Finding love and a voice in post-apartheid South Africa

There is still not a lot of mixing in terms of relationships and interactions, we stick out so much
(L to R) Cheryl (31), Camden (6 months) and Mpho Mojapelo (35) pose in their home in Johannesburg on March 7, 2019. – Less than 40 years ago, Mpho Mojapelo and his wife Cheryl might have gone to jail. They married in 2015 and had both “white” and “African” weddings after the payment of “lebola” (dowry) and a ritual sheep slaughter. But they are an exception to the norm even 25 years after the end of apartheid white-rule when Nelson Mandela became the first black president, promising a “rainbow nation”. (Photo by GULSHAN KHAN / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY BEATRICE DEBUT

Less than 40 years ago, during apartheid, interracial couples if found out by authorities, ended up jailed.

Mpho Mojapelo and his wife, Cheryl would have had to hide their relationship,  live separately or leave South Africa to be a couple. Mojapelo, a black man is married to a white woman; they both live in South Africa.

“We are so fortunate to live in these times”, he says.

They had both “white” and “African” weddings after the payment of a dowry or “lobola” and the slaughtering of sheep.

Mpho and Cheryl are aware that they are an exception to the norm.

“There is still not a lot of mixing in terms of relationships and interactions, we stick out so much,” says Mojapelo, with a smile.

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Sometimes, even 25 years after apartheid, they still experience some  hostility.

(L to R) Cheryl (31), Camden (6 months) and Mpho Mojapelo (35) pose in their home in Johannesburg (Photo by GULSHAN KHAN / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY BEATRICE DEBUT

Cheryl recalls being shocked when an elderly couple in a restaurant in northern Limpopo province muttered “disgusting”.

In 1948, the white-dominated government formalized centuries of racial segregation. In 1949, it adopted into law, the ban of “mixed-marriages” between Europeans and non-Europeans.

To be able to marry a person of a different race, applicants could ask to change their own race. Conceptualizing race to a social construct in an internal bargain by the state.

By 1985, the policy was scrapped.

Mpho’s family left the Soweto township, a major hub of anti-apartheid activism nine years before the end of apartheid to a white suburb.

“In my primary school, there were only three black kids… That is when I saw I was different”,

Mpho Mojapelo

Cheryl describes her upbringing as “sheltered”. She grew up in Cape Town and Roodepoort afterwards. She did not understand the attitude of white people in her neighbourhood towards black South Africans.

Interracial couple in South Africa
(L to R) Cheryl and Mpho Mojapelo (Photo by GULSHAN KHAN / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY BEATRICE DEBUT

“A neighbour ran up to me, I was seven or eight.He said: “Oh, there is a black man coming, we need to hide, he is going to steal from us’,” she said.

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They both attended the same school and met at a party thrown by mutual friends in the early 2000s.

Researcher, Haley McEwen at the Wits Centre for diversity studies says: “Couples who go out are given poor service, they are stared at, people don’t take their relationship seriously like their families.”

Cheryl and Mpho are connected by their love of poetry but Cheryl could not help thinking about what people would say when they announced their engagement. She said she was nervous to tell her parents.

Her parents, British migrants to South Africa, however, quickly accepted Mpho.

They have a six-month-old baby now.He is neither white nor black which poses its own challenge. Cheryl believes that these changes will take time.

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“It is a work in progress”, she says.


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