Today, South Africa prefers to be known as the Rainbow Nation, a country with wide diversity, who is accepting of everyone. Anyone can marry whoever they’d like to. However, this was not always the case.
Under Apartheid, marriage between people of certain races was prohibited. After the National Party (NP) came into power in 1948, they promulgated various racist laws. One of these was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, Act No 55 of 1949. It was one of the first pieces of legislation they enacted after gaining power, according to Thought Co.
The act banned marriages between “Europeans and non-Europeans”. In plain English, this meant that white people could not marry anyone who was not considered to be white. In addition, the law made it a criminal offense for a marriage officer to perform a ceremony between a white person and a person of colour.
According to SA History, the new law also rendered interracial marriages that took place outside of South Africa to be null and void. Many were arrested for breaking the provisions set out by the new laws.
The law was justified as the government claimed to want to “protect the purity” of the white race and to ensure that people of colour do not “infiltrate” the “dominant” race. To really ensure that this didn’t happen, the Apartheid government also passed the Immorality Act No. 23 of 1957 (which repealed the 1927 act) to prohibit sexual intercourse or “immoral or indecent acts” between white people and people of colour.
To clarify, the law did not prevent mixed marriages between people of colour (for example if a black citizen wanted to marry a coloured citizen).
Thought Co reported that even without the law that had been put in place, mixed marriages between white people and people of colour were already rare. They averaged under 100 per year, between ’43 and ’46.
Many opposed the Prohibition of Marriage Act. However, in most cases it was not because whites wanted to have mixed marriages, but rather because they felt insulted at the thought that they would intend to. They thought the law was not necessary.
Years later, actual opposition to the laws built up. In 1976, approximately 260 people were convicted for violating the law, according to Thought Co. The next year, 1977, the opposition became so strong that it divided the cabinet.
On June 19 1985, the laws were repealed by the Immorality and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act, according to SA History. This Act allowed interracial marriages and relationships.
According to the BBC, South Africa’s first interracial marriage (supposedly the first legal one, since there were cases of people being convicted for contravening the laws prior to the legalisation), was between a white woman named Suzanne Leclerc and a black man named Protas Madlala.
Today, of course, thousands of interracial marriages exist in the country. Mixed couples creating beautiful families are easily found and widely celebrated.