jacket(ed) and suit(ably) coat(ed): swazi masculine

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This paper contains information that I know from oral traditions. I have ... The coat and the suit jacket can arguably be seen as a modern version of the ... In other words, this is a very practical item of male dress. .... The other day when he put it on, three Europeans asked him where he got it. .... In both spaces, kuhlonipha is.


University of Swaziland [email protected]

ABSTRACT Why do the Swazi people call the condom lijazi lemkhwenyana—the son-in-law’s coat? Why is a man prohibited from entering the precincts of his in-laws if he is not wearing a coat or jacket or at least some long-sleeved item of clothing? Why is a man whose mental faculties have been enfeebled by a love spell said to be wearing a metallic coat? Why does David Masondo give a prospective one-night stand his jacket to ensure that she cannot slip through his fingers as she has done before? What empowers Can Themba’s character Philemon in The Suit (To Kill a Man’s Pride and Other Short Stories from South Africa. Johannesburg: Ravan, 1984) to drive his wife to suicide by torturing her through her secret lover’s suit? In this article, I explore the sartorial valence of what is essentially a single item of men’s dress: the coat/suit jacket/jacket. The black masculinities in question here are predominantly Swazi, although other southern African groups are touched upon. I argue that this thick upper-body covering of the male body, initially introduced by colonial modernity, has become so entrenched in the dress ethics of Swazi (and other) masculinities that, as a wardrobe item, it has come to embody the force of the masculine subject.

Keywords: coat/suit jacket/jacket; sartorial masculinities; kuhlonipha; sexuality; subversion; in-laws

THE COAT FOR ALL SEASONS Let me begin by locating myself in relation to the ethnographic or cultural information that makes up the core of this paper. I am a born-and-bred Swazi national who has lived in Swaziland all my life, except for a few years when I pursued graduate studies in the US. This paper contains information that I know from oral traditions. I have

Critical Arts Volume xx | Number xx | 2017 | pp. xx–xx www.tandfonline.com/rcrc20

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02560046.2017.1383493I

SSN 1992-6049 (Online), ISSN 0256-0046 (Print) © Unisa Press 2017



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

first-hand knowledge of the masculine mystique that is believed by the Swazi to reside in the coat/suit jacket/jacket. This paper also contains a wealth of information I have obtained through interviews with still-living Swazi people, information that is easily corroborated through research in Swaziland. The ubiquity of the male insudu (“suit” in the Siswati and Zulu languages),1 lijazi (“coat”), and libhantji (“suit jacket”) attests to the hegemony of the colonial enterprise that introduced these items to the Swazi man’s wardrobe. The lijazi and the libhantji, in particular, are repositories of social meaning, cultural symbolism, and moral gestures that reinforce prevailing heteronormative constructs. The masculinities in question in this paper—dating from the late twentieth to the early twenty-first century—deploy the coat/suit jacket/jacket (hereafter referred to as the CSJJ) in a spectrum of fluid identity projects. The CSJJ does, at times, boomerang and in so doing can inflict irredeemable harm on masculine subjects. The coat and the suit jacket can arguably be seen as a modern version of the kaross (Bryden 1893, 62; Du Plessis 2016, 44). In some contexts, a man without a CSJJ is not fully or appropriately clothed. While the coat is a practical matter, it has become so intertwined with taste and/or cultural refinement that demarcating the utilitarian and aesthetic dimensionalities can be tricky. From a practical viewpoint, it is clear that since diurnal weather patterns can be erratic, it is prudent for a man to carry a CSJJ by day in order to not be caught off guard by inclement weather. And a coat at night becomes a blanket or a pillow, depending on the weather and other pertinent factors. It is easy to ventilate one’s body without taking off the coat or jacket; in addition, taking it off is very easy. In other words, this is a very practical item of male dress. Quite often a CSJJ will be the thickest item of clothing on the male body. As such, it is a body shield or armour that protects the vital body organs; thus, a jacketed or “coated” man communicates inviolability and good sense. Such a man can be taken seriously. He exudes the completeness and integrity of masculinity through his CSJJ. This wholesome narrative of the CSJJ’s place in orature and material culture belies its connection to the less savoury aspects of colonialism. Scholars (see, for instance, Comaroff 1997, 412; Mudimbe 1988, 20) agree that a crucial part of colonial subjugation, or the mission to “civilize the native”, involved containing, taming, and generally exercising dominion over the black male body. The need to tame the black body arose from a number of colonial anxieties about the black man. It has been suggested (see Mudimbe 1988, 14) that the almost entirely uncovered body of the black native, showing the well-developed muscles of men accustomed to daily physical exertion, seemed to exude a raw strength—a characteristic which the colonialists found unsettling. There was also unease about body odour and general 1

