Colour blind: Interracial couples in post-apartheid SA still have to contend with intolerance from society. Picture: 123RF/ROMAN SAMBORSKYI
Colour blind: Interracial couples in post-apartheid SA still have to contend with intolerance from society. Picture: 123RF/ROMAN SAMBORSKYI

It is more than two decades since the repeal of the apartheid government’s Mixed Marriages Act and Immorality Act, but mixed couples still cause a stir and are likely to do so for years to come.

In Bhekisisa Mncube’s book The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy, he relates how he "married a white woman and many call me a traitor". Inspired by his real-life romance with an Englishwoman, Mncube’s book includes interrelated short stories on interracial relationships in modern-day SA.

"As we know, interracial intimate relationships continue to be fraught with controversy, despite our post-apartheid, world-renowned, liberal Constitution that guarantees equal rights and forbids racism," he writes. "In our 17 years of courtship and marriage, our interracial intimate relationship has been no exception."

The smaller the community, the less tolerant it is of interracial dating, says relationship expert Sonja Snyman. Big cities are more accommodating.

She says among her clients are a mixed-race couple who moved from the Free State to Johannesburg. They claim that people used to stare at them and moving to Johannesburg strengthened their relationship because they were no longer regarded as deviant.

"In my practice the interracial couples that I have consulted say that they feel very comfortable in Johannesburg, but when they go to small towns people still stare at them," says Snyman.

She differentiates between looking and staring. Looking at an interracial couple when they walk past is a sign of curiosity. Staring might be perceived as being judgmental.

"I suppose it can also be that people are still not used to socialising with people from different races," Snyman says. "The less variety you’re exposed to, the more you are suspicious of people who are different."

Knee-jerk racism was never going to disappear overnight, despite the guidance from the democratic Constitution. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was signed into law in 1949 to prohibit all races from marrying each other. Since its repeal, society has taken up the role of suspicious policemen.

Research shows that multiracial contact thrives at universities and in workplaces. In recent times, white people have began forging careers at black-owned companies.

The growth of the black middle class has contributed to social cohesion as they moved into former white areas and either matched or overtook their new neighbours in the income stakes.

Research shows that the black middle class more than doubled from 1.7-million people in 2004 to 4.2-million in 2012. The white middle class shrank from 2.8-million in 2004 to 2.6-million in 2015.

Marginalised women yearning for middle-class lifestyles are likely to consider marrying across the race line if it provides opportunities to move up into a more affluent race groups.

Sociologists cite education and growing levels of affluence among previously marginalised race groups as key factors in the growing levels of multiracial contact. But it’s not all roses and champagne.

When people stay on their side of the fence, it’s easy for them to stereotype and misjudge interracial couples

In April, the reality show Our Perfect Wedding featured a mixed-race gay couple. They said that some relatives would not be attending the wedding.

The only way for disapproving families to become more accepting is by educating themselves and understanding "that there’s not much difference" between the races, says Snyman.

The late palaeoanthro-pologist Phillip Tobias believed race was an artificial construct. He believed there was only one race: the human race.

Sociologists point out that while the majority of blacks in SA live in townships and whites in the suburbs, racial mixing as equals will not be achieved. It’s not enough contact when people of different races only meet at work — colleagues can work together for their entire careers without properly knowing each other.

Snyman says society should move away from classifying people into race groups. But this is difficult for people less exposed to variety and families who have to come to terms with a new relative from a different race. She says there’s no easy way out: all relationships come with challenges, be they interracial or same-race relationships.

"Whatever choices we make, there are difficulties."

Snyman proposes that families should find out what is good and what is common between members of a mixed-race couple. "When people stay on their side of the fence, it’s easy for them to stereotype and misjudge interracial couples."

People have the democratic right to be conservative, she adds. While money and education can bring people of different races together, in most cases culture and familiarity rule. Typically, people want to marry people like themselves.

There are also people who want to safeguard their culture by allowing relatives to marry only into the same race group. There has been friction, Snyman says, when white English speakers marry white Afrikaans speakers. But, she says, they should not be judgmental and make interracial couples feel uncomfortable.