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

CityPress - - Voices -

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 trend­ing@city­press.co.za. SMSes cost R1.50. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince

QUEEN OF SELF-PUB­LISH­ING Dudu Bu­sani-Dube, jour­nal­ist by day and au­thor by night

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