Cape Town - Mmusi and Natalie Maimane are a South African couple. They’re also African, yet their skin colour differs.
On Tuesday, we spoke to TV star Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp and her husband, radio man Ian Bredenkamp, who talked of the profound irrelevance of their melanin levels.
In part two of our series on mixed couples, we asked the DA leader of the opposition in Parliament: “Has ‘race’ in any way defined your love?”
Maimane: Naturally, I was attracted to my wife, and as our courtship progressed, our attraction became based on common values. We met at church.
To say I did not see she was “white” and she did not see I was “black” would be disingenuous, but we were able to look past this.
But it took time to accept stereotypical responses. For example, we would go to a mall and another black South African would applaud me, as though I’d achieved something extraordinary, and some white South Africans would look down on us as if it were an unnatural occurrence.
But mostly, it was important for us to be with each other – not fight a cause, not prove a point, but simply be.
Q: Do you and Natalie believe in the notion of “race”?
A: If you do not see that I am black, you do not see me. Race is a big part of who I am, but it doesn’t ultimately define who I am. Given our history, not seeing race is to deny where we come from. Race gives us hooks into one another’s stories. For example, I went to the apartheid museum with a friend of mine. He is white. He saw the riots, oppression and development of Soweto. He saw me in context, saw what black South Africans experienced, which I am a part of.
Similarly, for Natalie and I, race gave us links to who each of us were.
Q: Large parts of South Africa and global society still see you as “different” to each other.
A: On the outside we are different from each other, even our children are different from us. We are a South African family. My wife and I would just need to adopt an Indian child and we would be the Rainbow Nation. But remove race from the equation, and we’re not very different.
I celebrate the legacy of President Nelson Mandela, and the freedoms which many died for. But I am aware that South Africans have lenses with which they see different races. And I respect their views, as I would hope they would respect ours.
We don’t believe in South Africans being colour-blind, but rather to have a rich sense of diversity.
Q: How much have we changed?
A: We have a long way to go in our healing process. It’s especially difficult when someone sees either one of us selling out, having betrayed our races.
This is still an oppressive and suppressive mindset in my view, because it rings of the old apartheid government where anyone departed from the norm was named and vilified, called words such as “K-Boetie”.
In the words of Steve Biko, the greatest weapon of the oppressor is the mindset of the oppressed.
So our hard work is to help people see that as a black South African I don’t suddenly lose my identity by marrying a white South African. Neither do I deny my culture.
Each of our children has names from our backgrounds. Our daughter Kgalaletso (whose name her mother gave her) has a Tswana first name and an English second name. We try and speak to them in both languages Tswana and English, just as an Afrikaans-English couple would, or a Xhosa and Tswana couple, as my parents are.
Q: Do your children have any “race”?
A: The census people always catch us out with this one. South Africa has fascinating categorisation of children from different races. They are mixed, and have the right to self-identify. So for now they may identify in whichever categorisation they so choose.
Our children are aware of race, but it does not matter significantly. They do not question why I am black and their mother is white, or why they look different to both their parents. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? We could learn a lot from kids.
Q: Is South African society changing, in this regard?
A: Indeed, I see it in young South Africans, and we have a great future and beautiful story to tell in this regard.
I celebrate my white friends who come to terms with the privileges they inherited as a result of apartheid, and thus join the struggle for the emancipation of South Africans.
And I celebrate my black friends who work tirelessly to acknowledge that race is still a proxy for advantage or disadvantage, and so each of us must join the project of reconciliation.
My friend Herman Mashaba has written a beautiful book about how to maintain African values and build the South Africa we want to see. That we must all build a social capital which was stolen out of black communities, that we can now all contribute to.
Once we heal and rid ourselves of inequality, when you ask someone, what are they, they will proudly answer: “I am a South African, first and foremost.” Whether they are black, white, gay, Xhosa-speaking, and so on, will be secondary.
Q: So we have hope?
A: We have a beautiful hope. I’ll sum it up with my hope for my little girl. She is 3 now, and one day she may choose to marry. Who that person should be must not be a question of race.
Equally, I hope one day in her lifetime that race will not determine privilege or opportunity, or lack of thereof. It’s for that reason that we have to make BBBEE work, and strive for an equitable society.
This will liberate us all from the bondages of our past and fully, finally, set us free.