School of Built Environment & Development Studies

How to be a ‘Real Man’ in the Eyes of Black African Society

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Mr Thobani Khumalo.
Mr Thobani Khumalo.

The concept and image of being a ‘real man’ in black African society in South Africa was examined in research for a master’s degree. 

The study found the highest attribute of being a man from a rural perspective was to be a breadwinner in an immediate and extended family, with a wife, children, land and livestock. Urban masculinity, on the other hand, was associated with aggression and boasting about material wealth.

The investigation was conducted by Mr Thobani Khumalo for his Masters in Development Studies degree, which he received from UKZN.

Khumalo showed how definitions of what society deems as a ‘real man’ shift or alternate across different locations.

He found that young African men from rural areas had to understand how the concept of being a ‘real man’ changed when they migrated to an urban informal settlement (Bhambayi in Inanda, Durban, in this study) which had different ideas on being a ‘real man’.

Khumalo found that men were often forced to migrate due to violent conflicts fuelled by political clashes. ‘Unemployment is painful and makes men feel powerless the moment they have to rely on parents for basic needs.’

He found alcohol consumption was a ‘high contributor’ of violence and injuries. All men interviewed in the urban informal settlement of Bhambayi preferred and aspired to build their future homes in rural areas for purposes of peace and an environment conducive to raising their children.

Khumalo said he was interested to find that many young men respected the marriage institution – they viewed marriage as some sort of protection for them to escape peer pressures i.e. drinking alcohol in the late hours of the night.

‘They were concerned about how your wife would view you if you left her alone throughout the night to drink with your friends,’ explained Khumalo. Plus, marriage made a man look dignified, a trait highly desired in poor communities.’

Khumalo says his study also revealed that some men fell in love but were unable to take wives because they couldn’t afford the labola that had to be paid.

He believes his research will ‘spark masculine discourse’ around the issue that society needs to review and refashion in order to ‘breed better behaviour’.

He thanked his family, friends and supervisor Professor Pranitha Maharaj for their support

Khumalo’s plans are to focus on his immediate social problems and make a positive impact either through education or active protest. He believes South Africans turn a blind eye to many of the wrongs in the country.

‘I want tap water, just like everyone else in my community. However, we get water delivered in trucks – and the struggle involved in fetching it and storing it is ridiculous,’ he said.

‘I am also starting a page on Instagram called @thecultofrealmen_sa where I will post videos and show how we can create new trending practices of being men in contemporary South Africa.’

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