Longing for love on Valentine’s

Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday
My cousin Reuben was telling us a story. He said the previous week he was in Mutoko acting as a go-between or munyai during a marriage for a family friend called MaDube. This was not her real name, but a totem name that she got from her father when she was born as the last born girl in a family of six boys. Reuben said he played a big role as MaDube’s munyai. MaDube lives in a faraway place in Australia, in a remote country town where there are hardly any other Africans except two families from Sudan who came as refugees.

Life over there is lonely. But that was the only town in which MaDube could find a job as nurse when she moved from London to Australia three years ago.

MaDube worked as a nurse with Reuben’s wife, one time in Melbourne when MaDube was doing agency work while on leave from the remote country town.

Mai Tinashe, Reuben’s wife, said MaDube was welcome to come and stay in Melbourne each time she wanted a break from the country. So MaDube had asked if Reuben wanted to be the munyai during the time he was in Zimbabwe.

Since Reuben was going to be here for the whole of February while supervising the building of his house in Borrowdale, he said, it was not a problem.

He had never been a munyai before and he was looking forward to play the role of friend, Sahwira.

MaDube and Tembo fell in love on Facebook. The boyfriend or the guy who married MaDube is called Tembo, a young 33-year old Zimbabwean based in Johannesburg. Tembo is his family’s totem name. Tembo preferred that they call each other by these totem names because that would please his late grandmother very much.

MaDube liked the way Tembo would recite romantic poems, madetembo on the phone. Since she was so out of touch with village culture, listening to him made her feel very happy.

Last year, on Valentine’s Day, Tembo said he was so lonely in his shared room in South Africa. On that day, he promised himself that he would find a woman from Zimbabwe before the next Valentine’s Day and marry her.

One must have plans and goals in life.

Tembo lives in big vibrant Johannesburg where he is often surrounded by friends from Zimbabwe in bars and night clubs. But meeting MaDube on Facebook and finding love was no accident, he said. Once, his grandmother had told him that the ancestors would present a wife and the mother of his future children at a time when he least expected it.

He had seen so many women in Highfield where he grew up, in many parts of South Africa where he travelled as a truck driver. But among all the women, he had never met anyone as pretty, warm, kind and motherly like MaDube.

He must marry her first in her village and then take her away for the Valentine’s weekend.

For three solid months Tembo and MaDube talked two or three times a day on Facebook, on Skype, by telephone, through Whatsapp and Viber. One day, just before Christmas, Tembo said he wanted to take MaDube to Leopard Rock, in Zimbabwe on Valentine’s Day.

He would book the best room and take her for long walks and drive her across the mountains into Mozambique. She would appreciate how beautiful Zimbabwe was. She would know that the UK and Australia were nothing in beauty compared to Zimbabwe. MaDube was in love. She liked every single word he said.

Then Tembo said he wanted to marry MaDube traditionally in the village, the way Shona tradition demanded.

He would do this a week before Valentine’s Day. She would fly to Johannesburg and they would meet for the first time. After two days, she could continue to Zimbabwe and he would follow with his friend by road.

MaDube said yes to the proposed marriage immediately. Finally, she had found a man to marry her and pay the bride price. At 37, her biological clock was running fast. But all that would be over now because by Christmas time, she would have a child. It might take a while for her new husband to migrate from Johannesburg to Australia, but she would work towards getting pregnant during her visit.

By the time the immigration paper work for his migration to Australia comes through, she would have delivered a baby already. Her mother would travel all the way from Mutoko to Australia so she would be present during delivery in the small country town. All the steps were clear in her head. But marriage in the village must come first.

“Where is his village?” asked my cousin Piri. Reuben said during the traditional ceremony, Tembo said he did not have a village because his family moved from Gokwe to Harare before independence. What about his uncles and other members of the extended family? Tembo said most of them had migrated into the diaspora. It was too expensive to bring them back for the marriage. Although it was not possible to have a son-in-law who came with just one friend from Johannesburg and a munyai from Harare, MaDube’s family accepted the money and celebrated the marriage. The total amount paid was over $8,000 in cash.

“I think your friend has married a trickster,” said Piri.

“I would never fall in love with someone whose hand I have not touched to check if he is real. What happened to the days when a big strong man could chase a girl through the forests? The girl would pretend not to like him until she is caught.” Piri said, smiling. She sat in the far right sofa in the lounge room enjoying some beers in my house. This is how she spends some of her Sunday afternoons, drinking beer in company or without.

“Tete, it is easy to find romance these days. You advertise a profile of yourself on a dating website through the internet,” Reuben said, flipping through his Ipad. We had talked about this Internet dating before, when Reuben was not around.

Reuben said these days we could no longer wait to meet a girl at the village shopping centre the way it used to be when we were growing up. Times have changed. We have the Internet to help us with speedy dating.

“Have you seen this Internet Facebook romance working?” Piri asked me. Since I did not know anyone who met someone on the Internet and got married, I told her that this was a new technology tool helping people to meet friends and lovers.

I know stories of romance seekers who met on the Internet, fall in love and send lots of money to their ‘new lovers’ before meeting each other in person. Many women in Europe, Australia and other places have lost thousands of dollars only to find out that they had fallen in love with con men.

Reuben said his friends were going to spend the weekend in the Eastern Highlands, celebrating their marriage.

“When women are desperate and lonely, they do strange things. This girl will soon discover that the man behind the smiling Facebook friend could be a gangster,” said Piri. “These Facebook lovers can be dangerous. What if he is a criminal? Love is like politics. You must vote for what you see and for a track record that you know.”

“How else can a girl over 35 years meet a good guy and marry her unless she takes advantage of modern technology? I think those two will be very happy together,” said Reuben. He showed us the photos and the videos of the marriage ceremony.

Piri laughed, pointing at Tembo. “Haa, you can say my knowledge of men is limited. But, that guy is not capable of serious loving. He is too handsome and his eyes wander around too much.”

Reuben said he would not argue the matter with Piri. Valentine’s Day was around the corner. He was going to enjoy the beauty of Zimbabwe with the bride and groom in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. He would feel the warmth of love coming from the newly married. After all, Valentine’s Day was a time to feel the fantasy of love and romance.


Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.