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An interpretive study of the representations of South African Zulu masculinities in the soap operas, Uzalo, Imbewu and Isibaya.

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Since their origins in the 1930s, soap operas have been known as a feminine genre. Contributing to soap opera scholarship, this study explores the interpretations of masculinities that are presented in three South African soap operas by Zulu male audiences living in KwaZulu-Natal - Uzalo, Imbewu and Isibaya. A constructivist approach guides the study in understanding that masculinities are fluid and influenced by social and cultural factors. It articulates the complexity and ambiguity of contemporary South African masculinities, thus working against stereotypical representations of black South African men. An indigenised cultural studies approach includes how the study’s focus group participants read the soap opera preferred messages of Zulu masculinities and reasons for their dominant, negotiated or oppositional readings of these. This is enabled through a comparison of data collected through in-depth interviews with producers from each of the soap operas, with responses from 30 focus group participants in rural and urban areas of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Data is analysed through the development of deductive and inductive thematisation where the relationship between the theme and international and local theoretical positions are explained. Typically, soap opera scholarship argues that the genre subverts discourses of hegemonic masculinity. This study found that contemporary South African soap opera representations of masculinities both uphold and subvert dominant discourses of Zulu masculinities. The significance of this is twofold. Firstly, soap opera producers are creating narratives that no longer conform only to traditional soap opera codes and conventions. They encode messages through narratives that draw in male viewers and use the power of cultural proximity in representations, meaning that there is a move to the indigenisation of settings, storylines and languages to attract audiences. Secondly, male audiences decode the messages through parasocial relationships and cultural proximity. The study adds to understanding the specificities of viewing within the African context, and the importance of creatives to be aware of the ways in which these habits shape the meanings of the programmes they produce. In sum, the study contributes to African masculinity studies, but particularly masculinity studies in soap operas in terms of representation and audience engagement in a “post” era, from the perspective of the global South.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.