2013-05-05 14:00

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SA’s wedding of the century unfolded in all its pomp despite the controversy

It was truly South Africa’s wedding of the century.

Everyone who is anyone was there, from five Cabinet ministers and three first ladies, to two deputy ministers and a handful of tycoons.

But after the furore that broke out over the guests’ controversial arrival for the lavish nuptials of 23-year-old Vega Gupta and her groom, Aakash Jahajgarhia (24), they probably have a few regrets.

Some ministers tried to keep away from the cameras.

These included Public ­Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, who is said to be friendly with the powerful Gupta family, and Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor.

They didn’t attend Wednesday’s ring-exchange ceremony at Sun City’s Valley of Waves, or Thursday night’s lavish Bollywood extravaganza-style reception at the Superbowl Arena.

But Free State Premier Ace Magashule – who was the first politician to turn up on Tuesday at the lavish three-day ­wedding – appeared not to care about the political storm raging outside the plush five-star resort.

On Wednesday, he was dressed in a knee-length dark-blue jacket and smart black trousers, and he and his female partner shook hands and made small talk with Indian guests at the ring-exchange ceremony. The inland Valley of Waves beach, which usually rakes in R480 000 a day, was exclusively reserved for the Guptas’ use.

Before the ceremony, the guests, who numbered in the hundreds, were given gifts of cream-coloured cowboy-style hats and leather wallets.

They were treated to foot and thigh massages by a team of Chinese massage therapists.

The wedding guests also received a complimentary copy of The New Age newspaper, which the Gupta family owns, every day.

On Wednesday afternoon, few of the South African guests stuck around to witness the entire ring-exchange ceremony, during which the bride and groom performed Hindu rituals and Jahajgarhia sang for his new wife.

Traditional South African dancers and a professional dance troupe provided the entertainment.

There were a few important guests who watched it all.

President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane arrived with former Miss SA Tatum Ke­shwar on his arm.

They appeared very much in love, holding hands throughout the ceremony. Duduzane, a business partner of the Guptas, was smartly turned out in a blue shirt and he waved at the guests, while a smiling Keshwar looked gorgeous in a yellow sundress.

The pair was followed by IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who, dressed in a dark-pink Nehru suit, chatted to ­KwaZulu-Natal tycoon and Zuma benefactor Vivian Reddy.

Former minister in the presidency Essop Pahad walked around chatting to guests, while controversial SABC acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng looked like a fish out of water on the sidelines. He and his stylish partner stood apart from former SABC board chairman Ben Ngubane.

An exhausted-looking Khulubuse ­Zuma, the president’s nephew, attended with a woman he introduced as his wife.

She wore a traditional Indian shalwar kameez outfit in blue with detailed gold embroidery. Khulubuse tucked into two platters of traditional Indian vegetarian dishes, which included kadhi, bread rolls and fried potatoes.

For dessert, he ­enjoyed a fruit salad with watermelon, sweet melon and grapes.

A short distance away in the makeshift kitchen, which was staffed by 130 chefs the family brought in from India, a fire broke out, causing a stampede.

Guests screamed and scattered as a chef ­sustained minor burns. The flames were put out by Sun City staffers wielding fire extinguishers.

And the wedding went on.

Local staff later decried the “chaos” in the kitchen. Sun City didn’t supply the wedding party with any food or drink.

The chefs, who hailed mainly from India and Bangladesh, stayed at the resort’s time-share Vacation Club section. They were joined by 65 additional butlers, mostly white and Afrikaans speaking, who had been brought in to serve guests.

On Thursday morning, the guests ­assembled at the pool deck, where the couple exchanged vows.

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, wearing an orange ensemble and flanked by bodyguards, arrived after Deputy Minister in the Presidency Obed Bapela. A traditionally dressed first lady, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, was seen alongside them.

Staff later said that another two first ladies, including Tobeka Madiba-Zuma, attended the wedding, but none of them stayed at the five-star Palace of the Lost City. Instead, three rooms had been booked for them at the resort’s nearby five-star Cascades Hotel.

Joining the guests at the opulent reception at the Superbowl on Thursday evening were former government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi and businesswoman Basetsana Kumalo.

Despite allegations of racism levelled by Cosatu on Friday, the local staff said the guests were friendly.

One, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the only trouble he had was the guests’ frequent requests for discounts.

“They would ask: ‘How much is a bottle of water? Is this complimentary?’ When we told them to pay, they asked for a discount,” he said, adding that some also demanded discounts on hot-air ­balloon rides.

“The hot-air balloon ride is R3 000. They would say: ‘My friend, give me a ­discount. I will sort you out.’”

Two other staff members were disappointed that the handsome tips they were expecting did not materialise.

“We got no tips from them. (The guests) were just okay. They were not great,” one said.

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