There’s something about growing up in Africa that seeps into the spirit and keeps one yearning for more. It’s something to do with the intensity of the experiences that one can have in this place, like the one I had recently when I attended the traditional wedding of my friend Themba Mchunu, a Zulu man from KwaZulu Natal, and his sweetheart Keke Tsebe, who was born and raised in Botswana. The moment I received the invitation, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be going to Botswana to celebrate their happy day with them.
I flew into Gabarone on the eve of the wedding, filled with anticipation and curiosity of what lay ahead. I was met by my friend Petra, who was en route from Namibia to her home in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. She too had been included in the invitation. As my plane had been delayed a couple of hours, the sun was beginning to set as we left the busy streets and crowded shopping malls of Gabarone and headed towards Lobatse, following Keke’s cousin, Kayce, who had offered to show us the way.
One thing I had forgotten from my years of living in Botswana in the 1970’s is the hazard of domestic animals on the road. There are very few fences, and donkeys, goats and cattle graze the verdant verges oblivious of the traffic zooming by. With darkness descending and only the vaguest outlines visible of the trees and rocky kopjies in the veldt beyond, we slowly followed the red hazard lights of the cars ahead of us, straining our eyes in the lookout for donkeys sleeping in the road. After travelling for an hour or so, we reached the Digawane village, and pulled into the homestead of Keke’s mother, Janet Tsebe, where we were warmly greeted and invited to join the elders and relatives who were seated in the garden. After being fed a delicious meal, we sat outside in the balmy air, under an inky star studded sky, chatting to the family. Towards midnight, we were taken to our lodgings for the night and by the time we had settled in, I was exhausted and more than ready to sleep.
It seemed,however, that no sooner had I closed my eyes, my alarm was beeping me awake. It was 4.30am and we had to get up and get dressed for the Lobola ceremony, to which we had been invited. I felt enormously honoured to have been included in what is normally a family affair, and even more touched when Petra and I were invited to join Themba’s family delegation of women, and take part in the proceedings. This act of inclusion set the scene for the day. We were drawn into the bosom of the family, enveloped in love and acceptance from the moment the day began. Soon after we arrived, we women seated ourselves on mats outside the house, separate from the men who were having their own lobola discussions at the other side of the garden. The women of Keke’s family sat to one side, and welcomed the women of Themba’s family, who sat opposite them.
At this point, we had breakfast and the room filled with joyous song and dance.
Without us noticing, Themba had slipped away, only to reappear with his supporting men…
It had been an exciting morning. The scene had been set, the lobola paid and we all dispersed to prepare ourselves for the second part of the wedding….