When love is more than black and white
Cape Town - One of apartheid’s greatest evils was legislation governing who South Africans were legally permitted to love.
The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, Act No 55 of 1949, was among the first pieces of legislation passed by the National Party after coming to power in 1948, and was shortly followed by the Population Registration and Immorality acts of 1950, requiring all people living in South Africa to register as a member of one of four officially defined racial groups, and prohibiting extramarital sexual relationships between people of different races.
The laws were eased in 1985.
We spoke to one of South Africa’s high-profile couples – radio star Ian Bredenkamp and TV star Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp – who married in February last year.
QUESTION: You are a South African couple. You’re both also African, yet your skin colour differs. Does this matter, even vaguely, in 2014?
Ian: It didn’t impact on our courtship – we didn’t really notice!
Elana: After knowing Ian for 13 years, I see him as a made-over Ozzy Osbourne, I really didn’t notice. Interesting thing is that people often ask where we are from… until we open our mouths and speak Afrikaans.
Q: Do you even believe in the notion of “race”?
Ian: I understand it from an anthropological point, yes. But do I think that makes one race better than another? No.
Elana: I understand it, because I grew up with people who pointed it out. However, I didn’t learn it from my parents. It came from extended family, school and work.
Q: Do large parts of South Africa and global society see you as being “different” from each other?
Ian: Yes, we’re aware of it. But does it give me sleepless nights that they think so? Not in the least.
Elana: I think people are generally very careful around me because I work in the media, and they try to not offend or speak out around me. I think they may view us as different behind our backs. Once someone pointed out that our our kids will be “cappuccino” – only then I realised my babies might not look like me.
Recently I had a jealous fan speak out on Twitter after I worked a charity event on Mandela Day. She didn’t like the fact that I was using my own money to improve schools in previously disadvantaged communities. She wanted to see me in the townships. She called me a k*** married to a white guy. It’s the first time that anyone has done that. (She was black.)
Q: How do you feel about that perception, as held by others?
Ian: That’s the beauty of a democratic society – others can think as they please. It only bothers me when I see inherent racism passed on to young, innocent kids. Children learn the concept of race from parents and teachers. I’ve seen and heard utterances from children about that (not in reference to Elana and me) and it chills me to the bone.
Elana: But we are different. We don’t look the same, and the way we were trained to speak from our parents was different. I grew up in an Afrikaans house, and after working in media for 15 years, I speak mostly English. I changed religion at 17, and cut my hair. I think one’s perception of “difference” should come from oneself because when others see you as different it’s called “judging” and I don’t handle that well.
Q: Do your children have any “race”?
Ian: I have children from a previous marriage. They’re both in a progressive primary school – they understand some kids look different from other kids, and they know of apartheid and what it meant for divisions in our society. Kids are great though – they couldn’t care less what colour their friends are, or (about) their hair texture.
Elana: I don’t have any kids yet. They will be South African. For years people have tried to put me in a box. It’s interesting, when I am in Cape Town (where I was born) people ask where I am from. When I am in Joburg, where I work, people ask where I am from. I guess they will ask my kids one day.
Q: How do you describe yourselves as a family? Do you include any “racial definition”?
Ian: We don’t include a racial definition. If anything, we’re probably a modern, contemporary family. Our peers and friends date and marry other races and religions, we know many people with mixed kids, and it’s barely noticed and certainly not frowned upon.
Elana: I often say I am Afrikaans because that is my first language, before I speak or read Hebrew and Xhosa. It’s usually either a conversation starter or killer when I say that I am in fact an Afrikaans-speaking Jewish Xhosa. Hope that describes it.
Q: How does South African society treat you, as what was described under apartheid as a “mixed marriage”?
Ian: We were in Turkey on holiday last month. Mixed marriages draw as much attention there as in Canal Walk. Some people take notice, some don’t. The vast majority of people don’t treat us any differently. Do they look and take notice? Yes. Does it bother them? I doubt it. We’ve only encountered one incident – some months ago we were turned away from a restaurant in Sea Point we’d been frequenting for some time.
Elana: I must say, when people stare I assume it’s because Ian and I are on radio and TV. We are media people. And I always try to be polite and friendly. I think more questions will come when there are kids. When I walk with my husband’s kids (my step-kids) people point at them. Adults point at my kids, because I look different to them. I want to keep calm but I shouldn’t. I think people understand a mixed marriage but they don’t understand boundaries. They think they need to protect them or point them out. They are my kids. I protect them. Stop pointing.
Q: Is South African society changing in this regard?
Ian: We really believe it is. It’s more commonplace... we see more mixed couples than in the past. We both travel a fair amount and the truth is I see mixed couples more frequently in Cape Town and Joburg than in London.
Elana: I don’t know if we are changing. Even I look when I see a mixed-race couple. What I don’t like is when people stare and smile, like they are making it “okay” for us to be together. Go on with life. Don’t stop and smile. I fell in love with a white guy, because I fell in love. I don’t care if he is white. We don’t expect everyone to give us a pat on the back because we are Madiba-friendly. I actually don’t care. I am making pap and boerewors tonight... Anyone?