by Buli Vimbelela
On the 30th of March 2014 a crowd of people gathered in Zola, Soweto to witness Promise Mavundla and Sanele Shabangu’s umqomiswano (engagement), a gathering which many were unsure of, but had piqued their interest nonetheless. There were unsure if it was a wedding or what? They were peering into the home of Mavundla, who identifies as a butch lesbian who was welcoming her soon to be wife, Shabangu, who identifies as a femme lesbian.
This is how it all started…
When asked how the two met, Sanele said, “For a while, I had been keeping an eye on S’thembiso, as she affectionately calls her, when one afternoon my sister and I bumped into her along the road.
I was too shy to ask for her number, but my sister did on my behalf”, she chuckles!
“From then on, I contacted her and initiated a relationship”. She says she knew she would marry her one day, as they hit it off on first contact.
It was in January 2014 when Promise introduced Sanele to her sister as “a woman I’m going to marry”. There weremixed reactions from both sides of the families. When Promise introduced Sanele to her mom as her girlfriend, they instantly hit it off and built a strong relationship as mother and daughter. She was receptive because she had already accepted her daughter’s lifestyle as a lesbian. On the other hand, Sanele had reservations about introducing Promise to her mom, because she had not been too impressed by her daughter’s previous partner. She was subsequently encouraged by a woman close to her, to tell her mom about Promise. She eventually did and her mom requested to meet Promise.
It was then that Sanele’s mom informed Promise that since Sanele was a tshitshi (virgin) and their family still followed tradition; they needed to perform the umqomiswanoceremony. She agreed. Umqomiswano is a ceremony where one says ‘yes I am now ready to date steadily’ and put a beaded necklace around the man’s neck to show other women that he’s ‘taken’. In this case, it was the femme giving the necklace to the butch-. It may be likened to an engagement ceremony. Preparations began as they gathered all the ‘amatshitshi’ to practice song and dance for the day. They were also expected ‘ukugonqa‘ loosely translated to mean to fast and ready oneself for the day.
Fast forward to 30 March 2014, we attended their umqomiswano/ engagement ceremony. The day started off quietly at the Mavundla home, where they were expecting the arrival of the amatshitshi and preparations for lunch were happening. Meanwhile at the Shabangu home, singing and dancing was heard aloud, as they were about to depart for the Mavundla home to hang the flags before the bride-to-be gets there.
It was beautiful seeing the procession on the streets of Soweto, as people stopped along the road to watch as this was an unusual sighting around the township. On arrival at the Mavundla home, members of the family, friends and some more people were waiting in anticipation. There were some passersby who asked amongst themselves what was happening, “was someone getting married?” they asked.
As the tradition goes, the procession got closer to home. They stopped to dance as they waited for a family representative to welcome them, with a specified amount of money. After that was taken care of, they proceeded to the yard, amatshitshi bearing gifts for the groom and all the while, the bride-to-be was amongst them. Promise, being the shy person that she is, was called in to sit in the center to receive her gifts. I must say she rather looked different, yet cute, in her men’s traditional outfit. More gifts were exchanged from one family to the other.
The dancing to Zulu songs started again, while amatshitshi took turns to dance with Promise also showcasing bits of her dancing. Then the biggest surprise of the day came, Promise immerged carrying a beautiful jewelry box. She got everyone’s attention and asked Sanele to join her at the center where everyone was watching. They were both kneeling down and in her shy voice she asked Sanele to marry her and she without hesitating, said yes! There were loud cheers and ululations as the beautiful ring flashed around and pictures were taken.
Quick words of congratulations and encouragements were said by both families. Promise’s mom had this to say, “Today I’m happy to see our kids do the right thing, the right way. What makes my daughter happy makes me happy”. She urged Promise to take good care of Sanele. What struck me most was Sanele’s mom’s words when she said “Today I’m a proud woman, proud that my daughter kept herself pure to this day. I’m proud to show the people of Soweto that there are still 22yr old virgins” – she said. To Sanele she said, “Just like you came to us saying you love Promise and you wanted the world to know, I want you to know that we didn’t take that lightly and there’s no turning back now. I will not have you say you don’t want it anymore”. And to Promise she said, “I know you will do the right thing and marry my child, I wish you well”. And to that there were more cheers and ululations and the party began.
It was indeed a beautiful and colourful day as we experienced our culture within the LGBTI community and of course the Inkanyiso crew was there to capture it all.
Previous by Buli
2014 Jan. 21: Living an active life
2013 Nov. 19: Love is a beautiful thing