Kagiso Morapedi and Gaone Mokoto became the second deaf couple to be married in Botswana.
Their marriage was solemonied at the Baptist International Outreach Church in Ramotswa.
Kagiso Morapedi was not trying to prove any point when he married his sweetheart, Gaone Mokoto, over the weekend. He did, nonetheless.
The man is deaf. And so is his wife. But last Saturday, the couple took their vows. From a distance, the wedding at the church and the subsequent photo-shoot and celebration at home looked no different from any other. In the church, the bride and the groom sat facing the altar from where Pastor Yohannes Getaneh of Baptist International Outreach delivered his sermon. A young man stood at the pastor's right side, interpreting for the native guests who do not speak English. But to his left stood Mimi Dykes who, like the preacher, is a missionary to the Deaf. Her furious 'pantomime' on cue to the preacher clearly indicated that this service was not for an ordinary wedding.
In this church service, most people in the congregation have their attention fixed, not on the preacher, but on Dykes. This is because with the exception of a few family members, most of the people here are fellow worshippers of the wedding couple. And they are deaf! Even the brightly dressed bridesmaids and the confident men of honour are deaf.
As Pastor Getaneh declares, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh," and exhorts the couple to love and cherish each other, there is a sudden flurry of hands and waving across the church hall. These are the silent cheers of the deaf as they respond to the exhortation of the priest. But hearing mothers, too, burst into ululations.
The pastor exhorts the couple to learn and master four basic principles for a working marriage. "You must learn to say 'I am sorry', 'It is my fault', 'Please forgive me' and 'I love you,'" says Getaneh, once again prompting that flurry of hands and the ululations. The husband must know that he no longer belongs to himself but to his wife and the wife to the husband. As Pastor Getaneh wraps up his sermon, the couple's pastor, Emelang Moikotlhai, takes up his place at the altar to administer the vows. Moruti Moikotlhai is also deaf. Infact, he is the man who set the record of deaf history in Botswana when he married his deaf wife 10 years ago. Today, the two have two beautiful hearing children, the older of whom is fluent in Setswana, Sign Language and English.
First Moikotlhai signals for Getaneh to join him at the lectern to bless the couple. The blessing is itself a sombre affair conducted in sign language. The bride and the groom must therefore keep their eyes open, as must those in attendance, if they should follow the supplications and benedictions unto the Lord. Pastor Getaneh takes a minute to talk to the couple in sign language before they take their vows. It is the second time that he has officiated at a deaf wedding in Botswana, the first having been at the time Moikotlhai got married 10 years ago.
Infact, he trained Moikotlhai at his school in Zambia, where he is based.
Outside Botswana, the man has much experience dealing with the deaf. In Zambia alone, he has seen and officiated at many such weddings. With 122 deaf churches, some of them attracting as many as 500 deaf members, Zambia has had many deaf weddings.
As a hearing guest bursts forth with the song, "Re a Mo leboga Modimo wa rona..." the deaf pick up cue from a hearing member who speaks sign and sing along. From the look on their faces, you cannot mistake their truly thankful attitude even as they express it in sign language.
Then the big moment. No one has come forward to give reason why the marriage cannot continue. And the couple knows no reason why the marriage cannot continue. Kagiso takes his vows. He promises to keep and to cherish his wife. To endure life's hardships and successes that it throws at them. His bride Gaone does the same. All in Sign Language. The church reverberates with ululations as new husband and wife wrap their rings around each other's fingers. Kagiso then kisses his bride before the two proceed to light a big candle at the centre of the altar with the flame from their little candles. Pastor Moikotlhai explains that the big candle represents the union of the two.
Suddenly there is the sound of Celine Dion's From This Moment On. The couple takes up the lyrics in Sign Laguage:
"From this moment life has begun
From this moment you are the one
Right beside you is where I belong
From this moment on...."
The emotion sweeping the couple and many in the church is palpable. "I am just so excited. Our marriage shows that this country is developing if the law appreciates that deaf people can marry each other. I very much appreciate the support that my family gave me. Today I am sitting next to my wife. I believe that it was God's plan for us to marry. For she was first my friend, then my fianc, now she is my wife," says Morapedi outside church after the ceremony. His wife enthuses, her gaze upon her man: "We are the second deaf couple to wed in this country. I am blessed."