The Siswati (spoken by the Swazi people of Swaziland and South Africa) and Zulu languages are mutually intelligible. Even their orthographies show resemblances. The Zulu call a suit “insudu”; the Swazi often remove the “n” and call a suit “isudu”, although it is not uncommon for a Swazi to use the Zulu term. The Zulu call a coat “ijazi”, while the Swazi call it “lijazi”; the Zulu call a suit jacket “ibhantji” while the Swazi call it “libhantji”. 2


Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

hygiene. Black men often smeared lotions made from plants and animals on their exposed skins for cosmetic, military, or medicinal purposes (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991, 104). The taming of the black body involved disciplining it through forms of labour that the colonialist believed to be culturally and morally edifying. As a labourer in colonial mines and farms, the black man came to experience the white colonialist as master. It is here that the majority of black men were forced into “white man’s garb”. According to Jean Comaroff (1997, 414), “[t]he clothing of the migrant-male rank and file was largely limited to khaki jackets, shirts, and trousers. This standard proletarian uniform for black males made little ethnic distinctions”. Blacks quickly discovered that in order to be acceptable before a white man one had to be garbed in white man’s attire. This was the beginning of sartorially performing wilful acceptance. The jacket, worn even over indigenous items of attire such as loin skins, was soon recognised as a prop that signalled a black man’s respect of the white man.

Figure 1: A Zulu man in a suit jacket (Scheub 1996, 212) 3


Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

In the Swazi and Zulu cultures, the words “lijazi/ijazi” and “libhantji/ibhantji” were borrowed from Afrikaans words, namely “jas” (coat) and “baadjie” (suit jacket). According to Mr Ezrom Khumalo (personal interview, March 20, 2017), a 77-year-old retired Swazi radio announcer, radio news editor, and one-time national (traditional) court functionary, there are three distinguishable ways in which the colonial coat was brought into Swazi society: Afrikaner farming activities, labour migration, and the Second World War.

Figure 2: A Xhosa man in a sitjala gwayi-type coat (Scheub 1996, 288)

Afrikaner sheep pastoralists and tobacco growers started arriving in Swaziland in the late nineteenth century. They brought with them the coat, which came to replace the indigenous leather upper-body item of dress that was known as siphuku (Khumalo, personal interview, March 20, 2017). “Siphuku” is a Swazi name or version of what in southern African studies is widely labelled a kaross. The kaross, made out of soft cured leather, covered the whole upper body, often extending all the way down to the knees. Swazi males hired into wage labour as sheepherders were often given a coat by their employers to use as protection against the elements. These nomadic pastoralists often found the coat to be a good blanket, particularly at night. In addition, it can be said that in tobacco farming the coat was put to practical use, hence the well-known Swazi term



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

“sitjala gwayi” (“tobacco planter”) (Khumalo, personal interview, March 20, 2017). A sitjala gwayi is a rust-coloured, thick, heavy woollen coat that reaches to below the knees. Khumalo (personal interview, March 20, 2017) explains that the best time to plant tobacco seedlings was during a downpour of rain; the Afrikaner farmer, with his crew of Swazi employees, would step out into the cultivated field clad in his thick sitjala gwayi and bury the roots of the tender seedlings into the very moist earth. The pouring rain would ensure that the tender plants had a good start, which made for a bountiful harvest. The idea of the white farmer clad in his sitjala gwayi, with his privileged black foremen also clad in (most likely) older hand-me-down titjala gwayi, speaks of the comfort and privilege that this item bestowed on the wearer. There is yet another class of African men whose participation in the colonial economy brought them into contact with the coat. These were migrant labourers, called “emagayiza”2 by the Swazi or “amagayiza” by the young Zulu men who worked in the South African mines. As wage earners in distant places, migrant labourers were figures of romance to their families and communities. Most importantly, they had money, and periodically returned home loaded with presents. According to Khumalo (personal interview, March 20, 2017), one of the most valuable and highly prized presents a young man could bring home for his father was a coat. Relatives, girlfriends, extended family members, and even neighbours benefited from the bounty of a young man from the mines. The one important community member to receive a gift from a ligayiza was the chief, and the single most important gift for him was a coat. The presentation of a coat to the chief quickly became the major form of expressing tribute, and an important means to obtain favour with other dignitaries. Indeed, court dues and fines were dubbed “the chief’s coat”. The coat was an equally prized wardrobe item in Zambia (Kalusa 2013). The parallels between Swaziland and Zambia suggest that the coat’s mystique was common throughout southern Africa. Walima T. Kalusa (2013, 159) cites a conversation between two miners that is replete with the rich meanings of the coat: First Miner: ... The one this man ordered is wonderful. In June ... he will be wearing it to the beer hall since he is a strong drinker, and people will be looking [admiring] him. The coat is brown in colour and has very long hair. If he wears it in town, police men can be asking him where he got it ... The other day when he put it on, three Europeans asked him where he got it. Ah, it is wonderful. Second Miner: You will order one, I guess? First Miner: Yes, I must make sure I get one. I shall order it before I go home next month. People at home will just fall off their chairs [with admiration and respect] when they see the coat.

