I knew she was serious when she mentioned the “u” word to me. No, not us. This was bigger than us – him and her. UMABO meant she was ready to embrace Zulu tradition and culture with all her heart.
My dear friend Belinda Moses was taking no shortcuts in becoming a makoti to the charming Mzwandile Mbambo. I expected no less. She has never compromised on anything in all the time that I have know her (14 years and counting). But what I did not expect, was that I would be standing right next to her through it all. On that day, my family and I lived through the real meaning of ubuntu…
And so today, on Heritage Day, it is only fitting that I celebrate the journey of these two beautiful souls who proved yet again that love can bridge racial and cultural divides.
Their white Christian wedding was held first at the picturesque Tala Game Reserve near Pietermaritzburg. Even the rhinos came out to share in the joy of their union. Yes, it was that magical. The party continued late into the chilly night. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that spirits would be somewhat dimmed for the Umabo ceremony. No way!
The Mbambo family, like Belinda, was not compromising on culture and tradition. The drumbeats echoed as we neared their family home at Umnini Dam on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. My son jumped out of the car in delight and already made himself at home. Such was the warmth we all were shown. After several attempts, he learnt how to beat the drums, and made new friends!
Belinda arrived dressed as an Indian bride and thereafter changed into Zulu attire. She rocked the look! But for her it wasn’t just a look. It was now part of her identity.
The sun came out to play. It was nature’s way of smiling down upon Belinda and Mwzandile. The time had come for her to be officially welcomed into the Mbambo family – a role reserved for the father of the groom. He spoke, as he did at the white wedding, with such care and compassion that I didn’t need any translation to know that Belinda would be fully accepted and loved by her new family. Her father stood by her side and an elder cousin spoke, affirming the bond between the Moses and Mbambo families.
We danced, well we tried to! Zulu dancing has a vibrance that speaks to the body to move. It’s an art I am yet to master. But no one was judging. There was a spirit of togetherness and a colourful coming together with families and friends in Zulu and Indian attire. This was more than a rainbow nation… It ran deeper than that, so much so, that four months later I am still in awe.
It was a new experience for so many, and my first Zulu wedding, that too as a bridesmaid! There were times when I wasn’t sure what I had to do. And then I just looked to this amazing woman, Belinda’s second mother, Advocate Thuli Madonsela. The former Public Protector helped us through the many rituals that formed the Umabo. She made sure I never left Belinda’s side, telling me I had to stand by her always and show support. But on that day, she was Belinda’s biggest support. Anyone could see that. With such a courageous woman in her midst, Belinda drew courage from her to fulfill her duties as a makoti with a smile.
Then came the part that was one of the biggest blessings I have ever received in my life…. the handing over of blankets and brooms to ladies of the Mbambo family. I felt humbled. This gift giving was more than just that. It was to say, we accept and understand your culture, as you have accepted ours, and we thank you from deep within our hearts. I was overcome with emotion, and yes! I had to hold back the tears. There were gifts for Mzwandile’s father too, and a beer bowl, which came with a promise that Belinda would learn to brew Zulu beer.
Finally, it was Mzwandile’s turn and here Belinda had to prove that she had all the makings of a makoti. She washed his feet, made his bed and covered him with a blanket. There was a sense of completeness.
All this took place outside the new home that Mwzandile had built as part of the Mbambo household. Belinda and Mzwandile live in Johannesburg but this would be their second home. It also meant, she wasn’t getting away easily. The day after Umabo, it was her turn to cook for the entire family!
As we immersed ourselves in the rituals, I could not help but reflect on the many similarities between Zulu and Hindu tradition. I know much has been discussed and debated about this. But, on that day, I felt it. The gift giving was one aspect. There was also the attire. At all times, Belinda had a shawl covering her shoulders in the same way an Indian bride would cover her head and shoulders with a sari veil – both as a mark of respect. The duties towards her husband that Belinda displayed on that day are duties that a Hindu wife too promises to fulfill. And the new wife and daughter in law also has to cook for the family the next day. I realised then that the only differences that exist are the ones we create ourselves.
I was so proud of my friend for everything she did and the love and laughter she had already brought to the Mbambo home. I say laughter because it was a fun ceremony. There were jokes and light-hearted moments and smiles everywhere. It didn’t feel like we had waited hours. There was a purpose and meaning to every ritual. I had never seen my husband so patient at any wedding. Clearly, he too loved every moment.
As for my son… well, I think, like me, he left a part of himself at Umnini Dam that day. We will be back soon… to relive those memories and check up that the makoti is doing all she promised!
As I celebrate Heritage Day today, Belinda and Mzwandile Mbambo, I hope you know that your love made me fall in love with South Africa all over again…