Shades of grey: interracial relationships in SA

by Tshepy Matloga-Malope
Interracial relationships in South Africa
Reading Time: 3 minutes
To gain insight Tshepy Matloga-Malope spoke to two couples who are in interracial relationships to understand their experiences and whether they still face discrimination in society and within their families.

South Africa, in particular, has a complex history of racial segregation, which continues to influence the dynamics of interracial relationships and how people of different races interact with each other in general. Navigating interracial relationships can be a challenging experience due to the societal and familial dynamics at play.

One of the recurring themes that emerged was the persistence of discrimination and prejudice in various aspects of their lives. The two couples shared instances where they encountered explicit or subtle forms of discrimination from strangers, acquaintances, and even family members. These experiences ranged from receiving disapproving looks in public spaces to being subjected to hurtful stereotypes and racial slurs.

Cultural differences

For Mpho and Shivani, a couple living in Johannesburg, their biggest hurdle was integrating their different cultural backgrounds into their relationship. “Navigating cultural differences and traditions can be enriching, but it can also pose significant challenges, particularly when faced with resistance or a lack of understanding from family members,” says Shivani.

Mpho emphasises the importance of open communication. “For my family, it was more about cultural differences than race. My family, although welcoming to Shivani, wondered whether Shivani would be able to execute her makoti duties as per our Sepedi customs. But Shivani and I already had this conversation, so she knew what was expected of her and she was willing to learn.”

While one couple expressed gratitude for their families’ openness and embrace of their partner, others recounted the difficulties of confronting ingrained prejudices and resistance from family members who were less accepting of their interracial relationship. These encounters with familial opposition underscore the ongoing impact of historical divisions and the complexities of dismantling deeply rooted biases.

Lingering discrimination

Natalie* and Zweli* (not their real names), a Cape Town couple, shared their perspectives on the lingering discrimination they encounter. “We continue to face subtle forms of discrimination, especially from older generations who still hold onto outdated racial prejudices,” Natalie explains. Zweli adds, “It’s disheartening to see that some people still struggle to accept our relationship, but we’re committed to overcoming these obstacles together.”

Despite these prescient challenges, Natalie and Zweli credit the resilience and love that sustain their relationship. They express a deep sense of commitment to overcoming obstacles and creating a supportive environment for each other. Plus, they highlight the importance of open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to learn from each other’s cultural backgrounds as keys to fostering understanding and harmony in their relationships.

Read: How to talk to your kids about racism

Top tips for interracial couples:

  • Understand each other’s culture and take an interest in it
  • *Create a safe space for discussions
  • * Practice deep listening
  • *Address inappropriate comments
  • *Be aware of your privilege
  • *Manage family expectations
  • *Build a support network

Break down barriers

Interracial relationshipsIt’s evident that while progress has been made in South Africa towards racial inclusivity and acceptance, there is still work to be done in dismantling discriminatory attitudes and fostering greater understanding and empathy.

Interracial couples continue to navigate the terrain of societal prejudice and familial expectations, relying on their strength as a couple to challenge and change perceptions.

Managing interracial relationships in South Africa involves confronting not only the complexities of personal dynamics but also the broader societal and historical context. While discrimination and resistance persist, the stories of these individuals also highlight the power of love and the potential for transformative change. By amplifying these voices and fostering dialogue, there is an opportunity to continue breaking down barriers and building a more inclusive and compassionate society for all.

Also read: Overcoming prejudice

Related Articles