2 “Ligayiza” (singular) and “emagayiza” (plural) are Siswati words that mean “migrant labourer/s”.



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

It is noteworthy that the man who recently ordered a coat will “wear it to the beer-hall, since he is a strong drinker”. Possibly, a weak drinker would not wear his wonderful coat to the beer hall, as his inability to hold his alcohol may well result in the loss or ruin of the much-prized coat. The strong drinker in his wonderful coat will be a figure of admiration and envy. It is important too that he will wear it in June—winter in southern Africa—which shows that he is a sensible man. The fact that even the police in town “can be asking him where he got it” reinforces the coat’s cultural value. The opinion of salaried law enforcement agents of colonial rule evidently carries immense weight; they are even arbiters of sartorial taste. To top it all off, whites—the authorities on the worth of a coat—confirm this man’s celebrity status. The male coat-wearing subject has remade his identity through dress sense. The Zambian situation illustrates that migrant workers on the copper belt creatively transformed Western commodities into a means of (re)configuring pan-ethnic and gender relations, forging urban identities, marking social difference, and, ultimately, contesting imperial power (Kalusa 2013, 150). In light of the above conversation, Kalusa (2013) notes that, evidently, African migrants transformed manufactured goods into a means to garner social respect. They appropriated these goods to craft new relationships or, indeed, to discard unwanted ones. Second World War veterans are another group of black masculine subjects that popularised the coat, at least in the context of Swaziland, where I was expressly informed. The war veteran’s coat was, so to speak, drenched through and through with romance. Here was a coat that had seen the wearer through distant countries over land and water, through life-and-death situations, through hostile climates. Like the wearer himself, the war veteran’s coat, although mute, was most intimately acquainted with conditions during the Second World War and therefore, unsurprisingly, invested with a deep reverence. Khumalo (personal interview, March 20, 2017) testifies to the deep reverence attached to the coat as an item of clothing when he narrates how his extended family has, over three generations, been dogged by tension emanating from a breach of protocol in the safekeeping of the late patriarch’s coat. When his great-grandfather, a polygamous man, died in his junior wife’s hut, his coat, which was supposed to be entrusted into the care of the senior wife’s compound, was instead retained in the junior wife’s compound. The junior wife’s eldest son resisted surrendering it. By clinging to the coat, he was effectively installing himself as heir. Unfortunately for him, the weight of opinion and custom was against him, even though he continued hanging on to his late father’s coat. In so doing, he was in effect investing himself with the mystic essence of his father that was believed to dwell in the coat. Indeed, where succession is concerned, even the traditional court of law recognises that a deceased man’s coat embodies the power of its erstwhile wearer. Indeed, the thick upper-body covering that is the subject of this article does qualify to be called the “coat of law”.



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

In this vein, the coat has also been used to solemnise a land grant. Mr William S. Ndzinisa (personal interview, March 3, 2017) narrates an episode from the 1950s of a committee tasked by the colonial government to obtain land on which to construct a dipping tank for livestock. They presented their request, to which the chief acceded. The committee offered the chief a coat as a token of appreciation for his generosity and development-mindedness. The chief received the coat as a tribute. The exchanged coat thus sealed the land transfer and assured the community that the new facility had the chief’s blessing. Khumalo (personal interview, March 20, 2017) tells the story of a man who took up a relationship with a widow. They began cohabiting, something not sanctioned by custom but ignored in deference to the parties concerned. Other men in the community obliquely advised the widow’s paramour to look behind the door of his lover’s hut (which she had shared with her late husband). Later, a complication arose as a result of the woman’s prepubescent son by her late husband. When this young man reached maturity, he wanted his mother’s paramour out of his late father’s compound. The offended paramour took the matter before the community court. The court reminded him that when he had moved into the dead man’s hut, he had been told him to look behind the door, where he would have seen the deceased’s coat and accorded it due respect. The “coat” that he had ignored—the dead man’s son—was now giving him trouble.

