t want to lose what it is, my style of writing, which is not what you would normally find.
“To be honest, I don’t know if the industry, as it is at the moment, actually understands black stories. I didn’t think that publishers would understand the black woman story.”
She met with one or two publishers, but none of them really seemed to get what she wanted to achieve. There is a constant debate around whether or not the publishing industry is ready for black stories, because of poor sales of black titles. It has become clear by now that the industry makes books available in “whiter” spaces and there’s no judging a book’s potential in the market that way. Black writers in South Africa are increasingly turning to selfpublishing and social media.
A friend who I shared the books with tells me, “It’s been a long time coming.
“The books are unapologetically about black South African women and their experiences with their husbands. From being stalked to spoilt and sexed up, these wives’ lives are a great source of escapism. While reading, you find yourself becoming like or identifying with the women the Zulu brothers encounter, and you pick which fool would be the best for you. The spelling and grammar errors are distracting, but digestible once you’re wrapped up in the story itself.”
Another colleague tells me that she loved the books because, for the first time, she is seeing something in print that tells her story at different times in her life. She says it is incredible to have scenes set in places like the Bree Street taxi rank, the experience of leaving home and coming to work in Johannesburg, the stereotypes associated with dating a Zulu man when you are a Tswana woman, all penned down in a page-turner. Are you addicted to African romance novels? Why? SMS the keyword ROMANCE and your answer to 35697. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. SMSes cost R1.50. Please include your name and province
QUEEN OF SELF-PUBLISHING Dudu Busani-Dube, journalist by day and author by night