Four makotis from different cultures tell us about their festive season duties

PHOTO: Gallo/Getty Images
PHOTO: Gallo/Getty Images

The festive season is upon us and while some people will be living their best holiday lives, others will spend time with their loved ones, friends and family – and what better way to do that than with celebrations and get-togethers?

 But with every celebration comes a lot of preparation and hard work, in addition to daily household duties. Whether it’s buying groceries or making sure the garden is neat and tidy, everyone in the family has a role to play, even though the spotlight is usually on the makotis.

 According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “makoti” means bride, newlywed or daughter-in-law. Although the word originated in the Zulu culture it’s widely used in South Africa.

DRUM asked four makotis from different cultures to tell us about their duties when visiting in-laws.



Namhla Nkonki (Xhosa bride)

“If it’s not a wedding or a funeral but just a random visit to the in-laws, a makoti has certain duties:

& My husband and I have our own flat within the yard so on arrival, after greeting the in-laws, I’d go and clean the flat since no one lives there.

& Due to work pressures we usually arrive there at around 6 or 7pm, which means supper might have been served already. We buy supper in East London before departing.

& I also always take along things like tea, coffee, juice and breakfast and lunch ingredients, depending on our stay, so I can prepare meals when we’re there.”


Adeline Livhuwani Moila (Venda bride)

“In the Venda culture, during your first visit to your husband’s home you’re not allowed to speak to your father-in-law or cook or dish up for him before he’s paid a certain amount to ‘buy your mouth’.


Once he ‘buys your mouth’, you may now speak to him and give him food by kneeling down as a sign to show respect. You do this with every elder. You don’t hold a water dish for them to wash their hands in, you put everything next to them. They won’t eat until you lotsha (which means to lie down, put your hands together and say ‘aaah’ – a sign that they can now eat their food).

“Also, in the morning you should be the first to wake up and prepare the fire and boil water for them to bath in if there isn’t a stove, and then cook warm food for ratswale (father-in-law) and mamazala (mother-in-law) and the grannies. They eat fresh pap in the morning, fresh pap for lunch and fresh pap for supper, until they tell you that you can give them older pap.


“After that you’d start sweeping the yard and cleaning. After they’d taught you the basics they leave you to do everything alone. These duties are similar to those of Pedi and Tsonga brides.”


Zimbili Nkoane (Zulu bride married to a Tswana man)


“My duties are to get up early in the morning and make tea and breakfast for my in-laws. At times I’m required to prepare lunch and supper. I also help clean around the house if there’s no one around to do it. My duties are light and things I’m used to doing at my own house.


“I’m required to attend family gatherings and weddings but I do so as a guest. Fortunately for me, my in-laws don’t require me to cook from those big pots and to participate in all the work during those events.


They just require me to make tea for them, which is very different from the Zulu culture where I’d be required to cook from those big pots and help wherever I could.


“With the Tswana people, the older women in the family are the ones who cook and cater for everyone, while the young brides just make tea for everyone.”


Nthabiseng Gamede (Tsonga married to Tswana man)

“When visiting my in-laws I’m supposed to wake up and clean the yard with a broom because it’s in a rural area.


After that I clean the house and start preparing tea for the elders. But luckily for me, my in-laws aren’t strict about that and they don’t instruct me what to do, I just fill in the missing spaces and see what I can do."



Namhla Nkonki (Xhosa bride)

“Before I got married my family had a gathering with the elders and close family friends to ‘prepare me’ for the new path I was about to take. I was told the do’s and don’ts of how I should carry myself. In isiXhosa it’s called ‘ukuyalwa’.


“The concern generally was that I was marrying into a family that lives in a rural area, deeply rooted in rural culture and with a ‘rural’ way of doing things. For instance, how you talk and dress and address elders in urban areas is completely different to how it’s done in rural areas.


You’re not allowed to show your legs, your traditional dresses or skirts should be just above the knees, you shouldn’t wear anything sleeveless that shows your arms. Till this day I wear a top or jersey that’s long-sleeved.


“Fortunately, when I arrived there for the first time every person was helpful. The village women would tell me things like a makoti isn’t allowed to eat while standing, when and how you have to prepare the fire for cooking, that you don’t completely go down but bend over . . . things like that.


“The family mothers (elderly makotis) were also helpful in terms of advising how to prepare the fire, the procedure in terms of the time to wake up, when (exact times) to prepare tea and soft porridge, and so on.


“My husband’s late grandmother was very particular in terms of how she wanted her tea leaves to be prepared, how it should be made, the measurement of the tea leaves and the water and the milk and so on. It was very hectic . . . I must say I’ve never spent days and weeks in a rural village unless we were attending a function.”


Adeline Livhuwani Moila (Venda bride)

“Yes there is – my sister in-law told me what to do and how to do it. The sister-in-law is responsible for teaching you these duties.”


Zimbili Nkoana (Zulu bride married to Tswana man)

“Yes. Although we haven’t had our white wedding yet my in-laws have told me what I need to do around the house.”


Nthabiseng Gamede (Tsonga bride married to Tswana man)

“Yes. My mother was the one who told me what I need to do when I visit my in-laws.”





Namhla Nkonki (Xhosa bride)

“Five years, one month and a few days now.”


Adeline Livhuwani Moila (Venda bride)

“I’ve been married for 27 years.”


Zimbili Nkoana (Zulu bride married to Tswana man)

“I’m newlywed. We got married in September this year.”


Nthabiseng Gamede (Tsonga bride married to Tswana man)

“I’ve been married for six years”





Namhla Nkonki (Xhosa bride)

“During the festive season and family gatherings duties would become hectic, especially when uMakhulu was still alive. The family is very large and a lot of family members would be home visiting uMakhulu. The village people would also be there to spend time with her, so there’d always be visitors.

“This then meant that as a makoti, you’re in the kitchen the whole day ensuring they get food and refreshments. I also used to either bake muffins or buy scones for when visitors arrive – it would make it easier to serve them.

“Since her passing things haven’t been that hectic. It would normally be busy when there are family gatherings as a result of a wedding or funeral, where I’d have to cater for large numbers of guests, but with the help of family members and others.”


Adeline Livhuwani Moila (Venda bride)


“Duties don’t change that much during the festive season. Yes, you’ll do the same duties every time you visit if you’re the only makoti. If you’re not all the makotis will do the same, but the youngest makoti will do more duties than the others.”

Zimbili Nkoane (Zulu bride married to Tswana man)


“The only thing that changes during the festive season is the cooking. My in-laws don’t really like fancy food or seven colours. I’ll be required to make those only on Sundays but on other days they just like pap and braai meat and gravy. During family gatherings I’m still only required to make tea and assist where I can.”


Nthabiseng Gamede (Tsonga bride married to Tswana man)


“Yes, my duties change during family gatherings and the festive season because extended relatives can be bossy and they always want to tell me what to do.”





Namhla Nkonki (Xhosa bride)


“There are two elderly makotis, both of whom we call Mother, and they assist and advise on how duties should be executed. There’s one after me and we share our duties.”


Adeline Livhuwani Moila (Venda bride)


“The youngest makoti will respect the eldest makoti by doing everything for her the same way you do for your in-laws. The eldest makoti will guide you but at the same time act as an in-law. You don’t eat next to your father-in-law to show respect.”


Zimbili Nkoane (Zulu bride married to Tswana man)


“There are only two makotis in the family for now so we just help each other out. If we need to cook, we’ll just go to the kitchen then discuss what will be eaten on that day and then cook together.”


Nthabiseng Gamede (Tsonga bride married to Tswana man)

“I’m not really sure because I’m the first and only makoti.”

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