THE RESPECTFUL COAT In this part of the discussion, I aim to show why a condom is called “the son-in-law’s coat” amongst the Swazi people. As a Swazi national, I decipher this label through my first-hand knowledge of Swazi culture, and I do so through inference and extrapolation of the cultural resonances embedded in the concept. As mentioned previously, in the eyes of the white man, a black man appearing in his skin-revealing native attire was deemed to be an unseemly sight. This sense of propriety quickly spread to social interactions beyond the employer–employee relationship; it began to take root even between the proletarianised native and his kinsmen, and particularly between him and his in-laws. There is a good reason why the CSJJ on the labourer’s body became crucial in his conduct of relationships with his in-laws. Having been initiated into putatively superior Western culture, he was expected to be the ambassador of cultural refinement wherever he went, and even more so at his prospective in-laws’, where he would be highly esteemed as an eligible bachelor. The CSJJ signified that he was employed and could thus afford to pay bridewealth. The jacket pockets were filled with the money he earned, and the jacket rightly set him apart from the majority of unemployed bachelors. It is surely in this way that the CSJJ became mandatory dress for a man visiting his in-laws. It is in this light that one can grasp the weight of a claim by one of Niehaus’s informants,



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

who said, “In the old way of life you had to wear a jacket whenever you visited your inlaws ... You could only take off the jacket when sleeping” (Niehaus 2013, 105). Visiting your in-laws without a jacket was deemed disrespectful. The jacket had become a mark of kuhlonipha. “Hlonipha” means “to respect”, in the mutually intelligible languages of the Swazi and the Zulus. Kuhlonipha in matters of love means ensuring that the woman does not get pregnant before marriage. Bearing children out of wedlock has never really been the ideal. Discretion and restraint in matters of sex convey the message that you respect (hlonipha) the woman’s father in particular; the avoidance of pregnancy is an unequivocal indicator that you have not “broken into her father’s kraal” (cattle pen). “Breaking into or opening a man’s kraal” is a euphemism for rupturing the woman’s hymen through penetrative sex and getting the woman pregnant. A woman’s genitals are equated with her father’s cattle pen for the simple reason that it is because of her sexual chastity that her father receives cows from his son-in-law in the form of lobolo.3 It is important to note that traditional Swazi sexual morality condoned heavy petting or non-penetrative sex between two people in love. Such heavy petting demonstrated mutual trust, restraint, respect, good breeding, and overall good sense. Swazi discourse on heavy petting reveals lo lomdvuna abedlalela ematsengeni esingani sakhe (“that the man would play around his woman’s thighs”). In other words, he did not penetrate the woman. A man showed that he was honourable and that he honoured or respected his girlfriend by strictly playing only on the thighs and not pushing it beyond that in the heat of passion. The woman, too, by ensuring that she did not let the man “into her father’s kraal”, demonstrated she was a woman of restraint and character. It showed that she was disciplined and could be trusted to maintain her chastity even during her husband’s protracted absence when he would be working in the mines. In a nutshell, in the passionate heat of non-penetrative sex, the two people had to hlonipha one another. Such respect also extended to their respective parents and families. Mishaps did of course occur, and not too infrequently either. And there were penalties and sanctions to check such lack of self-control. The advent of the condom, euphemistically called “lijazi lemkhwenyana” or “the son-in-law’s coat” by the Swazi people, has made it possible for lovers to have their cake and eat it too. Calling the condom the “son-in-law’s coat” is simply extending the existing meaning of an item of clothing that covers part of the male body. Wearing a condom, the man can “break into his father-in-law’s kraal” without fear of consequences. Because the two people can enjoy all the sexual intimacy they want without anyone being the wiser, they will continue to be thought of as virtuous. The condom thus permits the man to hlonipha his in-laws. The condom also protects the two lovers from STIs and HIV/ AIDS. It is indeed a “coat” of protection from a variety of undesirables. 3

“Lobolo” and “lobola” are Siswati and isiZulu terms that refer to the cows a man customarily pays a woman’s family for her hand in marriage. 8


Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

An analysis of the conflation of the lijazi as an item of clothing and the sexual lijazi yields some provocative insights. First of all, it is important to note that there are two precincts or thresholds that the umkhwenyana (son-in-law) must ensure he enters wearing the appropriate coat. The one is the spatial/geographic precinct of his girlfriend’s home and the other is the sexual precinct of the woman’s body. The umkhwenyana must conceal his torso and arms under a coat or jacket before entering his girlfriend’s family’s precinct, just as he must wear a condom to enter his girlfriend’s sexual precinct. In another sense, the male phallus is a limb; and it is “concealed” by the condom before the umkhwenyana (phallus) enters the sexual threshold. In both spaces, kuhlonipha is observed.

THE FAMILY PLANNING COAT The Swazi euphemism “son-in-law’s coat” has understandably become popular among the custodians of HIV/AIDS and reproductive health discourse, because it politely refers to an accessory of a private activity. In the fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge, agencies have enlisted artists working in all mediums. One of these is Modison Magagula, one of Swaziland’s leading writers. The 1996 Siswati poetry anthology entitled Emakhangala contains Magagula’s poem “Asikhulume Ndvodza” (“Let us talk, mate”). This poem is a clarion call to male heads of households to take leadership in family planning matters to avoid having to maintain a large brood of children. The poem’s diction is evocative; its tone persuasive. Magagula (1996, 95) alludes to the sexual “coat” in the following stanza: [note to setter: please align the Siswati and English lines as they have been set in rows here] Gaca lijazi endvukwini ndvodza kumatima,

Sling your coat on your stick, mate; things are tough,

Bayalisho labalatiko batsi yikhondomu,

Those informed about it call it the condom,

Wembatsa lona ndvodz’ uyob’ uhlelile,

With it on, mate, you’ve planned,

Temndeni wakho tibe lula ndvodza.

Family matters will be easy, mate.

The poem’s speaker comes across as a kind, brotherly mentor urging a companion to embrace family planning. The gentle camaraderie is achieved through punctuation and the word “ndvodza” (“mate”). The first line of the stanza quoted above equates the condom with a coat and the penis with a stick. A point needs to be made regarding the Siswati word “gaca”, for which the closest equivalent in English is “sling”. The word’s appropriateness stems from the Swazi custom of men conveniently hanging or slinging their coats on the knobbed end of their sticks when travelling on foot. What Magagula does in the poem in service to the family planning campaign is deploy sartorial imagery to articulate certain desirable sexual behaviour. The use of the Swazi idiom/image has 9


Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

the effect of familiarising condom use. The wisdom of using the son-in-law’s coat is emphasised in the final stanza (Magagula 1996, 95): [note to setter: please align the Siswati and English lines as they have been set in rows here] Asikhulume ndvodza kubindz’ akusiti,

Let’s talk, mate; silence has no reward,

Kubindz’ ubona temndeni tiyafomisana

Silence in the face of such a family challenge

Mine ngibuke ngayibon’ indzaba yelijazi;

I have considered and resolved on the matter of the coat;

Lijazi lemkhwenyana lehlula lensimbi.

The son-in-law’s coat surpasses the metal one.

The last two lines of the above stanza reveal that the speaker’s conviction about the wisdom of condom use is a well-reasoned conclusion. Indeed, the condom is better than the metal coat—an idiom referring to the demeanour of a man under the influence of a love spell administered by his woman so as to tame him. But why does Magagula juxtapose these two “coats”? Arguably, a man who uses a condom is being considerate of his wife’s health and overall well-being. Low regard for a wife’s well-being has been cited as one of the reasons that push women to bewitch or cast a lijazi lensimbi (love spell) on their husbands. Therefore, if a man is to avoid being dressed in a “metal coat”, he must himself wear the “son-in-law’s coat”.

THE JACKET THAT STAKES A MAN’S CLAIM The CSJJ’s protective ability is also evident in its deployment as the marker of a man’s amorous target. The 1980s song by the Soul Brothers Sdudla Ngihamba Nawe (“Plump chick, I’m going [home] with you”), exemplifies the power by which a man’s coat, submitted by the male owner into the hands of a woman, secures her for the man. The world of the song is the bar or club scene. Here, survival of the smartest is the name of the game. In addition to charming a woman, a man must spend money entertaining her with drinks before he can take her home for a one-night stand. Both the targeted woman and the man know that the man is competing with other men who, given the chance, will try their best to show themselves more worthy of her affections. The lyrics of the song are as follows: [note to setter: please align the Siswati and English lines as they have been set in rows here]



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

Sdudla ngihamba nawe Ngihamba nawe namhla nje

Plump chick, I am going with you today I’m going with you today (repeat x times)

Bamba nant’ ibhantji lami Ngihamba nawe namhla nje

Hold this, my jacket, I’m going with you today (repeat x times)

Uyidle lani imali yami Nawungasangithandi?

Why eat my money If you no longer love me? (repeat x times)

Uyidle lani imali yami Nawungasangifuni?

Why eat my money If you no longer love me? (repeat x times)

Uhlal’ ukwenza kukulungela Ngihamba nawe namhla nje

You’re used to getting away with it I’m going with you today (repeat x times)

Bamba nanti ibhantji lami Ngihamba nawe namhla nje

Hold this, my jacket, I’m going with you today (repeat to fade)

This song can be read as sartorial performance par excellence. The speaker’s tone of triumph is the thematic thrust of the song. This “plump chick” is the man’s big catch of the day. She has slipped through his fingers a few times before (“you’re used to getting away with it”), but not today; he is going home with her today. And he has spent some money entertaining her with drinks on the last few occasions she evaded him—uyidle lani imali yami nawungasangithandi? (“why do you eat my money if you no longer love me?”). By holding the man’s jacket, she is trapped. The speaker’s words bamba nant’ ibhantji lami (“hold this, my jacket) / ngihamba nawe namhla nje (“I’m going with you today”) are not quite a request; he’s essentially commanding her to hold his jacket. He is confident that she will see her game is up and comply. The important thing is for her to hold his coat, as this is all he needs to ensure his intention to take her home is accomplished. The coat is a sort of territory marker and signifier: other men can see that she is holding his coat. So why can the woman not dump the coat somewhere and disappear from the scene? She cannot do that for the profound reason that as an item that culturally embodies the man’s identity, there is so much of the man in the coat that the coat is the man who owns it. The concept of synecdoche is helpful in conveying this point. The reason she will have to hang onto the coat and not dare part with it or pass it on to someone is because the coat is the man; the man whose hard-earned money she has been drinking; the man whose intentions she is now resisting on the grounds that she no longer loves him. Today, thanks to the man’s coat, she is trapped. A very likely question in this scenario is whether he had his coat with him at the previous encounters, when she slipped through his fingers. It is safe to conclude that he did not have his coat. Somehow the coat, his “shtick” (gimmick), succeeds this time where he floundered before.



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

THE KILLER SUIT One of South Africa’s most anthologised short stories, The Suit, by Can Themba (1984), illustrates the deployment of the power that resides in a man’s suit. The Suit is the tale of a cuckolded husband’s use of his wife’s paramour’s suit to torture his unfaithful wife. The husband, Philemon, is informed by one of his neighbours that his wife, Matilda, has been seen admitting a man into the couple’s house when Philemon is away at work. The news makes it difficult for Philemon to proceed to work and he returns home, in pain (Themba 1984, 43): ... he rushed through his kitchen into his bedroom. In the lightening flash that the eye can whip, he saw it all ... the man beside his wife ... the chestnut arm around her neck ... the suit around the chair... But he affected not to see. A swooshing noise of violent retreat and the clap of his bedroom window stopped him. He came from behind the wardrobe door and looked out from the open window. A man clad only in vest and underpants was running down the street. Slowly he turned round and contemplated ... the suit.

Upon this discovery, Philemon assumes a most unnatural calm. He calls his boss to say his wife is not well and therefore he cannot come to work. Matilda is horrified by her husband’s incredible composure. Before long Philemon makes the following announcement (Themba 1984, 44): “We have a visitor Tilly”. His mouth curved ever so slightly. “I’d like him to be treated with the greatest of consideration. He will eat every meal with us and share all we have. Since we have no spare room, he’d better sleep in here. But the point is, Tilly, that you will meticulously look after him. If he vanishes or anything happens to him” ... A shaft of evil shot from his eye ... “Matilda, I’ll kill you.”

The “visitor” Tilly must “meticulously look after” on pain of being killed is her secret lover’s suit. Difficult as it is to comply with this sentence in her husband’s presence, she forces herself to. Sometimes she almost cannot, but Philemon insists. The sentence takes on an eerie twist when Philemon suggests the “visitor” needs an outing (Themba 1984, 47): Accordingly the suit was taken to the dry-cleaners during the week, and, come Sunday, they had to take it out for a walk. Both Philemon and Matilda dressed for the occasion. Matilda had to carry the suit on its hanger over her back and the three of them strolled leisurely along Ray Street. They passed the church crowd in front of the famous Anglican Mission of Christ the King. Though the worshippers saw nothing unusual in them, Matilda felt, searing through her, red-hot needles of embarrassment, and every needle point was a public eye piercing into her degradation.



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

This bizarre charade went on for a few weeks, after which it started to become a sickly status quo. The fateful day was when Matilda organised a party for her friends and their husbands. Everything was going well on the day, until (Themba 1984, 50): Matilda caught the curious look on Philemon’s face. He tried to disguise his edict when he said, “Er … the guest of honour”. But Matilda took a chance. She begged, “Just this once, Phil”. He became livid. “Matilda!” he shouted. “Get our visitor!” Then with incisive sarcasm, “Or are you ashamed of him?”

