Colour bar still exists in relationships

When the National Party rose to power in 1948, one of the first pieces of apartheid legislation it passed was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (No 55) of 1949, which outlawed marriages between white people and people of other races.

This was followed by the Immorality Act (No 21) of 1950, which extended an earlier ban on sexual relations between whites and blacks to a ban on sexual relations between whites and any non-whites. These laws were repealed in 1985.

But although a fear of being arrested may no longer constitute a reason for cross-racial couples to keep their relationship a secret, it seems that familial and societal pressure sometimes serves as a significant obstacle in the path to happiness.

“The reactions from our families and society made me aware of how a private issue like loving someone could turn into a public and sociopolitical concern,” writes clinical psychologist Emily Mapula Mojapelo-Batka in her 2008 PhD thesis titled “Interracial Couples within the South African Context: Experiences, Perceptions and Challenges”.

Mojapelo-Batka is also personally involved in an interracial relationship.

“Keeping the relationship a secret became one of the ways of dealing with the pain of rejection from our families and friends, as well as the negative effect that our relationship had on my partner’s business. At one stage we felt marginalised because we did not fit into any social group.”

In her findings Mojapelo-Batka reported that the six mixed-race couples she investigated in her study “initially experienced negative family and social reactions or disapproval, which resulted in the loss of valuable relationships and other disadvantages or challenges”. This was more than 30 years after the repeal of the Mixed Marriages Act.

A similar experience prompted Gauteng-based Andeline Williams-Pretorius to create a support group to provide free counselling to people with difficult relationships with their in-laws.

“My husband is white and I am coloured,” she said. “It was extremely difficult for his mom, in particular, to come to terms with her son’s choice. She has done a lot to break up the relationship. My husband has been very supportive. It couldn’t have been easy for him, being in a position where he has no contact with his mom. It really is sad, but that is how it is. We have been together for 15 years and in March we will have been married for nine years. We have a five-year-old son who does not know that he has a grandmother.”

Desperate for support, Williams-Pretorius initially turned to a church counsellor. “When I started to tell my story, she said: ‘Yes, but black and white people do not belong together and everybody thinks so.’ I was dumbstruck. I left the counselling room that day in more pain than I was in when I arrived.” 

Williams-Pretorius’s organisation, In-Law Support, focuses largely on helping couples feel less isolated. She believes that although interracial relationships are becoming increasingly common, they are still largely frowned upon. “Unfortunately, we are not as cosmopolitan as we would like to believe.”

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