Worry sits heavily on MaKhuzwayo’s face as she looks at her son, Bhekani.
“Bhekani, please listen to me, my son. You can’t refuse to marry the king’s daughter. Your marriage was talked about when you were just babies. This relationship between our families came about because we agreed that you would marry Princess Thobile,” she says to him.
“Mama, I won’t get married to Princess Thobile. I don’t love her and she is not the type of person that I would love,” says Bhekani, shaking his head.
“Bhekani, love between two people grows over time. Do you know that when I married your father he was so shy he couldn’t even look me in the eyes? But as time went on love grew. Ours blossomed into a true love.”
“Mama, please look at the times we are living in now. What you went through back then does not apply to our times.”
“What kind of a person are you, Bhekani? Every man your age in this valley wants to marry Princess Thobile.”
“They want to marry Thobile, Mama, not me,” says Bhekani rising to his feet.
“Have you set your eyes on another woman?”
Bhekani shakes his head in frustration and jumps up. “Mama, please excuse me. Maybe you’ll understand my point of view by the time I get back.”
He runs out, accidentally pushing over an empty pot on his way out.
“Bhekani has become very rude!” MaKhuzwayo sighs to herself, righting the pot.
Ever since he was a child, Bhekani always heard older people in his family saying that he would marry the king’s daughter, Princess Thobile. And it’s true what his mother said. All the young men in the kingdom want to marry Princess Thobile. Young men from other kingdoms travel long journeys for many days, sleeping on mountains and in valleys under open skies, just for an audience with the king of the Ntuli clan. They come bearing gifts so they can be in good favour with the king because they want to marry Princess Thobile.
The king tells men who want to marry his daughter that she will marry the man who will fight and kill the strongest bull in his kraal. And that is a tall order – frankly impossible – because this bull is mad, as the king well knows. But he doesn’t want people to know that an arrangement was made a long time ago with the Dladla family.
All the young women in the kingdom shun Princess Thobile. Why should all the young men propose marriage to her and not them? The young men from the area and from far and wide swoon for Thobile and no one else.
The king of the Ntuli clan has four wives. Princess Thobile’s mother is his first wife, Queen MaNgema. Even though Princess Thobile is not the oldest child, she is the king’s favourite. And so that sets the other wives against her as well. They envy the love the king lavishes on her. It doesn’t help that all the king’s guests have eyes only for Princess Thobile. Even when the king parades his other daughters for his guests, it becomes evident that they have no interest in them.
And so, the beloved Princess Thobile doesn’t have a single friend in the world except for loneliness. Even her half-sister, Princess Thembelihle, born of the king’s youngest wife, Queen MaNdlela, envies and shuns her.
Whenever the other wives get together they complain about Princess Thobile being the king’s favourite. Her mom, Queen MaNgema, doesn’t utter a word whenever the other wives voice their displeasure. Queen MaNgema has a cool demeanour, admired by the king, and he discusses issues of the kingdom with only her. His other wives love conflict and they are liars.
Tell us: Do you think Princess Thobile is to be envied or pitied? Why?