When she brings the suit into the room where the party is taking place, she unconvincingly tells her guests that bringing in the suit at mealtimes is just a little game she and her husband play. The guests roar with nervous laughter. After the party Philemon goes off with one of the guests. He returns late, reeling drunk, and is met with the sight of Matilda “curled as if just before she died she begged for a little love, implored some implacable lover to cuddle her a little ... just this once ... just this once more. In screwish anguish, Philemon cried, ‘Tilly!’” (Themba 1984, 51). Can Themba’s story underscores a couple of points relating to the suit. As a potent representative and symbol of its owner, the suit is also handy as a social lever. By virtue of the fact that he is a man, Philemon has the power to compel his wife to perform on her secret lover’s coat those domestic ministrations that a loving woman performs on her man. However, it is done as a form of torture. The suit of Tilly’s secret lover exhausts her psychic reserves to the point that she suffers a nervous breakdown. The suit’s power is derived from the wrath and power of the cuckolded Philemon. The suit, culturally speaking, has power; in Themba’s story, by virtue of the transgressive infidelity to which it attests, its power is magnified. Philemon is essentially colluding with his Judas to overwhelm his wife with guilt. The use of the suit in this story is an example of how sartorial practitioners can employ a male rival’s dress as a form of creative agency to dominate a woman.

THE INVISIBLE COAT The mysterious power invested in a man’s CSJJ is so well understood by women that they have turned it into an idiom to express their subversion of masculine authority. The most infamous and mysterious form of feminine subversion of masculinity that features the CSJJ is in the administering of a love charm to a man. A man under the influence of a love spell is said to be dressed in a lijazi lensimbi (“metal[lic] coat”). It is often said that the woman has put the metal coat on him—umgcokise lijazi lensimbi. The lijazi lensimbi has a long history in southern Africa. According to Zinhle Dlamini (2006), in



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

her early school days in the 1970s, they “used to be gripped by a radio play called Ijazi lensimbi. The story was about a desperate woman who administered a love potion to her abusive husband, and turned him into a tame and obedient lamb”. Dlamini (2006) adds that the person administering the love portion “puts the ointment on [her] arms, thighs, genitals, and on the chest before sex so that the potion is transferred to the other partner during intimacy”. This is one of a variety of ways to “put the coat” on a man. It is ironic that this coat’s efficacy is not diminished even if the man is wearing the “son-in-law’s coat”. The tragedy of the man in the metal coat has been immortalised by a very wellknown and popular traditional women’s song in Swaziland. The song’s title is “Indvodza yelijazi” (“The Man in the Coat”): [note to setter: please align the Siswati and English lines as they have been set in rows here] Indvodza yelijazi

The man in the coat (lead singer’s call)

Iyagula nayiyolala kami

He is sick when he has to sleep at my place (group’s response; repeat x times)


He is sick (everyone)

Kuyical’ ekuseni

He takes ill in the morning (lead singer’s call)

Iyagula nayilolala kami

He is sick when he has to sleep at my place (group’s response)


He is sick (everyone; repeat ad infinitum)

The song expresses the anguish of a co-wife whose husband is no longer capable of fulfilling his conjugal obligations due to a mysterious form of indisposition called lijazi, the love spell invariably administered by a savvy co-wife. She is reporting her plight to women in the community. Polygamous Swazi men have to have a “duty roster” and actually stick to it to ensure peace in the polygamous family. A man who has a metal coat put on him is only able to fulfil his conjugal duties with the wife who has administered the love muti (medicine). When the roster points him to the innocent wife, he finds himself suddenly unable. He has to dejectedly inform the disappointed wife that he is not well. He cannot say that he has become ill since he arrived at her place; no, he must say he first experienced symptoms of indisposition early in the day—in other words, at the other co-wife’s place. Thus the innocent, disappointed woman will sing about the man in the metal coat who is taken ill when the duty roster directs him to her house. Thus, the coat and the social and moral meanings attached to it are vulnerable to subversion.



Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

SUSPICIOUSLY SUITED Indeed, donning a CSJJ has not always been a foolproof way of warding off attack or at least winning respect. A black man in apartheid South Africa could not always count on impressing his white countrymen with impeccable sartorial performances. The futility of black masculine sartorial performance is depicted in Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali’s poem “Always a Suspect” (Poetry International Web n.d.). The poem’s speaker says: I get up in the morning And dress up like a gentleman A white shirt, a tie, and a suit.

Here is a man to be taken seriously. Unfortunately for him, his gentlemanly appearance does not stop a commissionaire from demeaning him by asking him to produce the “document of [his] existence”.4 Mtshali’s (Poetry International Web n.d.) speaker continues: I trudge the city pavements side by side with “madam” who shifts her handbag from my side to the other, and looks at me with eyes that say “Ha! Ha! I know who you are; beneath those fine clothes ticks the heart of a thief.”

