Christopher Warnes begins his article on "Black Economic Empowerment and the South African Popular Romance" by explaining that:
Between 2010 and 2011 two new publishing enterprises appeared in South Africa: Sapphire Press, an imprint of Kwela Books, which is in turn owned by the giant NB Publishers, and Nollybooks, a small-scale entrant into the market. Between them, in the course of their first two years, these publishers brought out twenty-seven romance novels. Aimed explicitly at a black female readership, and written to a tightly prescriptive set of guidelines, these postapartheid romances are of identical length, have similar plots, characters, and themes, and are packaged and marketed in much the same way. They tell the stories of feisty, attractive young women, often from poor backgrounds, working their way up the ladder of professional success and falling in love with handsome, successful older men, often their bosses. Hero and heroine are always black, and the romantic attachment between the two is always the main theme. The progress of the romance is bound up with the overcoming of work-related obstacles, and the ending of each novel harmonizes the romantic and professional triumph of the heroine. (154)I took a look at the guidelines given by Kwela and they do seem "tightly prescriptive" (though it's possible that as with Harlequin Mills & Boon, in practice, there's a bit more variation than one might guess from reading the guidelines):
Typical style of a Kwela romanceWarnes states that
• Think Mills & Boon
• The story must be set in South Africa, preferably a big city like Johannesburg
• The story is told from the main female character’s perspective
• The story is told in the third person
• Both hero and heroine should be black South Africans.
The main female character (heroine)
The heroine is:
• an independent, spunky, smart woman;
• financially independent;
• in her mid-twenties to early thirties;
• extremely self-motivated;
• determined to achieve success; and
• committed to overcoming past hardships.
The heroine feels:
• financially responsible for her family.
The heroine has:
• a strong spiritual base;
• at least two girlfriends on whom she can rely for moral & emotional support; and
• a modern outlook on life and on the role of woman in society.
The heroine likes to:
• visit local hotspots to see who’s who and to be seen.
The heroine should:
• experience personal growth and self-discovery; and
• realise her own worth and inner strength.
The main male character (hero)
The hero is:
• slightly older than the heroine (late thirties to early forties)
• successful in his career
• more traditional in his outlook on life than the heroine (cause of tension).
The main plot-line:
• revolves around the heroine & hero’s struggle to build a romantic relationship
• outside forces (at work or in their communities) try to keep them apart
• their own conflicting beliefs about modern society and the role of women also threaten to keep them apart
Keep sub-plots to a minimum:
• Only those that influence internal growth in the heroine should be developed.
Romantic tension should be built up until a satisfying conclusion is reached between the heroine & hero:
• i.e. when all obstacles between them have been overcome and love triumphs.
One or two intimate scenes should be included (though only between the heroine and the hero – no other boyfriends/lovers).
Your target readers:
• All those thousands of people who love Mills & Boon!
• Upwardly mobile black female readers.
• In terms of typical South African readers, think of those who currently read True Love, Move and Drum.
• Age groups: from teenagers to 50+, i.e. quite a broad group
These novels represent, in a striking way, a new departure in South African writing: the arrival in prose form of the mass-produced fantasy for black women. This is not to say that the romance has not long been a major part of South African popular reading habits. Afrikaans-language publishers like LAPA, NB Publishers, and Tafelburg have well-developed series which regularly outsell more literary novels, and the presence of a "Mills and Boon in Afrikaans" publisher similarly speaks to the popularity of the genre for Afrikaans readers. In English, Mills and Boon titles and stalwarts of the genre like Danielle Steel routinely appear near or at the top of bestseller lists. (154)The "new departure" has been made possible by changes in the political situation in South Africa:
Although popular fiction has long been part of the South African cultural landscape, it is only since the demise of formal apartheid that it could be said to have begun to flourish. During the apartheid years there was a strong critical perception that popular fiction abrogated the social and political mission to document injustice, challenge perceptions, and conscientize readers. The end of apartheid was interpreted as signalling the lifting of this literary-political injunction to be serious. The creative energies that have filled the void left by the departure of the "struggle aesthetic" in the years since 1994 have been most noticeable in the explosion of genres such as crime fiction, romance, chick lit, science fiction, gangster noir, and comedy. (156)However, they are not wholly lacking in "serious" elements. Warnes examines a number of romances in order to show how they "negotiate anxieties around enigmatic male behavior, around the workplace, and around the broader national economic issues" (162) and he claims that "the popular romance performs a [...] specific empowerment function, articulating for its reader a clear vision of ideal working conditions" (166).
Warnes, Christopher. "Desired State: Black Economic Empowerment and the South African Popular Romance." Popular Culture in Africa: The Episteme of the Everyday. Ed. Stephanie Newell and Onookome Okome. New York: Routledge, 2014. 154-171. [Excerpt]