"We really wanted the day to be an authentic African celebration, strongly reflecting our respective heritages," says bride Sandiswa Sotashe of her wedding to Kwabena Shange. She, a South African woman from the Xhosa tribe, and he, Jamaican, it was important for the couple to blend their cultures into a meaningful, one-of-a-kind nuptials. Although she admits, "It ended up being heavy on the side of Xhosa symbolism, to be honest, but Kwabena loved and appreciated it."
They first met at a mutual friend's party in 2009 (although didn't exchange numbers until several months later!) and in November 2017, Kwabena proposed moments before a John Legend concert ("That night was the most beautiful we’ve ever heard John Legend sing," she says). With a ring finally on Sandiswa's finger, the couple began making wedding plans, with the first step to secure a venue. As it turned out, the venue search was the easiest task for the pair as Die Woud, a woodland wedding venue just outside of Cape Town, South Africa, was perfect. "When we visited Die Woud, we immediately knew we found our perfect backdrop and confidently called off the search."
From there, Sandiswa and Kwabena's wedding theme took form: "a festive African party characterized by singing, music, dancing, food, and drinking," adding, "we requested guests to pitch up in their favorite African garb." And, wedding formalities were kept to a minimum—that meant a unique processional, no first dance, and more!
Ahead, see more of Sandiswa and Kwabena's Xhosa wedding, which they planned themselves (think lots of DIY!) and had Thunder & Love photograph.
"I wanted a Xhosa wedding dress with a more modern design and silhouette," says Sandiswa, revealing she took her time dress shopping. The ultimate winner was an off-white Duchesse satin creation by Asanda Madyibi with Xhosa beading and black stripes.
She accessorized with a Xhosa headwrap and blue beaded jewelry.
Kwabena's outfit—a wrap skirt, traditional scarf, and beads—was much more authentic compared to the bride's. His look was even made of Umbaco, a classic Xhosa fabric.
But unlike traditional Western weddings, guests didn't arrive before the bride, rather they escorted her from the parking lot to the ceremony space in an exuberant fashion. "In typical African style, they sang and danced me down the aisle," explains Sandiswa, who was joined by her mother, brothers, aunts, uncles, distant relatives, and friends for the processional.
I remember seeing so many joyful faces, some of them I didn’t even recognize, and thinking, 'Oh wow, everyone is so happy! I think I can relax now.'
She recalls, "The singing, dancing, and the African drums started as we made our way to the ceremony. On the way, the group kept growing and the singing got louder as we were joined by so many of the guests. I remember seeing so many joyful faces, some of them I didn’t even recognize, and thinking, 'Oh wow, everyone is so happy! I think I can relax now.'"
Guests were welcomed to the ceremony with a wooden sign outlining the festivities to come. Although Sandiswa later admits the "exact sequence of things" didn't go according to plan. "The fluidity turned out to be what actually defined our day and made it so memorable!"
"We took advantage of the fact that the setting in its un-accessorized form is already so breathtaking," shares Sandiswa of the forest venue. Letting the natural beauty speak for itself, the couple kept ceremony décor simple, scattering dried leaves down the aisle, marking wooden benches with red arrangements, and accenting the wooden arch with warm-toned flowers.
While Sandiswa and Kwabena legally wed the day before, the groom's uncle flew in from the United Kingdom to officiate the symbolic ceremony.
I remember all three of us being slightly nervous during the vow exchange. It was a really sweet moment, and I appreciated the vulnerability we all showed.
"I remember all three of us being slightly nervous during the vow exchange. It was a really sweet moment, and I appreciated the vulnerability we all showed," recalls the bride, revealing that they shared personal vows at the altar.
The couple planned to honeymoon on their first anniversary in May 2020, which as Sandiswa explains, "fell smack-bang in the middle of the COVID-19 restrictions." So, the couple still has a week in Bali to look forward to!
Just like they began the ceremony, the newlyweds recessed to a traditional Xhosa wedding song as guests danced in the aisle.
Kwabena and I have very different approaches to project planning...We did have a whole lot of fun though, and we had plenty of laughs!
"Kwabena and I have very different approaches to project planning. He’s always ready to whip up a super detailed spreadsheet, whereas I go through life with the help of loosely constructed mind notes and 'back of the hand' scribbles," admits Sandiswa of wedding planning. "We did have a whole lot of fun though, and we had plenty of laughs!"
"We had kind of thrown all the elements that we loved into the makeup of the day: live band, African signing, and dancing, marimbas," she adds. As the ceremony ended and guests made their way to the reception, the African band continued to play.
The reception was held inside a glass building—one of the couple's favorite nuances of the venue—and much like the ceremony, the décor was minimal. Sandiswa and Kwabene decorated the space with the help of family and friends, saying, "It didn’t quite turn out like our Pinterest vision board but we were super proud of the result!"
Her cousin, who happens to own an event company, created arrangements of pink, red, and white flowers for the table centerpieces.
"[The day] completely took a life of its own with the guests deciding to start the 'party' and the dancing even before the reception officially kicked off," remembers the bride. "We ended up sitting down for the main meal about two hours later than initially planned, and by then the mood was already so incredibly jovial and festive, with people breaking into song and dance at the slightest provocation."
When guests finally did sit down for the meal, they were served an array of traditional African delicacies like flame-grilled corn on the cob to start, umngqusho (a classic dish of samp beans), and meat stews and vegetables.
Sandiswa and Khabena didn't have a first dance and instead danced with African singers, as well as their guests. The bride's brother also hired a live band to play later in the evening. She recalls, "[They] played an amazing selection of popular afro-pop hits that had everyone on their feet."
"For both of us, it was just watching everything coming together so beautifully on the day," reflects the couple on their favorite wedding memory. As for wedding planning advice? Sandiswa leaves couples with this: "Remember, the day will be beautiful even without the frills that you thought you had to absolutely have...so don’t stress. And you’ll never regret getting a really good photographer—ever!"
Venue Die Woud
Bridal Gown Asanda Madyibi
Shoes Kat Maconie
Makeup La Makeup Artistry
Mother of the Bride's Dress Artisanal Xhosa clothing makers in the Eastern Cape
Groom’s Attire Artisanal Xhosa clothing makers in the Eastern Cape
Engagement Ring Dear Rae Jewellery
Wedding Bands Dear Rae Jewellery
Floral Design Flowers for Africa, arranged by Bukhosini Events
Ceremony Music Shosholoza African Dancers
Reception Music Owethu Ndwandwe Music
Catering Die Woud
Cake Sugar Studio
Photography Thunder & Love Wedding Photography