Making a film about interracial marriage in the US now would hardly raise an eyebrow. That, however, wasn’t the case 50 years ago when racial prejudice was rife. At the time, mixed marriages were considered unnatural and were even illegal in many states.
I remind you of this because this year marks the 50th anniversary of film director Stanley Kramer’s blockbuster comedy drama, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, which starred Sydney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.
It was the tale of a young white woman who brought her fiancé, an African-American doctor, home to meet her parents. Later, the doctor’s parents came for dinner and what followed was a penetrating examination of the reactions to the young couple’s relationship from various family members and friends.
You may well ask: what has all this got to do with South Africa today? Well, many of the issues the film examined 50 years ago are confronted daily here today - racial prejudice, intolerance, religious differences, stereotypes and stigmas.
The issue sprang to mind when I thought about King Goodwill Zwelithini’s magnanimous invitation to the Hindu community to celebrate Diwali at his royal palace in Nongoma last week.
That has never happened before. South Africans are generally insular and indifferent to the cultures outside their own communities.
At the annual King Shaka festival in KwaDukuza you would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of non-Zulus. I’m ashamed to say it’s no different on Heritage Day or even Freedom Day.
There have been attempts to promote inter-faith cohesion, but they are few and far between.
I’m pleased to hear the king does not see the Diwali invitation as a mere public relations exercise. He recognises the current generation is still struggling with the historical scars of racial separation and wants to encourage a sharing of each other’s practices, customs and norms.
Perhaps families celebrating Diwali could invite non-Hindu friends to their homes. Christians could do likewise at Christmas and Easter, and Jews on their special occasions. Coming together over a simple meal could do wonders for understanding others.
The Sunday Independent