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Cape Town - Saying “I do” in a former prison and sharing a wedding altar with complete strangers may not be the most romantic way to wed. But for 13 couples who tied the knot at Robben Island Museum on Thursday this was the perfect setting to make a lasting memory as they begin their life as husband and wife.
It has become a tradition for the World Heritage Site to host a mass wedding on Valentine’s Day. In the last 13 years more than 200 couples have exchanged their vows on the island where political leaders such as Nelson Mandela were incarcerated.
Although most brides stuck to the traditional white wedding gowns with veils, some wore red while others opted for casual summer dresses. Most grooms wore shiny white and grey suits, and one chose to exchange his vows barefoot, wearing a dashiki and shorts.
One of the brides, Phakamisa Lwana, 40, of Milnerton, was all smiles during the 30-minute ferry ride from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront.
“I’m nervous and happy… it’s a big day for us,” she said.
The couple met at a mutual friend’s party two years ago. The groom, Nombuyiselo Khonto, said they were a bit sad that their families were not there to witness their union as both their families live in Port Elizabeth.
“It’s just the two of us which makes the day extra special.
“I have the bride all to myself,” he said. “Robben Island is a special place that signifies a turning point for our country. It’s perfect for making good memories for us and for our future children,” he said.
Robben Island’s events manager Rabia Damon said the Department of Home Affairs was in charge of the legal aspect of the weddings, including screening to make sure they were not already married.
Anyone who gets the nod from the department can get married on the island for R550 a head. The fee covers, among other things, a return ferry trip and wedding reception.
The wedding took place inside the island’s 19th century Garrison Church. The ceremony was performed by Department of Home Affairs officers, and each couple had 10 minutes to exchange vows and rings to the sound of applause and whistles.
Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor congratulated the couples.
“Your special day will be forever linked to a place that was partly responsible for ending apartheid in the country.
“You have now changed the nature of the island to that filled with happiness and love,” she said.
A couple who had eloped, who did not wish to be named, said they planned to tell their families about their nuptials at the end of the year. - Cape Argus