“Why would two women want to get married when there are so many men around?” This was the question a home affairs official at the Mamelodi office posed to Maude Maodi and Vaivi Swartz during one of their many attempts to get married.
Last year, the couple, who have been together for eight years, decided to make their union official. They had to visit numerous home affairs offices before finally finding an official who would marry them.
“At first,” says Maodi (now Maodi-Swartz), “we tried the Centurion home affairs office. When we got there and asked for civil union forms, [the official] did not know of such a thing. [A second official] told us we’d each have to apply for another ID.”
When their attempt at the Cullinan home affairs office proved equally futile, they tried both the Mamelodi and Pretoria Central branches, where they encountered more opposition.
“But we were so tired of constantly being turned away, we continued standing in that line. It was only after speaking to another official that we were told that we could get married there.
“Once inside, the lady at the counter shouted at us, saying things like, ‘You were told at the door we’re not doing this here, so why did you fight your way in?’ ” says Maodi-Swartz.
It was only after speaking to the Gauteng regional manager that the staff agreed to make an appointment for them.
The fight to have their union officially recognised contrasts markedly with the traditional wedding ceremony they enjoyed beforehand.
“There were more than 500 people there on the day,” Maodi-Swartz recalls, smiling. “Both our families were always very, very supportive.”
Commenting on her experience, Maodi-Swartz says: “The light at the end of the tunnel is that those in management positions were willing to assist us. But, if we weren’t strong-willed, we would have just walked away from it all.”
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation‘s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian