When we meet Otsile, the protagonist, he is with his good friend and alternative father figure, Bra Shope, in Maputo. It is near the beginning of their friendship, but nonetheless Bra Shope tells Otsile how and why his wife left him. They are in Maputo for an exhibition of Bra Shope’s paintings. Thus Serote begins as he means to go on. He invokes the modern life, the new freedoms, while going back to the age-old questions about love and family and gradually brings in the counterpoint of tradition.
The matters he brings up for consideration are personal relationships, especially as regards the old and new marriage customs; divorce and its effect on children; racism and the slow growth of trust and the possibility (or impossibility) of reconciliation; the ANC; and gender roles, acknowledging the leadership and ability of the women in his life.
There are many excellent dialogues between Otsile and others, but one of the funniest and most inscrutable, because old and new somehow cannot be brought into line, is the scene in which Otsile has to ask his parents to consider negotiating lobola for his second wife after he has been divorced by the first. His parents are unwilling. His father says: “Roles? What roles?” when Otsile’s brother tries to mediate with a speech on modern women and his mother says: “Dit sal die dag wees!” (That will be the day!)
Otsile: “the whites are now family as a result of rape”
Towards the end Otsile reflects: “Initiation should talk to education; traditional leaders should talk to members of Parliament; indigenous knowledge should talk to science; Sesotho to Afrikaans; African languages to English; extended family to the single-unit family; customary law to judicial law… That was what we’d meant when we fought for freedom.”