The portrayal of female characters in selected Zulu texts.
The condition of women in African societies has always been object of intense discussion The present research takes its move from an analysis of four main literary works in Zulu, and a number of supporting texts, to monitor, as it were, the development of attitudes towards women during the second half of the 20th century. Literature is considered, in fact, a mirror of society. Traditional Southern African society is strongly patriarchal and conservative. A woman's role is generally viewed as the life-giver and the nurturer of the new generation of her husband's offspring. She is in charge of the gardens, where she grows the family food, while her husband is busy with his wars, cattle raiding ventures and politics. Patriarchy may reach severe forms of women oppression through the systems of ilobolo (bride-wealth) and of polygamy, but is also expressed by the exclusion of women from the economic, artistic and legal fields. Forms of freedom - of movement, or sexual or economic - allotted to men are never considered for women. Each of the four chosen texts emphasises one or more aspect of women oppression by the male dominated society, as reflected in popular life at the time of writing. So Uvalo Lwezinhlonzi, written in 1956, is a manifesto for freedom in the choice of a life partner, which is generally obstructed by the father's greed for ilobolo cattle and his ambition to be recognized among the notables of the district. Inkinsela YaseMgungundlovu (1961) fights for women's equal rights in the financial field. NguMbuthuma-ke Lowo (1982) is a desperate cry in the face of abuses in polygamous families. And Ikhiwane Elihle (1985) fights aspects of the new morality that accepts sexual freedom for women, since men also claim such freedom. The thesis is topical, and, to render it even more so, it often avails itself of ideas of feminist writers and critics, although such theories have not touched the nerve of the Zulu public as yet.