June 29, 1949 – South Africa Bans Mixed-Race Marriages

On this day in history, the South African government passed The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (to go into effect as of July 8, 1949), making marriages between whites and non-whites illegal. Even though between 1946 and the enactment of this law, only 75 mixed marriages had been recorded, compared with some 28,000 white marriages, the government felt the possibility was a sufficient threat and affront to legislate against it. In 1950 the law was amended to ban even sexual relations between white and black South Africans.

To facilitate enforcement, the Population Registration Act of 1950 required South Africans to register as members of one of four racial groups as set out in the Population Registration Act of 1950. The four groups were White, Coloured, Indian and Black. Subsequent to the passing of this legislation, a number of people were arrested and charged for breaking its provisions.

The law also nullified interracial marriages of South Africans that occurred outside of the country.   

Although many members of the official United Party (South Africa’s ruling political party between 1934 and 1948) were against the law, none of them opposed the bill. Sam Kahn, a South African Communist Party member, strongly objected, describing the bill as “the immoral offspring of an illicit union between racial superstition and biological ignorance”. He was ignored, and moreover expelled from parliament in 1952 upon suspicion of associating with illegal Communist organizations.

The police raided homes of couples suspected of having mixed relationships, and couples found guilty were jailed. Although the blacks involved were given harsh sentences, the government was more lenient toward the whites. For example, one of the first people convicted of the immorality act was a Cape Dutch reformed minister who was caught having sex with a domestic worker in his garage. He was given a suspended sentence.

The law was eventually repealed in 1985 by the Immorality and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act that allowed inter-racial marriages and relationships.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa in 1994, he said in his address:

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”

Nelson Mandela at his inauguration, May 10, 1994

Nelson Mandela at his inauguration, May 10, 1994

 

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