The pair met through mutual friends in 2000 but only started dating a year later. “I was attracted to her from the word go because, not only is she gorgeous, but I observed her humility and how she nurtured relationships she had with those in her life. But I wanted to get to know her before starting a relationship,” said Sihle, who is also the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.
After a few months together, their shared interests and values, such as Ubuntu and wanting to see each other succeed in life, drew the couple closer.
Their budding careers – Nelly a social worker then and Sihle in politics – demanded a lot from the young lovers but they persevered and as their love grew they started seeing the possibility of spending the rest of their lives together.
“There will always be other things demanding your time but I think we’ve managed to find a balance because we both made a conscious decision that we will always make time for each other and our family, and our commitment on that is unwavering,” said Nelly, who is now the professional compliance and quality assurance deputy director in the provincial Department of Social Development.
The couple married in 2006 in a ceremony they both described as a “special and “unforgettable” day, and now dedicate most of “free” their time to raising their three children.
Nelly says Sihle is the kind of husband she had always envisioned he would become. “He has a big heart and loves very deeply. Growing up as a little girl, I had always wanted to marry someone with those qualities. He has a demanding job but when he is home we don’t have to fight for his attention with his work commitments because he is there fully.”
Many would describe Sihle as a driven politician but his wife says he is a romantic and doting husband. She says she loves him even more for consistently encouraging her to chase her dreams because that shows how much he cares for her personal and professional development.
Sihle concurs, saying one must never be threatened by one’s partner’s success, adding that being with Nelly keeps him on his toes because she challenges him and that motivates him to want to be better. Their relationship has not been without challenges, but they say they have used them as learning experiences.
“Marriage is a serious commitment and you want to marry someone who loves you unconditionally and whom you share the same vision for the future with, because when your priorities are aligned, there is nothing you can’t overcome.
“Most importantly, make sure you are not in a relationship because of what the other person has because one day those material things might not be there but you will have each other,” says Sihle.
The Zikalalas said couples fell into a trap of thinking they have to perform grand gestures all the time to show love, however, those alone won’t sustain a relationship.
“Sihle, besides being my love, is my source of strength.
“That’s who I go to for support and inspiration and I don’t think anything could be as great as that and that’s what I think relationships should be about,” says Nelly.
This is the month of love and pampering for Nelly, as every year Sihle pulls out all the stops to make sure that she enjoys both Valentine’s Day and her birthday which is on February 15.
“When you love someone you always up your game in terms of the things you do to make her feel special and this year will be no different,” he says.