It was bound to be a fairytale wedding - and it happily turned out so. From the moment that the media got a whiff of the marriage of Bona, daughter to President Mugabe, and Simba Chikore, excitement and speculation swirled around, culminating in the "wedding of the year" last week.Yet precious little was known of Bona's mystery man.
Grant it, he had a humble upbringing in Harare's Kambuzuma high-density suburb where he, like others, played "chikweshe" (mock football). But he has royal blood in him, which makes his marriage to the First Daughter all the more special.
Born in 1977, Simba lived an ordinary life probably watching the First Family on television and reading about them in newspapers and magazines.
Simba is the third born in a family of four boys and a girl.
His parents, Reverend Sherman and Christine Chikore, were blessed with five children - Derick (born in 1970), Kudakwashe (the only girl, was born in 1974), Simba and twins Ray and Reason, who were born in 1978.
Along the dusty Shangura Road in Section 2 of Kambuzuma in Harare, Simba, who lived at House No. 437, was one of the small boys who played chikweshe after school.
Congregants from the Zaoga Kambuzuma testify to a humble Chikore family with the father working hard to fend for his family while working as a librarian before dedicating his service to the church.
"The same values can be seen in Simba who, besides growing up very close to Kudakwashe and Ray, took the opportunity of working outside Zimbabwe to upgrade his parents' lives," said a colleague from the church.
Family sources say Simba grew up as a quiet boy who, however, excelled in sports and music.
"They formed a musical outfit called 101 Harare Drive that sang brilliantly in church from an early stage in their lives, especially after they moved from Kambuzuma to Marlborough where his father was leading one of the first congregations for Zaoga.
"They were a talented gospel outfit from the same family and that name was derived from their home address. Derick played the keyboards.
"Eventually, Derick stopped singing with the group. Simba then took over the reins, playing keyboards. Simba relocated to the United States of America in 1997 for his studies, leaving young brother Ray in charge of the group," she said.
A congregant from the Zaoga FIF Marlborough who attended Marlborough Primary School with Simba described him as a born athlete who dominated sprint events in school.
"There was a time when he was arguably the fastest athlete at Marlborough Primary School where he was also a school prefect and house captain. Simba grew up a sportsman as he was also into soccer and swimming at school."
Simba, according to close associates, went to St John's College in Emerald Hill where he excelled in sports during his six years of secondary education.
"He studied sciences at Advanced Level and was the headboy when he completed his studies in 1996 before he moved to the United States for further studies.
"Simba is a quiet person naturally and as someone who was born in a Christian family he was never into clubbing nor did he drink alcohol. The family was raised on strong Christian values and his parents dedicated their lives to serving God," another neighbour said.
People from Simba's rural home in the Chikore area of Rusape remember a quiet and disciplined music lover who turned pilot because of hard work.
Many in the area believe it was only natural that he married Bona, for he also hails from a royal family.
The Chikores are the traditional rulers of that part of the country.
Simba's uncle, Dennis Chikore, is the chief and is excited and at a loss for words with their son's achievement.
Simba has brought him closer to President Mugabe, a dream he had since they went to Tembwe in Mozambique during the liberation struggle.
He says Simba is the first in the family to score such a big achievement.
Chief Chikore says if he could, he would literally jump and touch the sky with joy.
"I want his brothers to follow suit. This boy has put the family name in the limelight. Should I take off my clothes to show how happy I am?" he says.
Back in the village, it was just one of those ordinary days when rumour had it that Simba had married Bona.
They simply could not believe it.
It was one of those rumours that circulate in Harare pushed by newspapers for sales, they concluded.
Preparations for the wedding included even for those who did not know if they would be invited.
Scrubbing feet, plaiting hair and looking for nice clothes, it was a joyous moment.
And when the invitation cards finally came, everyone wanted to go. Sadly, only a few were able to make it to Harare. Those without invitation cards with bar codes remained behind. Joy turned to sadness for some - children and adults cried that they had not been invited.
They could not understand why.
"All our children, their children, we had told of the wedding all wanted to go to Harare. They could not all come, the 'pin code' barred them. We left them crying. They all wanted to attend the wedding and see the President," said Chief Chikore's wife, Elizabeth.
