At first glance Sifiso Mzobe’s exciting story, Bookworm and Zip, is a murder mystery and, thank goodness, the bad guys get caught. But the characters, settings and plot also make us think about important divisions in our society, especially differences in the way males and females are looked upon and treated.

Equality is a key right in our Constitution, and as gender activists say, men and women are ‘different but equal’. However, as this gritty story shows, we South Africans have got quite a way to go to make this true.

Think of how Thando treats his older sister at the beginning of the story. Zikhona works full time, yet Thando declares, when she tells him he must learn to cook: “I really can’t, Zikhona. Besides, I’m a guy. Why can’t Nandi cook? She’s the girl.” Being able to cook doesn’t depend on gender! Thando is smart, but he has not yet grasped how unfair traditional gender stereotypes are in our modern, urban world.

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) reported on this issue in late 2012. They found out that many more women are now formally employed. But: “As a result it appears women are burdened with both household as well as workplace responsibilities. Such a double burden may place significant stress on South African households and could serve as a source of family tension and conflict.” (Read the full HSRC report entitled “The burden of domestic work” here.)

Young Nandi too, has fallen into a gender division trap. Her crew want nice things, and to go out partying. To do this they date much older guys – sugar daddies. The older men pay; the girls accompany them and some have sex with them. ‘Blessers’ and sugar daddies are much talked about today, and there are even websites to link ‘blessers’ and ‘blessees’. How can any girl keep her human dignity in this situation?

These ‘bought’ women feed right into the sordid scene Sifiso Mzobe shows us at the shebeen. There, every drunken customer thinks he has the right to molest waitress Zip. The shebeen is a strongly male environment, and Zip notices how Zikhona is out of place there. ‘Decent’ women do not go to a shebeen – and looking at the behaviour of the men, we can see why. However, should we judge women who do go to a shebeen? Women are just as entitled as men to go out and party, associate with who they want, wherever they want, and feel safe.

Zip is the tough, brave, smart heroine. She’s a survivor of abuse by her stepfather, and has made it her mission to fight for justice – especially for women and girls. Under cover of being a waitress, she does detective work. Zip and Thando save a group of women and girls being trafficked into the sex trade. This evil trade is proof that we have still not got rid of slavery in the modern world.

Another tricky area of division that we are forced to think about is how black women in the past were employed as domestic workers and nannies for white families. Today, middle class black families too may have a domestic helper because the mother and father are at both at work. Happily, this story highlights how service work has changed in some homes. The white family respect Zikhona. Also, they know about and support her aim to get tertiary qualifications. Domestic work is her temporary job since her parents died.

As you can see, Bookworm and Zip is a crime thriller that sure gives us lots to think about in our society.


Tell us what you think: In your community and social circle, are sexist attitudes towards females changing? If so, in what way?

Useful links

If you, or someone you know, has experienced sexual abuse or is being used for forced labour, find out more in our Handbooks, here:
Sexual Abuse Handbook
The Slavery, Servitude and Forced Labour Handbook
The Right to Human Dignity