Kulani Nkuna
4 minute read
7 Nov 2013
6:00 am

Zulu love letters

Kulani Nkuna

During a break in deliberations at some lobola negotiations recently, some elders reminisced about communicating their love in the old days.

Thandeka Nxumalo is not interested in Tsakane Mkhize’s advances in Auckland Park. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

They spoke of the days of the telegram and how a male suitor who toiled in Johannesburg’s mines would send such a message to a young country maiden declaring his affections in poetic tones. This was all good and well, but sometimes the lady in question would be illiterate, so she would seek the assistance of post office officials to read the letter to her, thus revealing personal and embarrassing details about the couple’s courtship.

These suitors were often wizards with words, proclaiming undying love and how yearning to be in the bosom of God’s finest creation and other, less printable, sexual details.

While the girl usually giggled in embarrassment at having her business becoming public entertainment, she was not really that concerned, because all of this really confirmed how much her man in Johannesburg really loved her despite the distance and the fact that he only came home once a year.

These days, love has taken on a different currency as the township has evolved and socio-economic factors have changed, enabling residents to be part of the global village. However, some things remain distinctly kasi, and the manner in which a man courts a lady has become more interesting. There’s minimal interaction these days, and the lines utilised are designed to capture attention quickly in a generation where there are many competing interests.

Phrases like “hello nice,” or “hello my size” are the most popular introductory remarks currently doing the rounds. While “hello nice” is self explanatory, “hello my size,” can prove problematic for ladies who don’t reside in the township. In essence, it means that the lady in question is the suitor’s type or that she possess the right qualities to make her his preference. Some women take this as a reference to their weight, which is far from the truth.

“It could be misconstrued as guys objectifying women,” says kasi poet Makhafula Vilakazi.

“Yes, it focuses on their features, but it’s true that before delving into the true content or character of a person, you are first attracted to how they look. So the phrases are just articulating this attraction, even though it is not that flattering or charming in a Western sense. But in the hood, it is the way to go for some of the guys.”

At a wedding recently, Dr Nina Ntsanwisi was approached with an interesting line. Taking her hand, a gentleman said, “Somebody told me to come find you”.

Intrigued, she replied: “Who?”

And he said: “God has sent me to find you”. She laughed. She acknowledges that such moments may be humorous, but sometimes beauty can be a burden.

“Sometimes men don’t see beyond the beauty wall,” she says.

“No one sees beyond the pretty lips moving which is really unfortunate. A woman could be intelligent, well read and travelled, but none of this would matter because all the man sees is beauty.”

For some, the art of ukushela (courtship) is dead. Phumlile Nxumalo, 19, thinks that is the case.

“These days, guys would rather walk past you than approach you,” she says, “but then he will find you on WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter and hit on you there. I suppose social media plays an interesting role because people’s identities are hidden so they can express themselves freely.”

Cynthia Marishane, 21, agrees and prefers social media to brave souls ambling up to her.

“I don’t allow people to get into my personal space easily. I get to know a person better online, so that by the time we meet physically I feel like I know more about them,” she says.

Sometimes gentlemen are not really interested in pursuing a relationship, as Palesa Moon recently found out.

She wrote on Facebook: “This taxi driver dude just friend-zoned me. He says, ‘Hhayi ke sisi umuhle kakhulu, ngiyakuthanda, kodwa angeke ngikhone, kungcono sibe abangani’.” (Lady, you are very beautiful, and I like you very much. But I must confess that I will not be able to date you, it’s better if we are just friends.)

Monde Mabaso, 25, believes that the craft of courtship is still alive and she wants things done the old school way. “Ukushela is an art. You have to be really creative if you’re going to melt a lady’s heart. You need to know that as a guy, you’re not just asking a woman out, you’re making history. I want random praises, a love letter maybe. Personalise everything. I know it’s 2013, but love letters are still romantic. Don’t put some random, awkward message on Facebook.”