Magazine article Ebony

South Africa's New 'Mixed' Marriages

Magazine article Ebony

South Africa's New 'Mixed' Marriages

Article excerpt

Rene McLean is an African-American jazz musician whose impressions of Africa were based on images he got in America. Instrumentals. Songs. Movies. Stories. His creative eyes and keen ears saw Africans as rhythmic people and heard their different languages and dialects as melodic. Although the women of Africa were not a special part of his informal education about the continent, he was later smitten by the regal South African who became his wife.

McLean is only one of an unknown number of African-Americans who are living on the continent as spouses of Africans. In South Africa, the story varies, but the basic theme is the same. South Africans and African-Americans are meeting, primarily in America, marrying, then settling in the new South Africa.

"For me, Africa was the unseen continent of my origin," McLean says. "I was curious. In 1980, when McLean first visited Africa, touring with Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, they avoided apartheid South Africa and played instead in Lesotho. While there, McLean was attracted to a Khosa woman, Thandiwe, to whom he's been married for 14 years.

In contrast, Luvuyo Ntshone, also a Khosa, was studying in America when he spotted his African-American bride-to-be, Sherine, on a subway in Queens, New York. I didn't think about any philosophical joining of the two cultures," he says. "I just followed through on personal, daily eye contact with this beautiful Black woman."

Couples like Karen and Mfundi Vundla and Bernadette Moffat and Michael Giles have also set aside cultural an historical differences and are married and living in South Africa. Although these marriages are not "mixed" in the traditional sense, they present some of the same challenges of accommodation.

All of these couples entered marriage equipped with university degrees, experiences and a pioneering spirit. Most of the South African partners studied in the United States. One studied in Canada. Their ideas and ideals were not limited by isolation.

All agree that these broader outlooks are helping them to adjust, in individualized and unprescribed ways, to cultural and social challenges.

When in 1980 Rene McLean left the Masekela band to start a courtship with Thandiwe, he was willing to Live it a try. "Instead of a three-week tour, I ended up staying in Lesotho for four months," he says. "Thandiwe had such a familiar quality about her. She reminded me of my West Indian family in the Caribbean. Her eclectic style of dress, warm personality and ease of movement helped us to relate well." But that was the threshold. "We found deeper similarities in our backgrounds. Our separate experiences of some form of racial oppression, the effects of capitalism and Dutch-English dominance were different, but fundamentally the same."

While Rene, who also teaches at the University of Cape Town, and Thandiwe, who is director of the Desmond Tutu Foundation, say there were no unsolvable obstacles that they had to reconcile in 1981 before they married, Rene says he didn't feel that South Africa was the place to which Blacks should migrate. He didn't look forward to battling apartheid, the Afrikaners, and Black homeland and urban township issues. But Thandiwe insisted that she had been in exile long enough. She wanted to go home despite apartheid. Yielding to this insistence was Rene's first major foreshadowing of the international matrimonial give-and-take that was compounded by other far-reaching circumstances.

"As a performing musician, I had to travel. So we had to consider long-term separation," says Rene. "I was forced to make this sacrifice because I refused to undermine the anti-apartheid cultural boycott."

There were other considerations. Religion, for example. She's Christian. He's Muslim. They decided that tolerance would be the cornerstone of this issue. The children would be raised as practicing Muslims, but they would be taught to respect other religions. …

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