They are best friends who even finish each other’s sentences. Their story has left South Africans in awe and given hope to those who had given up on love. The couple have gone through a lot and are still standing.
Which is why Msimelelo (37) and Somikazi (32) Boltina have started sharing their story on their YouTube channel, Interabling in Love. And everyone is watching.
Msi has seen his fair share of tragedy. When he was six years old, he got trapped in a fire that left him with burn wounds on his face, arms and legs. “I grew up looking different. I was ostracised and teased. When I walked to school, I endured being laughed at and pointed at. It was hard,” Msi says.
His parents would not let him wallow in misery and instead instilled in him resilience and self-reliance. “I would cry but my parents would insist that I go out in the streets. I am grateful for them,” he adds.
“The more I was teased, the more I got used to it. I was fortunate that I found a happy place in my studies. I got good grades and with time, the stigma shifted from the burnt boy to clever burnt boy to clever boy. I would laugh back and that would somehow diffuse the joke,” he says.
Msi was unstoppable. After high school, he enrolled for a BCom accounting degree at Rhodes University, which he completed at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. Then he was in a car crash in 2009. His spine was injured and he’s been wheelchair-bound since.
But that didn’t stop his dreams. After the crash, he studied for an honours BCom in internal auditing and a postgraduate certificate in forensic and investigative auditing. Msi now works as a forensic auditor and Somi quit lecturing to be a full-time mother for their son, Kungentando.
FRIENDSHIP AND TRAGEDY
The couple met in 2005 in a taxi. They clicked and chatted like they’d known each other for years. Msi was on his way home from work and Somi was still in high school. They did not know each other but had seen one another around where they grew up in Sherwood, PE.
The conversation was so seamless that they exchanged numbers and became good friends over time. They laugh about it today but the drama that came with that friendship was a lot. As their friendship grew, Msi wanted more but Somi was in a relationship. A frustrated Msi ended up breaking off the friendship because he was not getting what he’d hoped for.
“I don’t want to lie, that ‘break-up’ hurt me,” Somi admits. They didn’t talk for months. Then came Msi’s life-changing crash. “When I heard about the accident, I wanted to see him so bad but it was strict [at the hospital], and the family did not know me. It was so torturous, I don’t know how I survived that time. That is when I knew he was the person for me.
I remember praying and asking God to preserve him. And if he makes it out of hospital, I will go to him and tell him how I feel,” Somi says. Msi was in hospital for five months. He spent weeks in rehabilitation, learning how to use a wheelchair and getting used to his new body.
“I battled to lift my arms to feed myself for months, I had to teach myself how to eat,” he says. And he did. Somi didn’t give up on being able to see him and visited him once he was discharged. When she got to his home, all anxiety subsided and they caught up like best friends.
Love bloomed while Msi was in recovery. In 2010, they decided to make things official. After months of mending their friendship, they decided to date. Four years later they got married. They still remember the day.
Over 300 guests came to the wedding, including some who were not invited and just showed up to see if she was really marrying someone in a wheelchair. “The day was a big deal, it was a white wedding and I was the first at home to wear the white gown. My father walked me down the aisle.”
Msi and Somi laugh about everything and it has kept them together even at the most challenging of times. They share the example of the time Msi wanted to propose. He organised a candlelit dinner but had no idea how he would ask for her hand in marriage because of the injuries on his hands.
“I bought a ring but I was so stressed, I didn’t know how to take out the ring from my pocket because my hands were not functional. Imagine if the ring fell and she would have to pick it up. I was so nervous I did not eat much. I was sweating,” Msi explains.
Somi was having the time of her life, eating what was on offer at the buffet dinner. As she went to get her dessert, Msi knew he had to make his move.
“I had to dig really deep and got it on the table. Luckily, it landed exactly where I needed it to. Then, she started tearing up and attracting unnecessary attention,” he jokes. “He is the romantic type. But I don’t know when last I got a chocolate, though,” Somi says laughing.
“If we don’t laugh at ourselves, we would be in a mental institution. We go through a lot together, but we have learnt to laugh.”
A DECADE OF LOVE
It has been six years since they got married and 10 years since they started dating. “We share everything, secrecy has no space in our marriage, and we have each other’s backs,” Somi says.
Before they were boyfriend and girlfriend, they were best friends. The couple say that has influenced their love. Msi and Somi say they do have their challenges, but they’ve learnt to be protective of what goes on in their relationship by relying on each other through it all.
They’ve had fertility issues too, but they didn’t let it get in their way either. They decided to adopt Kungentando. It’s been a beautiful journey that they went through with his biological mother. Now he’s almost one and they admit he’s a handful but they’re enjoying parenthood. “We hope to have more children,” Somi says.
WRITING IT DOWN
Msi is in the process of releasing his book, Baptised in Fire, which he started writing while in rehabilitation in 2009.
“It is a book about my story of recovery, the journey and tools I have used throughout my life,” he says. The book launches this month. “I wear my scars very proudly. I took what happened and chose to turn it into a positive. The catastrophic thing that happened was probably meant to refine me and make me better. It channelled me.
“When you are in a situation that looks dire, you need to tell yourself, ‘I need to get out of this situation’, only then after you have made that conscious decision can you break it down and think about what version of yourself are you seeing at the end, that is going to get you out of where you are.”