Black Hegemonic Masculinities (South Africa)

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South Africa is a diverse nation with many cultures, and within these cultures there are constructed norms of how men and women should behave. This post briefly examines black hegemonic masculinities expressed within the country.

When engaging black South African masculinity several important observations should be made. First, a common feature for all black cultures and masculinities is historical and institutional oppression, especially in relation to white, Afrikaner masculinity (Hunter, 2005). In this respect, black masculinity has been marked by violent struggles. This is known as “struggle masculinity” perpetuated in opposition to Afrikaner colonial dominance under the apartheid regime. Consequently, a number of black men, viewed as comrades, violently opposed racial injustices of apartheid, and were often seen as heroes in black communities. Many black women, at the time, viewed struggle masculinity as the ideal masculinity in their communities. Further, although this paper includes black masculinity under a single heading it by no means suggests that black masculinity is homogeneous which is surely not the case given the rich diversity present across black cultures.

Zulu masculinity has received most research. Patriarchy and male dominance have always been a feature of Zulu culture (Zulu Culture, n.d.). For example, a process of socialization prepares boys for becoming men and household heads. Boys are expected to become competent hunters, and are often socialized to exert aggression through stick fighting in order to receive the respect of other males (Carton & Morrell, 2012). When they become men they are expected to possess a homestead, and be the head of the home, cattle, and the wife or wives (Zulu Culture, n.d.). Certain rituals are also to be undertaken by men, and only men are to deal with visitors to the home (Zulu Culture, n.d.). Similarly, Xhosa culture awards men power on the basis of being male, and like Zulu culture this includes the subordination of women (Gennrich, 2013). Hegemonic masculinity in Xhosa culture is similarly visible during the initiation of boys (“Ulwaluko”) which is intrinsically linked to becoming a man, or having the right to call oneself a man (Bullock, 2015). Ulwaluko is a trial of courage that includes a circumcision ritual in which the boys are circumcised with spears (Bullock, 2015). Understandably, concerns exists given that these rituals have resulted in a number of deaths and hospitalizations (Bullock, 2015). Post being circumcised the boys are to eat nothing other than half-boiled maize and are allowed no water for seven days (Bullock, 2015). At the end of this process they are thin, weak, and can barely stand (Bullock, 2015). However, when they recover they are expected to chop wood, dance, stick fight, and hunt rabbits (Bullock, 2015). As the lyrics to a Xhosa song go, “it’s hard to be a man” (Bullock, 2015)

Both Zulu and Xhosa cultures are accepting of polygamous sexuality (Hunter, 2005). Particularly in Zulu culture is a man expected to have many wives (Hunter, 2005). Polygamous sexuality is also noticeably prevalent in impoverished predominantly black townships and settlements (Wood, Lambert & Jewkes, 2007). In these communities many men have multiple girlfriends, and these girlfriends often have different functions for the men (Wood, Lambert & Jewkes, 2007). The most important girlfriend is the one the man deems marriage material and with whom he can have children (Selikow, et al., 2002). Lesser important girlfriends are mostly used for personal status and sex (Selikow, et al., 2002). Linked to male-female relations in informal settlements is “provider masculinity” which is characterized by women who are attracted to men who have money (Bhana & Pattman, 2011). Many women hope to meet and marry a man who is wealthy and can provide for them (Bhana & Pattman, 2011).

Prejudice and discrimination against homosexuals is prevalent within Xhosa and Zulu hegemonic masculinity (Tolsi, 2006). Zulu male leaders, politicians, and members of parliament have been known for their homophobic statements made in speeches and via the media (Tolsi, 2006). Rather, heterosexual relations are the ideal in Xhosa and Zulu hegemonic masculinity for men are not meant to sleep with other men, and violence is often experienced by homosexual men and women within these communities (Tolsi, 2006).

Further, research findings suggest that contemporary South African legislation is resulting in a “deep crisis of identity” among Zulu men (Gennrich, 2013). The current constitution ensures equal rights for all South Africans and thus many Zulu men do not have the same power and standing over their wives and female peers that they once did (Gennrich, 2013).


Bhana, D., & Pattman, R. (2011). Girls want money, boys want virgins: The materiality of love amongst South African township youth in the context of HIV and AIDS. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 13(8), 961-972.


Carton, B. & Morrell, R. (2013). Zulu Masculinities, Warrior Culture and Stick Fighting: Reassessing Male Violence and Virtue in South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies, 38, 31-53.

Gennrich, D. (2013). Men and Masculinities in South Africa: Essays and Perspectives. PACSA and Sonke Gender Justice Network. Available.

Hamber, B. (2010). Masculinity and transition: Crisis or confusion in South Africa? Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, 5(3), 75-88.

Hunter, M. (2005). Cultural politics and masculinities: Multiple-partners in historical perspective in KwaZulu-Natal. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 7(4), 389-403.

Tolsi, N. (2006, October 16). Being gay and Zulu. Available.

Wood, K., Lambert, H. & Jewkes, R. (2007). “Showing roughness in a beautiful way”: talk about love, coercion, and rape in South African youth sexual culture. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 21(3), 277-300.

Zulu Culture. n.d. Zulu Family Structure. Available.


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