Described as being romantic and tragic, prolific journalist and author Bhekisisa Mncube’s memoir is a reflection on interracial love and delves into a variety of topics that include discussions around toxic masculinity and infidelity.
Read an excerpt, published with permission from Penguin Random House South Africa, below.
Mixing bodies and cultures: Love, race and prejudice
When it comes to marriage, I jumped off the cliff: I married a white woman.
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.
In our seventeen years of courtship and marriage, our interracial intimate relationship has been no exception.
For the purposes of this book, I refer to my white wife only as the proverbial English wife – or, more appropriately, as Professor D.
Not only did I marry an Englishwoman, I also married above my intellectual station. When our courtship began, she was a PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand and a senior lecturer at what was then the University of Natal.
At the time, I was a mature student still only doing my undergraduate studies in journalism. Later, she inspired me to pursue my postgraduate studies. In essence, I crossed both the race and class divide in one fell swoop.
I must admit that my wife hates being referred to as a white woman. She sees herself as just a woman. I see her as my partner – nothing more, and nothing less.
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Of course, it doesn’t help that she listens to Miriam Makeba, and has a collection of music by the finest black South African jazz musicians, including the late Sipho Gumede and Zim Ngqawana.
There is definitely nothing white about dancing to the sweet melodies of the late singer, songwriter and live-performance maestro Busi Mhlongo.
In the early days of our courtship, I often asked myself about the extent of her whiteness. If there are special behavioural traits inherent in being white, well, she showed none.
To make matters worse, she had been a fervent anti-apartheid activist and a card-carrying member of the ANC since its unbanning. Is she on a trip to be black? Am I on the road to whiteness?
As for me, the onset of my romantic involvement with Professor D. came as no surprise. In truth, I had imagined myself marrying across the colour line eight years before I met my wife.
There was nothing melodramatic or political about my imaginations. I was entangled in an emotional fantasy love affair with a white Afrikaans woman named Ria.
At the time, Ria was the closest a white girl had ever come to treating me like – well, a human being. To talking to me, and being my friend and comrade.
Secretly, I was in love with her.
The chemistry I felt for Ria was pure and unemotional, yet it cut deep into my soul. We weren’t dating, but our friendship planted the idea that black and white could, in fact, love each other and be together.
In marrying a white woman, I crossed the colour line consciously and, in the process, mixed bodies and cultures.
As a result, I came face to face with racial prejudice and racial discrimination.
Scholars of interracial intimate relationships and marriages have observed that ‘[n]egative attitudes toward interracial unions … provide for formidable psychological and emotional barriers to interracial contact, helping to maintain a racially stratified society’.
‘This is the biggest mistake you have ever made,’ said my English wife’s best friend of many years.
Being referred to as ‘the biggest mistake’ still hurts as much today as it did then.
When my then girlfriend reported those words to me, I felt the full weight of apartheid discrimination that determined whom to love, marry and have sex with.
It is not the only example of direct racial hatred I experienced in the seventeen years of our relationship.
Yet this particular incident continues to fester like a sore. I knew the racial offender on a first-name basis.
I had – erroneously – somewhat respected her. I thought of her, at the very least, as a liberal and enlightened whitey.
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I was wrong.
This despite the fact that my relationship with my English wife began years after the removal from our statutes of the three laws that had made interracial intimate relationships a criminal offence: the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949 (repealed in 1985), the Immorality Amendment Act, 1957 (repealed in 1986) and the Group Areas Act, 1950 (repealed in 1990).
Yet, in post-apartheid South Africa, she still found fraternising across racial lines offensive. Conversely, we found it liberating and life-affirming.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t a lone wolf; my own people (read: blacks) had a mouthful to say.
I am a traitor; I will increase through birth another race, different from mine – coloureds. So the line went.
It is argued that opposition to interracial intimate relationships may indicate what Ratele, whom Claire Lisa Jaynes quotes in her MA thesis, has named ‘subtle racism’.
WATCH: Interracial couples in South Africa
At its core, this new form of racism is no less racist or offensive than ‘old-fashioned’ racism; it is just disguised in a more ‘sophisticated’ and socially accepted argument, that of opposing intimate relationships between people classified as belonging to different racial groups.
Justifications for this opposition are based on supposedly non-racist reasons, such as concern for the welfare of the children produced by such relationships, as Jaynes quotes in her thesis.
The hurtful word ‘coloured’ pierces my heart every day.
Strangely, it comes from friends, foes and strangers alike.
Most of these comments about breeding another race originate from black people. In their racial thinking, I have committed the ultimate crime, a crime of passion across the colour line.
I am effectively sleeping with the enemy, they claim.
It is a pedantic detail that this event occurred deep into post-apartheid South Africa. I even lost a close friend who, unbeknown to me, was entangled in a fantasy love affair with me.
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She didn’t hold back: ‘I can’t be friends with you now that you’re dating a white woman. I simply can’t go on and be with you while you’re dating whites.’
I was stunned: I had no idea that, firstly, she was a racist and, secondly, that she was emotionally invested in our friendship.
Sadly, not even Durban – where we lived at the time – was ready for an interracial couple walking the streets, chatting, kissing and holding hands with gay abandon.
Many a time, we elicited hostile stares and outright prejudice. I recall us walking into a restaurant once, holding hands, and sitting ourselves down.
Seconds, then minutes, passed. Nobody brought us menus. Nobody took our drinks order. Nobody bothered to tell us we were not welcome.
We had to figure it out for ourselves that we had touched a raw nerve of whiteness and its bedfellows, prejudice and naked racism. We walked out and never set foot in that establishment again. Thankfully, that restaurant didn’t last long.
Purchase a copy of The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy - A Memoir by Bhekisisa Mncube from Raru.co.za
Are you in an interracial relationship or marriage? Do you still face discrimination? We’d love to hear your take on this piece and more about your own experiences.
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