By Thato Magano (@pothaeto)
In contemporary South Africa and Africa, where the definition of culture is often such contested terrain, wouldn’t we do better if a show like #OPW was more intent on showcasing the beauty that is the African marriage process? The show glosses over cultural conflict like these issues as if these shouldn’t be considerations during the celebration events.
Excuse my lateness in coming to the debate about the latest television sensation, Our Perfect Wedding (#OPW) on MzansiMagic. I don’t have the DStv bouquet, so I’m what you’d call an appointment TV watcher. I have to often contend with a weekend at my parent’s house or twitter for updates of the show. Given that #OPW starts trending in the first ten minutes of airing; twitter has not been the same on Sundays.
The show, which details the lead up to a wedding ceremony in a predominantly black circumstance, is currently in its third season and is proving to be a hit. So much so that in the past six weeks, I have heard the show being discussed on two talk radio shows, most recent on Eusebius McKaiser’s show on PowerFM.
On both shows, the discussion was focused on the entertainment value of the show. Fair enough, given what a hit the show is and how revealing it is about ordinary people.
When I caught onto the show, I was also solely focused on the entertaining nature of the show, titillated often by the often disastrous planning, stressed out brides to be, last minute outfit collections and changes and questionable relationship dynamics between the bridal couple. But I wasn’t bothered much by this as I’d dismissed the show as yet another caricature of black people and our cultural norms by well intentioned ‘white’ creatives, so I wasn’t expecting any different from them.
Then one evening as the credits rolled, I realised that one of the executive producers was Basetsana Kumalo. Former Miss South Africa, Basetsana Kumalo. Co-executive producer of Top Billing and co partner at Tswelopele productions, Basetana Kumalo. I found myself conflicted and uncomfortable with this discovery.
In those first moments I argued it as a class issue. The rich and upper middle class versus the mainstream middle class and working class. I argued with myself as to why Basetsana and her team had seen it fit to portray us as unorganised people while she does the opposite for her Top Billing audience. The economic argument made sense for a while.
But then it dawned on me. It was not the class differences in how Top Billing presents ‘white’ weddings and how #OPW presents ‘black’ weddings. It was that another black person who understands the construct of marriage and what it means within the black community in South Africa, and dare I say in Africa, has chosen to frame an entire show on marriage around the drama that besets the couple, prodding them out for entertainment to the millions of eyes waiting for their fix each week and through a ‘white’ or ‘Western’ paradigm, instead of focusing rather on the cultural construct of what marriage means for black people in Africa.
What further bothered me was how the show managed the inter/intra-cultural conflicts between the families of the betrothed given that as Africans, our understanding of marriage is that it brings two families together. It creates a tie between the two families that not even divorce can break, more so when the couple have children.
The African marriage tradition is made up of multiple cultural processes that affirm each side of the family for their contribution towards gifting them with their child’s beloved. It includes months of planning where Lobola is negotiated and paid and gifts between the families are exchanged. This is such that the actual wedding ceremony, the one or two day event, becomes a small part of the marriage.
In contemporary South Africa and Africa, where the definition of culture is often such contested terrain, wouldn’t we do better if a show like #OPW was more intent on showcasing the beauty that is the African marriage process? The show glosses over cultural conflict as if these issues shouldn’t be considerations during the celebration events.
In a couple of the episodes I have seen, I have noted inter-cultural conflict that have lead to a stalemate between families and have not seen how they are resolved by means of our traditional protocols.
With my limited knowledge of how marriage works in multiple cultural contexts in South Africa, I understand that uncles and aunts play a pivotal role in ensuring that their niece or nephew’s marriage goes through without much hustle but I cannot say that I have seen these traditions being highlighted on the show.
It seems as though the show only intends to let us know that it is only the bride and groom who are responsible for their wedding celebration, thus making it a two person affair. This is not a fair representation of what this tradition is, particularly how it is truly OUR’s in terms of African cultural norms. This is particularly for the wedding celebrations that #OPW chooses to feature on the show.
With accusations made against us as young people today about how we have forgotten or choose to forgo our cultural norms, shouldn’t shows like #OPW be filing that gap and taking on the task of educating the nation and helping us appreciate the beauty of the African marriage process? It cannot be that our sole focus can be on just the wedding events and forsaking the entire marriage process.
We need shows that are intentional in highlighting and educating us on what our cultural processes are in respect to marriage. Marriage in Africa is not between the bride and groom. It is an act of two families coming together, symbolised by the two parties getting married and the show fails to highlight this.
In a previous life, Thato Magano was a strategy consultant and marketing dude at Cadbury’s and has since moved to crafting alternative entrepreneurial spaces to explore his various talents. He is a transitional griot trapped in the comforts of saxon realities and longing for the freedoms of civilisations past. A liker of things and yet prisoner to none. A revolutionary non sequitur! Motho wa Batho fela!