THE GREAT AFRICAN WEDDING FACTORY: ‘I Do’ Versus ‘Do I’ in The Time Of Covid

Where previously weddings were all about opulence and chandelier, crystal and champagne to celebrate happy couples, the fancy frills have been stripped to pared-down versions in these pandemic times. The sentiments are the same, but the splurging isn’t. And catering to the newly-austere is a reimagined wedding industry getting more creative to still make it a meaningful business to be in. 

DR NOXOLO KHANYILE KNEW IT WAS NOT going to be an easy undertaking, by any means.

“Both my partner and I are Zulu,” says Khanyile, who married her husband, Silo, in a traditional ceremony in South Africa in March this year.

“One needs to understand that it is a process [when you get married], it’s not just one celebration, it’s numerous celebrations. Multiple customs need to be followed.

“Every little girl, or at least most girls have this idea of what they want their wedding to look like, how they would want their dress to look, how the décor should be…. So, I think at the back of my mind, I already knew how it should be.”

Although Covid-19 “condensed” a lot of her plans, including the couple’s white wedding that took place at the end of July, Khanyile offers a glimpse of the color, culture, pomp, revelry and regalia that typically go into the making of The Great African Wedding.

“It’s celebrating this love; it’s celebrating this culture. That’s what makes an African wedding so unique,” says Khanyile.

Except that in recent times, Covid-19 has played party pooper and forcefully pared down the dreamy blockbuster wedding for most couples.

Uzair Essack and Samira Patel-Essack too had to make a choice and opt for less opulence for their middle-of-the-pandemic nuptials, also honoring Muslim customs.z

They became a couple when Essack started sending DMs (direct messages) to Patel. “He immediately said in the message ‘I am going to marry you one day’,” Patel giggles looking at her husband now. And marry they did.

“At first I wanted luxury and wanted to go all out,” Essack explains. “But Samira is very humble and her family wanted a simpler affair and we had to [make] a lot of compromises which now that I [look] back at, am glad about.”

Essack and Patel were engaged just before Covid-19 struck in March 2020 and got married at the height of the lockdown in South Africa in December that year, with multiple restrictions in place.

“We first had 200 guests on our list,” says Essack. “Then we dropped it to 100… and yes at first I was sad that some friends could not join us but then I thought about the safety of some of my family
members who needed to be there.”

Zavion Kotze, co-founder of Inimitable Wedding Venue.

Covid-19 certainly stalled or limited the flamboyance of African weddings, and continues to reset the events sector, but the army of planners, suppliers and professionals dominating the wedding industry still believe the wedding day is worth a splash and spectacle. Luxury is still lucrative business, and swishy dos are not really passé, they say.

Zavion Kotze and his husband, John, own a venue in one of South Africa’s most popular wedding destinations – Muldersdrift, located in Gauteng province.

Pre-pandemic, this duo had busy days, moving from one mega wedding project to another.

From the moment they launched their business, Inimitable Wedding Venue, in 2018, they had overflowing diaries.

“We opened for viewings in February 2018. And that first month, we booked 36 weddings which was incredible and daunting at the same time,” Kotze tells FORBES AFRICA. “We started doing weddings in October 2018. We had an unbelievable financial year in 2019; it was incredible. I think we did 147 weddings that year.”

Kotze’s planning and design company outside of Inimitable Wedding Venue, called the Zavion Kotze Events Company, also organized some of South Africa’s biggest celebrity ceremonies.

Notably, this included the wedding of Miss Universe 2017 DemiLeigh Nel-Peters to her American footballer-husband Tim Tebow in Cape Town which was quickly followed by media personality, Somizi Mhlongo’s and his now ex-husband Mohale Motaung’s nuptials.