Our relationship is based on companionship - Andile Ramaphosa and Bridget Birungi

Generally, marriage and relationship researchers suggest that the goal of couple therapy should be to change the patterns of interaction, emotional connection, and communication between the couple. PHOTO BY EDGAR R.BATTE

What you need to know:

  • Andile Ramaphosa and Bridget Birungi will hold their traditional marriage ceremony this Saturday. They speak about how they met, almost 10 years to date, the journey that started at a social function in Beijing to how farming drew them close.

When did love first make meaning to you?
Andile: We met in a foreign land. We were far from home and it was just the two of us. We learnt something very important about love, something that most people miss; love is not all about the good times, it is not only about the fun, not only about the problems but it is about the ability to compromise. So, in that regard Bridget and I have always compromised for each other and had compromise for each other in everything that we do. And that is when I realised how much I loved her. I also realised that she was my life partner, and that I had met the right girl. There is a story I tell to my friends about how to know that you have met the right girl; you measure all the problems she can bring to your life and if you think you can handle them then you are right (chuckles). She should also be able to say that any problem you bring, she can handle.

How and when did you meet?
Interesting. We met almost 10 years ago. I was in Beijing where I worked as an expert while she was finishing her studies in engineering. Then she went on to do her masters. We went on to live in South Africa. She is my best friend. She knows all my secrets, even how my feet look. (laughs)

Where exactly did you meet?
It was interesting, we were amongst friends; the expert community. Oddly enough, we met on the night before Uganda’s Independence Day where she was with her friends. Though I was new to Beijing, when I spotted this beautiful, good looking Mukiga, I thought to myself, ‘this is the one I must talk to’.

What drew you to her?
Bridget loves meeting people from different cultures and is able to assimilate with people from everywhere. That is how she has been able to live in South Africa, after China. However, what really attracted me to her is her humility and the way she carries herself; as an African woman.
One of the first things we spoke about when we first met was farming. Though she didn’t know my family farms, she asked me if I liked farming. I wondered to myself how she knew that we farm only to discover that it is something that we have in common. That even attracted me further. With love for farming, it meant that she has love for land and nature, and patience to see something grow.

You meet her at a social function, talk about farming, how do you take it to a level of nourishing her heart with love and care?
Andile: The beautiful thing was that we had a common ground and also being new to Beijing, I needed a guide. With that, I asked her if we could move around together and have some interesting time. I got to see Beijing from her. It was an opportune time.
Bridget: I had lived in Beijing longer, I had been there for four years before he came. I was still a student, by the time we met but went on to work before going for my Masters.

What was your first impression of him?
Bridget: He really made an impact; I loved the way he spoke, and how he carried himself. He was of a different calibre from the men.

How was he different, how did he carry himself?
On the night he first we met, he first spoke to my best friend, a Nepalese and made a good impression on her. She then told me that the person she had been talking to was a great good guy. So when I got to talk to him, there was nothing out of order and he had very intriguing stories.
Despite hanging out with five men, South African diplomats, he spoke to me with so much respect. He was so charming and kept me laughing the whole night.

What came to your mind when you got to know him?
When he told me his name, I didn’t know the name. He told me he was Andile Ramaphosa, and when he said Ramaphosa, I laughed. I asked him, what kind of name has ‘pho’ in Africa? Then everyone at the table gave me this stare of ‘what are you talking about?’ That was because they thought I knew him. I actually didn’t get the full perspective of his surname for some time into dating. When I met him, I met a nice, charming, humble guy.

What came to your mind when you got to know her?
Andile: Those things don’t really matter in the final analysis. You marry a person. Yes, you marry in a family. It is good to marry a person you want to spend the rest of your life with. What benefitted us is that we spent the first five years living together as experts, abroad. If she were mad at me, I had no one to run to; no mum and daddy or cousin or funny friends. With that, we got to know each other more. Most importantly, we learnt how to argue; most couple don’t know how to argue respectfully. We also learnt how to resolve each other’s problems respectfully.
The golden rule in our family is no one goes to bed upset; you don’t carry that with you into your sleep or the next day. Besides that, we pray every night for everything.

At what point did you feel Andile was speaking his way into your heart?
It was about a year into our relationship when he was so open inasmuch as there was no over promising.
Nonetheless, the moment was when his parents came to see him and he invited me as his girlfriend. I have come to appreciate that between the two of us, there are no lies in the relationship. I also love that Andile is very generous and kind-hearted. He is always giving.

You are from different culture backgrounds, how do you handle that?
Andile: What is very interesting about Uganda in terms of its relevance to South Africa, is we came from the Southern basin of the Congo and Uganda. Our languages are so similar because it is all Bantu language. She has picked up some Zulu and Kivenda language. The drum is also important to both of us. In addition to that, the items taken for Kuhingira for the girl’s family are similar to our culture.
In our relationship, we are sharing a lot that was lost in the history of Africa that was unwritten. We are not all that different as Africans.
Bridget: we have very similar upbringing; we were both raised in communities and not a nuclear setting. Everyone in the community is a mother. We are both humble people, from our upbringing. We have respect for one another.

Have you taught him how to enjoy some Ugandan delicacies and foods?
Bridget: He can tell you which Ugandan food is his favourite. I have made him groundnut sauce but it was quite foreign to him.
Andile: My favourite meal is Luwombo. I have a weakness for the chicken Luwombo. When it comes to indigenous food, you have a lot of variety over us. Most black South African societies had maize flour and cow. The fusion of food here has Asian elements.

Let us talk about the future of the couple…
Andile: Beyond being husband and wife, we are business partners owing to Bridget’s experience in China. Therefore, we do a lot of China-Africa business and she handles part of the elements. That aspect of our relationship comes with layers of complexity. Nonetheless, we have been able to manoeuvre that and we are building our future.
We are also planning to build our family and home here in Uganda and consolidate that. We know where work stops and home starts. That is the first one.
I have been promised a soccer team. We will see how that goes (laughs).
But like any couple, we are looking at building a future together and a meaningful life, not just for us but for our communities where we come from.
Bridget: We have a little baby called Ainebyona.

Can you share some tips on parenting?
Bridget: One of the best principles I have adopted with our daughter is patience and listening. With knowledge I have gathered from different media, my advice to parents is to listen to their children, once you understand your child, parenting is easier.

And what relationship advice can you share with fellow ladies?
Bridget: Respect one another. Respect is the base and foundation because without it there won’t be mutual understanding. To that, I will add the need to learn to compromise and have empathy for your spouse; what could be a no go area for you, would be for the other person.

What would you say have been your biggest challenges as a couple?
Andile: We have been through many phases so I wouldn’t say that there was one big one but many. Funny enough, out of every challenge, be it us moving in to live together, moving to South Africa, or getting to where we are together, the challenge that everyone faces is change. This I will leave for the brothers out there, the young girl you met will mature to a lady and into a mother and a grandmother and pillar of society, as a man, you have to live through the change.
As men, we tire, you need to understand that. When you are in your 20s, your focus is to be as cool as possible, in your 30s, you get some money and the important thing is your career and this affects relationships, in your 40s, you realise you are not made of gold, the six pack is gone and your dream is to have a good family. When I was going through my period of careerist, it was hard. It needed to be managed and she was able to appreciate that and I am grateful that she gave my career an opportunity to blossom.

You have spoken about music, what is your taste?
Andile: I love music and I am a fan of Ugandan music. There is a place she took me to in Beijing and they played Bread and Butter by Radio & Weasel. I play music at home and she tolerates the noise.
Bridget: He has always said he wanted Radio & Weasel to perform at our wedding.