The countless photo sessions in the park were followed by feasting and dancing until dawn by the mountains. A glimpse of a wedding in rural South Africa.
It’s a long weekend in South Africa and a childhood friend, Letlhogonolo Kedijang, is getting married in Zeerust, a dusty town in the country’s mountainous North West province, 240 kilometers from Johannesburg.
After an early start and a four-hour road trip, we finally arrive in rural Gopane, 47 kilometers from Zeerust. We are extremely early and ravenous, and the place is downright rural but these are no deterrents.
We have driven all the way to witness our friend’s nuptials. But we can’t ignore the rumbling in our tummies.
The boys decide to go to a local Buy-and-Braai, a butchery where the meat is cooked on the fire as you wait and watch. I stay back at Gopane and document the groom’s preparations with my camera. For a start, there are no modern bathtubs or showers here – you use a bucket filled with water to wash up.
Preened and ready, it’s time to hop into one of the cars that make up the convoy to the bride’s home. We are late and I am told our destination is just around the corner, when it’s actually behind one of the mountains.
The cars are speeding and I am jittery, wishing there are speed-cameras or speed humps to slow them down. The scenes whiz by – dry land, sheep, chicken and grazing cows. There’s no oncoming traffic for miles on end.
Finally we arrive. A mountain away, what awaits us is singing, dancing and ululation. The groom leads the way as he walks uphill on the gravel road to the bride’s home to be accepted by her family.
I photograph their every move; he is accepted and she is taken. They look lovely in outfits that are a fusion between traditional and western; a trend I have been noting at most African weddings, not just in the cities, but in the countryside too.
Another convoy – a larger one this time – leaves for the local park, presumably a botanical garden, for the wedding photos.
Both sides of the family and their extended families are here. This is a staple in black South African culture – photos with the newlyweds amid flora and foliage.
After endless photographs with more than a hundred guests at the park, the couple leave in a white BMW convertible to the bridal home for the ceremony and grand lunch. I can finally rest and hand my time-worn camera to a friend eager to take over.
All the formalities are done, and the newlyweds are dancing away. More neighbors join, the ululating and singing get louder, and the band takes over.
The party has just begun.
This is when we decide to stay on and not drive back to Johannesburg.
We continue to dance on the gravel, and the young couple open a circle for guests to challenge them at the dancing, a practice popular in black culture. The sun has set and the moon is out, and so are we.
It’s Monday morning, the birds are chirping, and the gents are snoring.
We wash our faces and head back home. Before leaving, we are gifted a bottle of whiskey as a token of appreciation.
We save it for later.
We make our first stop-over at a supermarket for a breakfast of chicken and bread. We open the boot of the car to double as a table. Locals can tell we are from Johannesburg.
We scorch the road again to music, until four hours later, we see a sign that says ‘welcome to Gauteng’.
After all the fun and frolic at a traditional African wedding, home beckons and duty calls in the modern commercial capital that is Johannesburg.