Queer Book Review: Taverning After Nine


In Kabelo Maleke’s debut novella, Taverning After Nine, Paballo, a gay man in his 30s from a Johannesburg township, moves to a rural South African province and discovers that the local bars and taverns are hubs of alcohol abuse and fluid sexuality. To navigate this new world, he enlists the help of local bisexual Xolani and two gay friends, Happy and Sylvester.

When he meets the elusive and charming Gabriel, who is bisexual and in the closet, they embark on an arduous months-long taverning journey together. However, Gabriel’s true character is revealed through violence and criminal activity, which ultimately leads to a heartbreaking tragedy.

Queer climate activist, author, and documentary filmmaker Angelo Louw reviews this important addition to South African queer literature:

I will never get Kabelo’s affinity for dingy taverns and the men he finds there, but at least something good came of it: this even dingier but exceptional book, Taverning After Nine.

It is as raw of the behind-the-pit-toilet sex it describes over and over and over again. It leaves me wanting to wash my hands and get a full spectrum STI test every time I put it down… and that’s just Chapter One.

My dear friend of over 16 years likes to play down his shine, but whether he likes to admit it or not, his existence has been a lifeline for many underrepresented members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community – having contributed, through his academic research, so of the most insightful work around sex between men in South Africa’s rural communities.

It is from this perspective that Kabelo writes this book, laced with titbits of his findings and lived experiences of his time in Mpumalanga province, where he hid away from us “city kids” for the majority of his twenties (another of his decisions that I selfishly never wanted to understand).

This piece of literature, like his academic work, showcases the kasi experience of queerness in the most authentic way I have ever read – and in a way that is sadly, horrendously absent from mainstream publishing.

Ironically, this is in an era where Black people are revered as the growing middle class and target market.

With Taverning After Nine, there are no adaptations of popular narratives to the South African context – we’re not simply substituting Deavon and Jarrell (or any other typically Black, American names) for Sipho and Jabu.

This is real shit, and I guess we have nearly two decades of research to thank for that. This reality check, so to speak, makes for a captivating read, no matter what you feel about the main character’s very poor decision-making.

I laughed (a lot). I cried. I Reminisced. Got hard once or twice (ashamed to admit this because what the fuck?!). I was invested, and immersed.

Kabelo has earned his place next to some of my favourite authors – he is no longer just one of my favourite people.

Taverning After Nine is now available on Takealot and Amazon.

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