Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu and Bongani Ndlovu, Chronicle Correspondents
WOULD you have ever imagined holding your wedding without your close family members, friends, churchmates or colleagues you always wanted to celebrate with on your big day?

Forget about hordes of people at a wedding venue.

In the new normal, everything has changed as the maximum a couple can entertain is 50.

This is the reality which Thulisile Makovere and his sweetheart Blessing Mtlokwa from Gwanda, as well as Norbert Moyo and his wife Mihlaemihle Sidambe from Bulawayo had to face as they held their weddings during the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic last Saturday.

For Thulisile and Blessing, the journey to their big day started off smoothly with all plans seemingly on track after Thulisile had paid lobola for his bride-to-be in August last year.

Just like any aspiring couple Thulisile (31) and Blessing (25) envisaged a huge celebration shared with family, friends, colleagues, churchmates, neighbours — you name it. May 2 was going to be the highlight moment of their life and to ensure this happened they diligently set their plans in motion ensuring that there were no loose ends.

Come the beginning of March, they wished that the 2nd of May would arrive fast as all was set for their big day. Then suddenly that big announcement that would leave their heads spinning was made.

President Mnangagwa announced a three-week lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19 that among other measures, banned weddings. The two love birds held onto hope as their day was still way ahead which meant they would not be affected by the lockdown which would end after three weeks.

They continued with their plans.

When the President extended the lockdown by a further two weeks that is when they realised that things would not go as they had planned.

“I paid lobola on 11 August 2019 and from there we had eight months to prepare for our wedding. We wanted to have a classic event which was going to be memorable. We diligently started planning for our day as we wanted to ensure that all would be done on time and to the level best,” said Thulisile.

“We secured our venue which was Green Field Gardens in Gwanda and we paid for it in full.

“We paid various service providers which included the camera person, caterer, décor person. We bought rings and some of the food items. By end of February most of the things were in place and we were just waiting for the day. We had also put together money to buy our outfits and those for our bridal party. My wife had paid a deposit for her gown.”

He said he was making arrangements to travel to Zambia together with his best man to buy an exquisite suite for his big day. Thulisile and Blessing had planned to have a 12-member bridal team.

Thulisile said they held two planning meetings online during the three-week lockdown. He said after the lockdown was extended, they decided to postpone their wedding indefinitely but with the hope that things would soon normalise and their plans would proceed as planned. He said to their disappointment weeks turned into months and they could not help it but wonder what would become of their big plans.
Thulisile said this strained their relationship.

“We came to a point where we didn’t know whether we had to continue planning or whether we would succeed in getting married. It was really a tough moment for us. The situation affected us psychologically and it also affected our relationship as it caused a lot of tension between us. I recall that on 2 May people sent me messages consoling me and giving me hope and that triggered more emotions and I couldn’t help it but ponder on the thought that I could have been married,” he said.

Thulisile said after the conditions of the lockdown were relaxed in June that is when they started contemplating on setting a new date for their wedding. He said they now had to face the reality that their wedding day was not going to be as they had planned. He said while he was quick to adapt to the new reality his wife found it difficult to accept that they had no option but to hold a wedding of less than 50 people which meant that most of their close relatives would not share their day with them.

Blessing said growing up, it had always been her dream to have a “white wedding” as she came from a family in which no one had held one. She said she always dreamt of a big celebration that would create lasting memories.

“The fact that I now had to change my initial plans really frustrated me. I was willing to wait longer with the hope that soon things would go back to normal and I would have my big day but days kept passing by. I was so frustrated to the extent that I started blaming my husband and I pointed out that had he planned things properly we would have held our wedding in December last year,” she said.

“My mother consoled me as well as my church-mates. My pastor counselled me and advised me to take my partners feelings and wishes into consideration as well. That was when I finally agreed to have a small wedding in line with the Covid-19 regulations. I realised that I wasn’t the only one whose plans had been affected by the pandemic.”

Blessing said they set a new date, August 22 and started making adjustments to their day starting with ensuring that they reduced their number of guests to a maximum 50 people from the initial average of 400 they had planned. Since she comes from a big extended family, Blessing said the most difficult part was making a selection on who would attend the wedding and who would be left out.

She said what pained her the most was that her close relatives and friends including her elder sister who is based in South Africa could not attend the wedding as borders are closed. She is not the only one who felt the effect as Thulisile was left devastated as his mother who is based in the United Kingdom could not make it to the wedding. His uncles, brothers and sisters based in South Africa also failed to make it.

The pandemic also meant that the couple had to phase out the bridal team and change their wedding venue and also pay for a new wedding venue. They had made several payments for services which they eventually did not utilise and all they can hope for is to get refunds.

Despite the hurdles and challenges they faced preparing for their big day what consoles the newly weds is that they were finally able to tie the knot. To them, though the day had a small crowd it is still their big day and will always be a memorable event that is engraved in their hearts.

“All I’m grateful for is that I finally get to wake up each morning with the love of my life next to me and that completes me and gives me great joy. It all happened through God’s grace,” said Thulisile as he gently pulled his sweetheart closer and gently kissed her on the cheek.

The couple finally managed to tie the knot last Saturday at Mount Cazalet Lodge in Gwanda with a small crowd of 50 people. Their wedding programme started at 10AM and ended at 2PM.

On the same day in Bulawayo, for Norbert and Mihlaemihle, the time for them to tie the knot was long overdue. They had been planning this wedding for the past two years and unfortunately, like many couples in Zimbabwe and globally, they had their plans dashed because of the global pandemic, Covid-19.

When the lockdown was first imposed in March, Norbert and Mihlaemihle had made wedding plans for April 18, Independence Day. As such, the couple had to postpone their plans, but they remained hopeful that the pandemic would be contained so they go ahead with their wedding.

In June, there was relief as lockdown measures were relaxed with Chief Justice Malaba giving the green light for weddings to resume registration at the civil courts.

And last week Saturday, after months of postponing, the couple finally did the deed at White Rock in Bulawayo, but under the new normal.

As the bridal party, in particular the bride, approached the venue, the blare of car horns that pierce the air as a signal that she is on her way did not happen. The bride’s arrival was announced through a phone call alerting the few that were there that the most important person was 10 minutes away so they hurriedly went into the chapel.

When the bride eventually arrived, she did so in silence in a convoy of BMWs. She was not even greeted by the usual ululations, singing or dancing. Rather, the very people who were supposed to do that had made their way into the chapel.

The venue had a small chalet which the couple had to use for the ceremony because the garden wedding they had planned was out of question due to the low temperatures on the day.

Before entering the chalet, a huge sign advising guests to sanitise was put up. But first, one had to be ticked off on the register to confirm if they were on the guest list. This was done to ensure that the gathering had the stipulated less than 50 people. Nobert and Mihlaemihle had 48 guests.

Once this was done, guests’ body temperatures were checked, hands sprayed with sanitiser and they were handed custom-made face masks which they would wear during the wedding.

When inside the chapel, guests had to sit separately to maintain social distancing as per Covid-19 rules.

The groom, bride and bridal team as well as marriage officer all had masks on.

The most intimate part of the wedding, the marriage vows were declared under the masks. It was only when kissing that the two were allowed to unveil themselves.

“We asked for permission to get married during lockdown. In our application letter, we gave assurance that we would abide by the rules that have been mentioned by the Government pertaining the restrictions for wedding ceremonies as responsible citizens.

“It took a week to get approval as the letter had to pass through certain authorities as well,” said Norbert.

“Our wedding was perfect. All our service providers outdid themselves and our guests complied by the Covid-19 regulations. The planning process was not so hard, but the global pandemic made it look so difficult.”