The speaker is determined to perform the middle-class image of the man with a purpose, a man who for all outward appearances at least would inspire confidence in whomever he encounters in the course of daily life. The poem narrates that the speaker woke up and washed before dressing. He therefore has somewhere to sleep, wake up, and take a bath; it is well known that not all South African blacks can be assumed to have slept in a house in which they were able to take a bath and get dressed before walking the streets looking for employment. The speaker in the poem is therefore a man who cares about his hygiene and appearance and is worthy of respect. However, there is a hint that this image of an upstanding man is not so convincing. The “madam” is a white woman who could be any age, from a young woman to a senior citizen. Regarding “madam’s” station in life, it is significant that the speaker “trudge[s] the city pavements / side by side” with her. She has evidently been walking (as opposed to driving or sitting in her office or home) on the streets for some time. In other words, “madam” herself does not have such a secure place in life. She’s arguably a street-smart white woman who cannot 4

This document would have stipulated where a black South African was allowed to work and travel during the apartheid era in South Africa. It controlled and restricted movement and freedom. 15


Jacket(ed) and Suit(ably) Coat(ed)

be fooled by some smart-looking black man in the street. In addition, although the white woman is in the street, just like the poem’s black speaker, a race and class hierarchy is nevertheless implicit in this poem. The white woman feels superior to the sartorial performer; indeed, her words “Ha! Ha! I know who you are” reduce him into an all-toofamiliar object. His sartorial performance cannot convince “madam” that he is an honest man, and the poem’s power emanates from the fact that she is wrong; the speaker is in fact a sincere job seeker. Mtshali’s poem underscores how sartorial performance can highlight that which the performer seeks to disavow. The self-conscious act of dressing up in a certain way is misconstrued by the outsider as a deliberate camouflage. This means that the sartorial performance, instead of liberating one from perceived constraints, only reinforces these limitations. Furthermore, it is sobering to reflect on the fact that a white woman, a descendant of the colonialists who imposed the CSJJ on their black labourers, is the one to see through the sartorial veneer of the suit.

CONCLUSION In this article, I have singled out one item of the sartorial arsenal, the CSJJ, and traced its role in black masculine identity agendas. The role of the CSJJ in family planning discourse in Swaziland has been explored. I have also noted the use of sartorial imagery to convey the idea of a possessive woman casting a love spell on a man to render him sexually unavailable to co-wives. I have suggested that by virtue of its embodying the mystique of masculine power, the CSJJ is potent even when the wearer is absent, and that this is why men, alive to the power of their CSJJs, use this item of dress to secure victory in competing for women’s attention. The CSJJ enables a man to achieve all of this because of the immense power invested in it. And precisely because the CSJJ has such immense power, it presents itself as an effective lever for the subversive woman to counter hegemonic masculinity.

REFERENCES Bryden, H. A. 1893. Gun and Camera in Southern Africa: A Year of Wanderings in Bechuanaland, the Kalahari Desert, and the Lake River Country, Ngamiland. London: E. Stanford. Comaroff, J. 1997. “The Empire’s Old Clothes.” In Situated Lives: Gender and Culture in Everyday Life, edited by L. Lamphere, H. Ragone, and P. Zavella, 400–418. New York: Routledge. Comaroff, J., and J. L. Comaroff. 1991. Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Dlamini, Z. 2006. “Why Nollywood is Popular in South Africa.” City Press Johannesburg. Accessed February 8, 2016. http://www.naijarules.com/index.php?threads/why-nollywood-is-popular-in-southafrica.14226/



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Du Plessis, R. S. 2016. The Material Atlantic: Clothing, Commerce, and Colonization in the Atlantic World, 1650–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kalusa, W. T. 2013. “Advertising, Consuming Manufactured Goods and Contracting Colonial Hegemony on the Zambian Copper Belt, 1945–1964.” In Objects of Life in Central Africa: The History of Consumption and Social Change, 1840–1980, edited by R. Ross, M. Heinfelaar, and I. Pesa, 142–165. Leiden: Brill. Magagula. M. 1996. “Asikhulume Ndvodza.” [“Let us talk, mate.”] In Emakhangala, edited by C. Tsabedze, 90–95. Manzini: Macmillan. Mudimbe, V. Y. 1988. The Invention of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Niehaus, I. 2013. Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Poetry International Web. n.d. “Always a Suspect.” Poem by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali. Accessed October 31, 2017. http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/23503/auto/ALWAYSA-SUSPECT Scheub, H. 1996. The Tongue is Fire—South African Storytellers and Apartheid. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Soul Brothers. 1984. “Sdudla Ngihamba Nawe.” Jive Explosion. Earthworks. Themba, C. 1984. “The Suit.” In To Kill a Man’s Pride and Other Short Stories from South Africa, edited by M. Ramogale, 38–51. Johannesburg: Ravan.


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