It took 23 years for this prisoner to be allowed to get married: The tragic Robben Island love story you've probably never heard of

Flower petals falling on  newlyweds, an illustration
Flower petals falling on newlyweds, an illustration

Mass weddings are a growing trend, and we think love is even better when shared. Robben Island will be hosting a mass wedding for 19 couples at the historic venue to mark the 20th year since this unique tradition started.

The event is a partnership between the Robben Island Museum (RIM) and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). 

Before we celebrate this year's weddings, there is one love story from childhood sweethearts, Irene and Wilton Mkwayi that's worth sharing.

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Wilton was imprisoned in 1965 on Robben Island and convicted of sabotage. He was prisoner 259/65 (prisoner number 259 in 1965) and sentenced to life in prison. 

While Wilton was in prison he requested permission to marry Irene from authorities but his request was denied. 

Wilton had written a letter to her expressing his disappointment about his request being declined by authorities. 

Robben Island Museum wedding

Image supplied by Robben Island Museum

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After 23 years of frustration, begging, and pleading, he was finally granted permission to marry Irene.

On the big day, Wilton was transported to Pollsmoor Prison for the ceremony. Irene wore a white dress and a yellow hat while the groom wore a dark suit. 

Anglican Bishop Patrick Matolengwe conducted the ceremony, and among the witnesses who attended the wedding was Irene's sister, Mavis Ngwane, and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who blessed the wedding rings before they were exchanged.

After the service, Wilton was taken back to Robben Island by motorboat. 

Robben Island Museum wedding

Image supplied by Robben Island Museum

Unfortunately, only two years after getting married, Irene passed on. Sadly she never got to live with her husband as he was released in 1989, two years after she had passed. The bride was 63 at the time she got married while the groom was 74.

Sources: AP News, Robben Island Museum (RIM)

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