Behind The Scenes Of A Mixed Race Family – Rachel Mthembu


What a week.

I feel like we are finally emerging from a constant state of high alert.  Both girls had an awful virus that resulted in massive temps and vomiting.  At one point Kyla reached 40 degrees even though she was stripped down to nothing, had been wiped down AND had Empapeds and Ponstan in her system.  That girl knows how to get a fever.

Despite this, we are still on track with our series and I’m glad that you’re back to read the next installment.  Here are the older ones in case you want to catch up.

A little bit of background as to why I want to do this series and why I want YOU to read it and share it with your friends.  Besides the odd intentional racist, I feel like a lot of the hurtful comments floating around are actually just brought about through ignorance of how their words will affect other people.  Thinking only of our own personal situations with little regard for others, because that’s all that we know. So in an effort to broaden what we know, I thought I would interview a wide range of South Africans that have a variety of different situations – from mixed race couples to single race couples that adopt cross racially to couples that share the same “race” but differ vastly in terms of culture.  A bit of a mumble jumble of everything really.

So let’s get started!

I want this to be a safe space where we can share stories and encourage each other to be more accepting of our fellow South Africans of all races, cultures and situations.  So while I want to encourage you to comment and open a discussion, I will not tolerate any abusive or troll like comments here.

Without thinking, we have probably assumed many thing about mixed race couples where the people are born and bred South Africans, and we have even more assumptions when one of the members of the couple is from overseas.  Today Rachel (an Australian) gives us a little bit of insight into what it’s like in her shoes.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself – what you do, what you like to spend your time on etc

I’m Rachel, a 29-year old Australian living in Durban with my husband of two and a half years. I was born and grew up in Sydney, and had my first trip to South Africa when I was 19 on a short-term mission trip. I fell in love with this beautiful country, and after some short back and forth visits while I was still at university, I moved here in 2009 ‘for a year.’ And I’m still here!

I have a background in trauma counselling and just finished my Masters in Human Rights so I work a lot in advocacy and training educating people about their rights and how to access them. I work mostly with women and children around issues of sexual violence, domestic violence and child abuse. I also have a side business as a freelance makeup artist (contact me if you have a wedding/special event coming up in KZN!). For fun I love reading, writing, and lying on my couch watching series and movies with my husband. I’ve become an uber couch potato the last couple of years, but I’m ok with that :).

Tell us a little bit about your partner – what they do, what they like to spend time on etc

Elijah is 28 and originally from Pietermaritzburg (born in Edendale) but has lived in and around Durban most of his life. He has a law degree but his passion is soccer and youth so he works in youth development and empowering them through sport. He is obsessed with all things soccer and is an avid Chelsea supporter, and he also loves play FIFA and chilling on the couch with me. I think I’ve also activated an interest in travel with him, so we enjoy the occasional adventure to a new place. Elijah is so kind and patient with me and passionate about life and what he believes in, which always inspires me.

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Give us a bit of insight into your racial/cultural backgrounds.

I’m a fourth generation anglo-Australian. Terms such as ‘white’ and ‘black’ are thrown around much more easily and casually in South Africa due to the history here, so though I didn’t grow up with such rigid racial classifications, obviously I’m white. I had a fairly ‘typical’ upbringing by Australian standards, an average suburban life and a private school education due to my very hard working single Mum.

Elijah is a black South African, born in a township but due to the efforts of his very hard working Mom he went to ‘white’ schools and his family moved to the suburbs of Durban when he was a teenager. We are both Christians, which is the foundation of both our lives and our marriage.

Where do you live? Does how you are “accepted” change when you visit different places?

We live in Durban. We are obviously aware that same places we go to result in a few more stares than other places, but we are mostly accustomed to it and often don’t notice. When we do it is nice to note that reactions are generally more curious than hostile, and I supposed I hope we are just normalising something that I think should be normal. If we face hostility, it is generally more from white people than black people, but that is a generalisation and something that I think is getting better all the time.

Having previously lived overseas, do you face any adversity having married outside of your race and culture?  Is it worse/better than what you faced in Australia?

We have never lived in Australia as a married couple, but have obviously visited there a few times. We do notice that we get looked at a lot less in Australia which is nice, because there is a different history there and a high level of multiculturalism, so mixed marriages are more common. In general people are very interested in Elijah there because there aren’t many black people in Australia, so he finds that funny.

I know babies may not be on the cards right now, but do you have any fears/excitement about having “mixed race” babies in the future?

I think I have the same fears anyone would have when they think about becoming a mother, but they are not related to the fact that the babies will be biracial. The only thing we joke about is biracial babies seem to get the best of both genes and are often beautiful, so we have high hopes for that!

What kind of role does race play in your family dynamic?  

It really doesn’t feature at all between Elijah and I. Race is a construct that might be imposed on us by other people on occasion but we are just like any normal married couple, with our own victories and struggles. Occasionally he may have to explain cultural concepts to me, but as we are both Christians we believe that is our highest culture and that is what unifies us.

How have your families reacted to your relationship and subsequent marriage?
Race doesn’t play a huge role, to be honest. My family loved Elijah immediately because of the way he treats me. I’m not exactly what my in-laws expected but they are lovely to me and we have a good relationship. Occasionally there are generalisations made, but only out of jest. The main issue that arises is more cultural because Elijah and I are born again Christians and have a different faith to my in-laws, but we just deal with those issues as they arise on a case-by-case basis. 
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Are there big differences in your marriage relationship that are affected by your heritage/culture?

This only really comes up in our extended families – we have a few differences as we are from different countries, and he has a bigger family and more cultural traditions than I do. But nothing too drastic.

What are some of the ignorant and hurtful things that have been said to you and your husband about this issue?

Elijah has had his own struggles every now and then as a black South African, but in terms of us as a mixed couple, nothing major has happened. There are sometimes some assumptions put on us, and sometimes people are confused until they find out I am foreign and say that ‘explains’ it – like I would never have married Elijah if I was a white South African. But mostly when this happens we just try to pray for people and hope that God would expand their perspectives and their beliefs to see all people the same.

What do you think we can do to combat this ignorance/stupidity?

As I said above, mostly we pray. And we try to laugh – I have this philosophy that I’d rather laugh than cry at mishaps as much as possible – this extends to many of the special peculiarities that we sometimes find living here! These things do arise, but not as often as you might think. At the end of the day we are just another married couple and we love our life together, so there’s not much more I could ask for 🙂

Do you have any advice for those in a mixed race relationship that are facing judgement because of it?

Just remind yourself that at the end of the day the most important thing is for their to be love, trust, mutual understanding and peace between you and your spouse. When you have that you can face any outside trouble as a united front. And try not to get too down about it – things are changing all the time and I think the future for South Africa is always getting brighter.

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Thank you Rachel for joining in on this series!

If you would like to join in and be featured in this series or know of someone that would, please feel free to get in touch with me on cindyalfino@gmail.com.

Like what you’ve read here?  That’s flipping awesome – feel free to share it with your friends.  Also come hang out with me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram where you can expect to find a whole lot more of this, just shorter.

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