Mandla Mandela: Love 1; Tradition 0

2016-02-14 06:00

‘Mashallah!” (It is as God intended) exclaimed members of South Africa’s Muslim community after Rabia Clarke married Mandla Mandela in an Islamic ceremony in Cape Town last Saturday.

At the Kensington mosque, respected imam Sheikh Ebrahim Gabriels performed the nikaah marriage ceremony, describing it as “a momentous occasion” that he hoped would help break down cultural barriers in the country.

Gabriels, the former president of the Muslim Judicial Council, told City Press that Clarke’s father, Aslam, a medical-equipment businessman from Pinelands, had verified Mandela’s conversion to Islam.

Gabriels said Mandela converted in November last year. However, he did not change his first name, which many do when converting.

In a speech at the wedding ceremony, Mandela told guests that his grandfather, the late Nelson Mandela, had respected South Africa’s Muslim community because of its support during the apartheid years.

After the ceremony, the newlyweds hosted a lavish lunch reception at Cape Town’s five-star 15 on Orange Hotel for 150 guests – which included only a handful of Mandela’s family members. His mother, Nolusapho, attended.

A witness at the hotel said: “Most of the guests were [Rabia’s] family and friends. He had about four relatives here, including his mother. The rest were all Muslim people from her side. It seemed as if everybody got along fine, though. It was romantic, with a lekker vibe.”

No alcohol was served at the reception, held in the hotel’s conference room, where Cape Malay chicken curry with toasted almonds, grilled prawns, pan-fried kingklip and grilled Springbok formed part of the buffet spread.

The tables were covered in silver floral textured cloth and decorated with square glass vases containing simple arrangements of lilies and lisianthus flowers in lilac – the same shade as Mandela’s tie. The arrangements were by local florist Johnny Angel, who told City Press the bride had been “very specific” but “very kind”. Each guest’s table setting included a palm-sized, bead-encrusted gift box.

The venue, with its eight silver-framed plasma screens, is quoted at R33 000 for a full day’s use, excluding table décor and food.

The wedding guests had a long lunch, but there was no dancing. They left the venue at about 5pm.

Staff said Mandla (42) and Rabia (22) had photographs taken all over the hotel – some of which the proud groom posted on Twitter this week. “Blessing from above. My wife and I,” he added to one picture.

The photographs show the bride in an elegant, faded pink gauze gown with fine-lace bodice detail.

Mandela, an ANC MP since 2009, shocked many when he arrived at the state of the nation address this week flanked by his third wife, Mbalenhle Makhathini, who took the Xhosa name Nodiyala. Rabia is his fourth bride.

He said in a statement this week: “I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Rabia’s parents, her extended family and the Muslim community for welcoming me into their hearts.”

On Monday, Gabriels told Radio Islam: “I was very honoured to officiate at the wedding ceremony between Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela, the grandson of our great leader, the father of South Africa, and Rabia Clarke.

“There is no racism in Islam ... Mandela would have been a very proud man on Saturday for his grandson to get married into the Muslim community.”

Osman Shaboodien, another prominent member of Cape Town’s Muslim community and the chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic Association, told City Press he supported the couple wholeheartedly.

“Put it this way: it’s very refreshing. In South Africa, we used to have mixed relationships, but apartheid destroyed that. We need to rebuild,” he said.

However, Mandela’s conversion did not sit well with his villagers or traditional leaders.

Villagers in Mvezo reacted mostly with shock to the news of Mandela’s fourth marriage.

He is still legally married to his estranged first wife, Tando Mabunu-Mandela, with whom he is in a protracted divorce settlement dispute over assets.

Mabunu-Mandela’s lawyer, Wesley Hayes, told City Press she planned to approach the high court in Mthatha this week to annul the latest marriage – as she did with Mandela’s previous ones to Makhathini, who he married in 2011, and Reunion-born Anaïs Grimaud, who he wed in 2010.

An elderly villager, who asked not to be named, said: “He normally tells us everything as his people. But in this case, we only learnt from the media about his marriage.

“We hope he is going to return to Mvezo to introduce his new wife and explain what is going on. We are confused.”

The elderly man added that Mandela had indicated last year that he wanted a fourth wife.

A female resident of the village said they dared not speak out against the marriage.

“We cannot risk talking about the chief like this. Nkosi Zwelivelile [Mandla’s praise name] gives us jobs. We do not argue with him. All we say is ‘yes, chief’ to everything he wants done. Nobody would dare object to him.”

Villagers said they had not seen much of their chief lately.

“His mother runs the chieftaincy while he is busy in Parliament. Our fear is that he is going to convert all of us into his new-found religion,” said another villager.

Daludumo Mtirara, spokesperson for the royal house of the kingdom of abaThembu, said Mandela’s marriage was an internal family matter and the great house had not been briefed about it.

Meanwhile, Nokuzola Mndende, director of the Icamagu Institute that deals with African culture and spirituality, called on Mandela to step down as a traditional leader because he had turned his back on his ancestors and “totally changed his identity”.

Mndende said Mandela would face the wrath of the ancestors if he did not apologise by appeasing them.

“He is supposed to be the custodian of African culture, but he has undermined it. He converted to Islam, where many things contradict the culture he claims to lead. In Islam, they do not invoke ancestors, whereas this is central to our culture,” she said.

Mandela could no longer preside over ceremonies in his village, she added.

“Mandla has a right to believe in Islam, as prescribed by the Constitution, but he cannot lead his community, which belongs to another religion,” said Mndende.

Rabia, she said, would never be accepted by the Mandela ancestors until a ritual (utsiki) was performed to welcome her to the clan.

“He needs to perform an appeasing ritual [angxengxeze] if he wants his things to go well. Otherwise, it is going to be one misfortune after another. Even if he can be a Muslim, he is still facing the wrath of the ancestors,” said Mndende.

March 17 2019