A funeral, a wedding and Madiba magic

From Qunu to Robben Island, this is a love story sparked by Madiba magic.

EWN reporter Renee de Villiers and her husband-to-be Stuart Graham. Picture: EWN.

CAPE TOWN - A tall dark stranger walks over to me and his face breaks into a smile as he approaches. The Mthatha winter sun is baking down as we wait for the court to open, for a brief moment when our eyes connect it feels like we're the only two people there, despite the crowds of reporters and photographers around us.

He introduces himself as Stuart Graham, a journalist writing for Sapa. He asks me whether he's missed anything at court. We talk about the case which threatens to tear the Mandela family apart, as Mandla Mandela's relatives take him to court claiming he illegally exhumed the remains of three of Madiba's children from a burial place in Qunu and moved them to Mandla's homestead in Mvezo.

We first meet in June 2013 when we're both sent to cover stories around Madiba's family, his hometown of Qunu and his birthplace of Mvezo. Bumping into each other rarely during the day, we would see each other across tables at restaurants surrounded by journalist colleagues for dinners at Ebony Lodge - they have the best steaks in Mthatha - at Mike's Kitchen and the Country Club.

After a few weeks stationed in the Eastern Cape we were both sent back home to Cape Town and besides a Facebook friendship we would not meet again until after 5 December, the fateful day of Madiba's passing.

My colleague and I arrive a day after the news of Madiba's death breaks. The following evening at Mike's Kitchen Stuart and a BBC reporter stroll over to our table and join us. From then on for the following 10 days we would keep in touch regularly, letting each other know about the goings on in Mthatha. Gradually our conversations move from Mthata to our lives in Cape Town, to what we want to do, things we love doing and then we start talking about things we could do together, like swimming in our favourite mountain streams, our favourite hikes. I start looking forward to seeing him, and we start meeting up for early morning coffees before we go off to work.

One night at the Country Club Stuart asks whether we can go on a date when we get back to Cape Town. I don't answer, but I blush and can't wait to meet up with him when we're back.

After the funeral we greet each other and promise to make a plan to see each other again. We meet for a first date on Friday evening. He picks me up and we don't stop talking until the early sun rises on Saturday. We haven't left each other's side since.

During a week-long holiday on a De Rust farm, we decide to elope.

Back in Cape Town we go to Home Affairs and the lady helping us suggests we request to get married on Robben Island from a Mrs Booysen upstairs in the Marriage Room. The idea seems perfect in light of where we met for the first time. We exchange glances and a nod.

People can only get married once a year on Valentine's Day at Robben Island. Mrs Booysen says it's booked out. We ask her to let us know if a couple cancels and she says that not once in her 14 years of working at Home Affairs has a couple ever cancelled. We leave disappointed, but with an appointment booked to get hitched at the Home Affairs offices nonetheless.

The following day Stuart gets a call. It's from Mrs Booysen. Someone has cancelled and we can get married on Robben Island. We're elated.

After a few failed relationships and non-starters I didn't think it would be possible to feel this way about someone, to care this much. I had forgotten what it felt like to fall in love. I'm not sure how these things work, but I'm grateful and indebted to Mthatha, Madiba and the story around Qunu and Mvezo for meeting the man I hope to spend the rest of my life with.