The eight-year-old boy who married a 61-year-old woman on Valentine’s Day last year in a bid to placate his ancestors repeated the ceremony in the bride’s home town at the weekend. Sanele Masilela is now nine and his wife, Helen Shabangu, is 62 years old.
The wedding was held to introduce the groom to the bride’s family in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga.
According to an agreement between the two families, much of last year’s formal wedding needed to be repeated before the couple changed into traditional gear for the second part of the ceremony.
The traditional marriage took place in Mkhuhlu township, where Shabangu has a home. Last year, their white wedding was held in Mamelodi, Pretoria, where they live separately.
Early yesterday, there were busy preparations for the traditional ceremony as curious onlookers gathered at Shabangu’s home.
The house was abuzz with women from the village preparing umqombothi (beer), pap and chakalaka. A cow was slaughtered to feed the guests.
Shabangu’s real husband, Abel Shabangu, was among the men who came to help to put up a tent and three gazebos. He also bought a three-tier wedding cake.
“I’m here to support my wife. We all want this day to go well. Our children couldn’t come, but they also wish us well today,” said Abel.
An aunt of the bride, Anah Khosa, said the family was happy that the wedding had come to Mpumalanga because they could not afford to go to Pretoria last year.
Last year’s Valentine’s Day wedding had all the elements of a real one: R7000 lobolo was paid for Shabangu, who wore a white wedding gown, and they kissed before exchanging rings and vows. The ceremony, it was said at the time, was not binding but merely a ritual to appease the ancestors.
Since that white wedding, the couple have returned to their normal lives – Sanele being just a schoolboy and his spouse a working woman.
Before yesterday, they had not seen one another since November.
Sanele, a Grade 4 pupil, claimed to have been having a series of visions of his late grandfather, which were interpreted as a sign that his grandfather, Busy Masilela, who never married, wanted Sanele to do so on his behalf.
Sanele’s mother, Patience Masilela, said the wedding attracted much international media interest last year. She said people who were not familiar with the ritual thought the couple were living together as husband and wife.
The young groom now lives with his elder sister in Venda, where he attends school.
Patience said that when her son told neighbours in Mkhuhlu that he was getting married in a traditional ceremony, everybody pitched in with the cooking and other arrangements.
“The ceremony moved from a small thing to a real one – like the white wedding of a mature man,” she said.
“Everyone who attended had been invited by Sanele. He understands why he had to do this. And one day, when he is older, he will choose a girl his age to marry.
“I did whatever I could to protect him from the ancestors. If we didn’t do this, he would have been sick or gone crazy,” she said.
The groom’s mother said the R18000 white wedding also attracted the interest of social workers, who sent the boy for mental evaluation.
But, she said, they realised he was stable and merely practising his culture.
Shabangu, a close family friend, works with Sanele’s mother at a dumping site where they collect material for recycling and resale. They left Mamelodi for Mkhuhlu two weeks ago to prepare for yesterday’s wedding .
Yesterday, a neighbour, Jane Mashaba, said people were happy for the spirits of the ancestors and hoped they would not trouble the boy any longer.
Shabangu did not show any signs of age as she danced with her bridesmaids, girls of between four and 10 years.
Masogana A Bapedi dancers provided entertainment and the guests drank soft drinks. Sanele and his bride shared a bottle of Fanta Grape.