Thoba Sithole and Tshepo Modisane
When audit manager Tshepo Cameron Modisane and IT specialist Thoba Calvin Sithole married in a gay “traditional” African wedding ceremony in April last year they unleashed waves of celebration and condemnation across South Africa and the continent.
While they had officially tied the knot in March at a Home Affairs office in Johannesburg, the two young men wanted to make their marriage more than an intimate legal commitment between two people.
A month later they invited the media to their traditional wedding ceremony in front of 200 guests at the Stanger Siva Sungam community hall in KwaZulu-Natal.
The international media called it “the first African gay wedding,” which was of course nonsense (gay marriage has been legal in South Africa since 2006), but there is no doubt that the widely-seen and powerful images of the two men kissing in their traditional attire were groundbreaking.
They became heroes to many LGBT Africans thanks to their courage in being so public in demanding recognition of their love, but were also slammed by traditional leaders as “unholy.” Most importantly, they sparked fierce debate in homes, bars and taxis around the country about Africanness and homosexuality.
Now, a year since we first met them and on the eve of Valentine’s Day and their first anniversary, Tshepo and Thoba (both 28-years-old) spoke to Mambaonline about their marriage and being a very public couple and even offered some relationship tips and advice.
So, it’s been a year. How is the relationship going?
Tshepo: The love that we share keeps growing stronger and stronger each day. We’re learning more about each other and appreciating our strengths and weaknesses.
Thoba: We can’t keep our hands off each other – be it at the mall, in the car or indoors. One look, one touch, and we spend all day glowing.
That’s fantastic! You’ve said before that it was a trying and difficult time after the wedding…
Out and about. The couple at the Feather Awards.
Tshepo: Not everyone was welcoming and accepting of us getting married in African culture. Some people felt that we were violating cultural norms and standards. But we didn’t let their perceived homophobia and prejudices derail us as a couple.
Any regrets about being so public?
Tshepo: No, we don’t have any regrets. We allowed other people to see and learn from us; that you can be gay, in love and still be proud of who you and not be ashamed of your sexuality.
Did it put a strain on the relationship?
Tshepo: No. It’s actually allowed us to be open, free and live an honest life – without having to live a double life to please people.
Do people still recognise you?
Tshepo: Yes, and some get excited when they see us and even ask to take photos with us. Our lives haven’t been badly affected by it.
Thoba: The sad reality is that many of the people who’ve had issues with our marriage or being public are some gay people. They have something to say about our marriage lifespan and how we do things.
Thoba: They feel that this whole marriage was a publicity stunt. But we don’t allow that to have any bearing since we didn’t get married for the public but for us. The most support we get is from straight people who are not homophobic.
Do you think your public affirmation of love helped other gay people out there?
Tshepo: Yes, it allowed other people to express who they really are and not feel ashamed. All in all, we’ve normalised being gay and put LGBTI issues on the agenda and got people talking.
Thoba: We’ve helped a lot of people who were still in their shell. We’ve also brought awareness to other people in society that being gay is not always about trying be a woman but being attracted to another man and building a future together.
What are you planning to do to celebrate your anniversary next month?
Tshepo: We’re going away on a romantic trip to North America for almost two weeks. We’ll be going to Canada and meeting with other fellow gays and lesbians. We’re leaving at the end of February and we’ll be back at the beginning of March. We plan to spend quality time there and enjoy what being a married couple is all about. We’re looking forward to the trip – just celebrating life, love and our marriage.
Sounds great. And what about Valentine’s Day? Is it something you celebrate?
On a romantic holiday in the North West
Tshepo: We believe that everyday should be Valentine’s Day. We should celebrate the love we share each and every single day of our lives and not just once a year. But we’ll be having a romantic dinner for two like we normally do.
And what does romance mean to you?
Tshepo: It’s something that you do every day. It’s not an event that occurs once in a blue moon. Romance means showing the person you love how much you truly love them.
Thoba: Love is a verb based on actions not just a feeling. Feelings, like happiness, will fluctuate day by day. But real love is based on our vows of commitment that we made on 7 March 2013 at Randburg Home Affairs. “For better or for worse” – when it feels good and when it doesn’t. It’s remembering that when the world is against me, my husband is there for me.
How do you keep the spark between you two alive?
Tshepo: By being innovative and trying out new things. It’s all about creating adventure and hype in the relationship. We also go away on romantic getaways every couple of months to get away from city life, like we did last year when we went to a nature reserve in the North West Province.
Are you still planning to have kids? When do you see that happening?
Tshepo: Yes, we are! In the next couple of years.
Will you adopt or use a surrogate?
Thoba: We’re planning to have two babies through surrogacy.
Do you think that gay relationships are harder to maintain than straight ones?
Tshepo: Relationships are the same whether you are gay or straight. The challenges are universal. But the major challenge you have when you are gay is that you’re fighting against society, norms and laws in certain countries which can make it very difficult to have a successful relationship.
Thoba: I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been in a serious relationship with a woman. I believe in life there’s no perfect relationship. From my perspective, the hardest things are issues of commitment and trust in gay society. It takes perseverance, being optimistic, true to oneself and loving unconditionally at all times. Whenever I’m angry with my husband, I remind myself: “My life will always be better with him than without him.”
Any relationship tips or advice you can share with us?
Thoba: Communicate clearly, honestly and frequently. Talking to each other is one of the main tools we use to connect with each other. When we extend ourselves and let each other know who we are, what we need and how we feel, we open the doors to greater intimacy.
“He is still the love of my life…”
What you focus your attention on grows. Say “thank you,” offer a hug, pay your partner a compliment — anything that communicates you acknowledge and value how important they are to you and that you appreciate them.
The grass is greenest where you water it, so you need to resist the “grass is greener on the other side” myth – that someone else will make me happy. You need to learn to invest your energy into making your relationship or marriage better. Don’t give up when you hit a bump but work it through.
And don’t hold grudges, don’t be bitter. Talk things through, be open to change, be best friends, support each other, and work together. Make time as a couple; date nights, weekend getaways… time alone is crucial.
One thing I finally learned and I’m still working on is that I can’t change my hubby to my way of thinking. Nor should I expect him to think like me. I married him because he was totally opposite. And he is still the love of my life.