On February 27, about 20 invited relatives from the village, Chief Chikore and his wife Elizabeth included, did not sleep in their homes.
In the dead of night, they made a beeline to the local shops where they put up. They feared missing the bus. That was the last thing they wanted.
The chief could not use his vehicle as his driver also did not have a "pin code".
It was a short journey to Harare down the dusty road passing through Chiendambuya. They would connect to the tarred road near Headlands.
They sang, they danced, spoke of their hopes and fears, what to expect at the wedding, among many others.
They also spoke of how if given a chance, they would love to tell Bona to help them develop their area, the road first.
It was exciting, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.
The chief's first stop was at Simba's parents' house in Marlborough.
He still could not believe this was happening.
The next day, they went to the First Family's home in Borrowdale for the wedding and took backseats waiting for proceedings to start.
It was their first time at such a big wedding.
Thousands of guests, including sitting Heads of State and former presidents from other African countries, left them speechless.
He saw President Jacob Zuma, and heard names of some presidents and prominent people he had never seen before being called out.
The décor, too, and everything that took place that day, made him happy.
It was all because of their son Simba that he experienced this.
The cake was gigantic, one they had never seen before, it was one of a kind.
The aisle was like a passage to heaven, Bona the angel.
The way aunts' names were being called out was well co-ordinated. There was respect for tradition, nothing went out of line.
"What surprised me is we thought people like us could not have a place to sit given the thousands of people who attended the wedding.
"My husband and I were worried if we would eat, get a place to sit, but we had enough food and even left some. At some weddings people end up pushing and shoving for food, there was none of that there," added Elizabeth.
Meeting the President
Besides the wedding, Chief Chikore's major highlight was meeting President Mugabe.
When he saw the President during State occasions which chiefs attend, Chief Chikore did not imagine that one day they would become in-laws.
"When I saw the President at the wedding I did not know what to do. I was excited and I hugged him. I told him I just wanted to see him since he is very special. The President humbly responded saying 'Ishe munoda kundiona kuti ndinei?' He is so humble and charismatic.
"I always admired and loved him as our President. And now he has given us a daughter-in-law. I do not know how to thank our President," said Chief Chikore.
Mrs Elizabeth Chikore said Bona was a well behaved woman, moulded by the best.
"She greeted us while kneeling. Just looking at her, you can see that she is disciplined and was brought up well. She is humble," she said.
Added the chief's wife: "We want to thank our First Lady and now in-law Mai Grace Mugabe for the splendid job she did bringing up Bona. Not many children who are brought up in well off families are well mannered. Most become naughty but Bona was the complete opposite."
She says they do not expect her to do traditional women's work like pounding and fetching water.
"We are happy that Simba got himself someone to care for him. We no longer cook, wash clothes and iron for him, his wife will cater for that," she said.
For Chief Chikore, the President's speech was spot on - it covered everything about how a woman should relate to her husband.
'Simba's cousin, Austin Chikore, did not attend the wedding but was excited.
He had every detail of what took place at the wedding.
Those who went told him and others what they saw, heard and felt.
Through the detailed information he got from those who attended, guzzlers at their local shops were also taken through the journey.
What excited him most besides the union is that their traditional leader, Chief Chikore had hugged and shaken hands with President Mugabe.
"I was happy, I heard they embraced and hugged. I will never forget that special moment our Chief had with the President. He hugged the President like this," he said demonstrating the hug as narrated to him by the Chief.
He said they are happy that Bona is their in-law, it means food for them in the traditional sense. She would cook for them all as her husbands.
"We want to thank the President and First Lady for giving us Bona," he said.
Member Mutsahuni, Simba's cousin, said he is excited.
He explains to everyone how they are related since their surnames are different: "Simba is my brother. He uses Chikore but his grandfather Magabu and mine Siwiti and Sandi were born to one mother, they were all grandchildren of Chiunye."
He could not attend the wedding but his father did.
"I stayed behind to look after cattle and homesteads when the others went to the wedding," he said.
To this day, villagers still throng Chief Chikore's home, asking about the wedding.
He never gets tired of speaking of it, he wants them to know the good that has happened in his family.