Four Weddings Down and Three More to Go

I LOVE MY WIFE. This is not some scientific fact but an emotional reality. I love her so much so that I have already been married to her four times, and three more weddings ceremonies are still outstanding.

Here is the genesis of my love story: There are two versions as to how I met my current wife. Let’s call her Professor D. The first version, possibly more revolutionary says we met in the African National Congress (ANC) underground in the early 90s. The second version, perhaps closer to the truth is that we met in 2001 following the brutal attack on my late brother. Both versions have some elements of truth. Yes, she was an ANC activist and served on the same ANC structures like me. We attended similar events and shared similar networks, but the truth is we never actually recognised each other in all those encounters. Here is the thing – I was so overwhelmed by white female comrades that my eyes were probably on someone else.

Our second encounter was more dramatic. She came to deliver the worse news that my brother, who had been missing for three days, was in fact dying in a hospital. He had woken up from a coma and remembered a varsity telephone number of his then master’s degree supervisor – yes, my current wife is a nerd. So that’s how she came looking for me at the Durban University of Technology to deliver news. Unfortunately, my brother didn’t make it.

However, something occurred the day we were writing my brother’s obituary. I was narrating and Professor D. was typing. The more I told my brother’s story to her, the more I mentioned titbits about myself. Once, the obituary was completed, we had firmly established that in fact we knew each other way back then in the trenches of the ANC underground.

After the funeral, I met her to pass on the gratitude of the family for the work she had done for our beloved brother and the family in mourning. This was meant to be last meeting, but something happened. I recall seating in her car, completely enchanted by this woman. I was drawn to her dignified beauty, courteous nature and abundance of kindness. It was clear to me that I had to keep talking to her or my only chance to salvage something would be gone in seconds. At some stage we embraced to say our goodbyes, and then something extraordinary occurred: we kissed. We kissed again, and again. I was so overwhelmed by this historic moment that a tear fell. I knew intuitively then that I was in love. In that instant, she literally, “took my sorrow and my pain, and buried them away.” To this day, the melody of Brandi Carlile’s song Hiding My Heart Away rings in my head; of course, with a twist. It goes like this: “It was in the darkest of my days when you suddenly blew me away, blew me away.” We later on the same day went out for a couple of drinks and parted on good terms. This was the beginning of a whirlwind romance that has lasted the whole of 16 years and counting. Hardly three months after our first kiss, I moved in with her as a tenant. The story of how this tenant became a landlord is a stuff of legends, to be told another day.

Our first marriage was low-key. We were married at the Post Office. Yes, you can marry someone at the Post Office without even knowing anything about it. This is despite the fact that both of us were ill-prepared for our first marriage. Our plan was a simpler one – to get an affidavit that confirms that I was a live-in partner with her. This was a requirement for me to be enlisted on her medical aid. In all honesty, all we needed was official a stamp of the Commissioner of Oaths. Our Commissioner of Oath, clearly a man of some repute studied the forms and an affidavit with a fine-tooth comb. He didn’t mince his words: “Do you guys understand what you’re putting yourself into? Are you ready to be married in law? At first, we chuckled, then it hit us, we weren’t ready for the legal consequences of a live-in partner legal agreement. We composed ourselves and confirmed that yes, indeed, we understood the consequences. He stamped the affidavit and signed; we soon left as a married couple. We had a good chuckle outside the Post Office and sealed it with a kiss.

Our second marriage was very serious and formal. We appeared before the Mauritian high court in Port Louis to swear before a Judge that, yes, indeed, we knew the legal consequences of our marriage. We also had to swear that there was no impediment to our nuptials. We were duly married in terms both of the Mauritian and International Law.

Our third marriage was more fun under the open sky at the Mauritian beach hotel. The marriage officer explained the rationale thus: “It is appropriate, therefore, that this wedding of Bhekisisa and Professor D be under the open sky, where we are close to the earth and to the unity of life, the totality of living things of which we are part.”

We then did the whole radical thing of making up our own vows: “I, Bhekisisa, take you, Professor D, as my friend and love, beside me and apart from me, in laughter and in tears, in conflict and tranquillity, asking that you be no other than yourself, loving what I know of you, trusting what I do not know yet, in all the ways that life may find us.” There was no customary line: “You may now kiss the bride.” Nevertheless, we couldn’t escape the kissing part though – we kissed in front of a small audience of holiday makers from all over the world. We then did another revolutionary act by having our wedding pictures taken along the tranquillity of the Indian Ocean. It was total bliss. No guests. No priest. No fuss. The only official witness was our then three-year-old daughter, Miss N.

Our fourth marriage was at our house in Durban, a few weeks after the Mauritian junket. We had about 50 guests. It was jovial and amber liquids flowed. We convinced ourselves that we had done enough wedding ceremonies to last us a lifetime. In fact, we erroneously thought that we had gone the whole hog. We were wrong.

Prior to the Mauritian junket, I proudly reported to my family that I was going to get married. I apologised that they couldn’t come due to exorbitant costs. Upon my return, I duly went home to report the good news in person. My father stunned me. He was furious. He said it to my face that I wasn’t married. “When did we kill a cow to ask for a blessing of the ancestors for this so-called marriage? When was umembeso? In Zulu culture, umembeso is when the groom’s family takes gifts to the bride’s family to say thank you for the gift of their new daughter in-law. The groom’s family is welcomed by the father of the bride to the sounds of singing and ululating as one family loses a daughter and another gains one. My mother, not to be outdone, politely asked: “When is the white wedding?”

The snag with the whole Zulu version of marriage ritual is that it assumes a posture of being a superior culture. According to the narrative of my parents, unless I do my marriage as per their template, I’m not married. But, there is a clash of cultures here. My wife is English. She is a daughter of a French Mauritian father and an English speaking mother. She was born in Durban. She doesn’t believe in white weddings. She refuses to have anything to do with a wedding ceremony where the killing of poor cows and goats happens willy-nilly. She has neither relationship nor knowledge of the whole ancestors thingy. I don’t believe in white weddings. I do not have financial resources for a fanciful ancestral blessing of my marriage.

Nonetheless, I owe my parents and the village of my birth two wedding ceremonies – the traditional as well as the white wedding. Oh, we also haven’t registered our marriage with the South African Home Affairs. I guess three more wedding ceremonies are on the horizon.

Bhekisisa Mncube is a full-time writer in the public service in the Republic of South Africa. He lives in Pretoria. At the time of going to press, he was still married to his sweetheart, Professor D. They have a 12 year-old daughter. Network @