Inside an interracial marriage

Kundayi Marunya
As the world continues to grow into a global village, with harmony and tolerance among different races improving, interracial marriages have been on the increase. A few years ago, the issue of interracial marriages was thorny in the country and it was almost unacceptable because of the different social classes that defined races in the country.

There are many stories of couples that could not marry because they were from different races. However, things have been changing and intermarriages are becoming common and acceptable in the country.

Over the years we have had many interracial couples including Mbira Centre director Albert Chimedza and wife Antonella Bargione, First Floor Gallery proprietors Marcus Gora and wife Valerie Kabov, theatre guru Daves Guzha and wife Tanja Lubbers.

There are also a number of interracial marriages that ended with pathetic tales as cultural differences eroded bonds that brought the couples together.

To get insight into common characteristics, issues and challenges surrounding interracial marriages, The Herald on Saturday Lifestyle had an interview with Plot Mhako, who is married to Cindy Janicke from Germany. Due to a busy schedule, his wife could not speak to us at length, but she said their marriage had brought a fascinating experience of sharing love and culture.

She said she has learnt a lot from Mhako and she also falls in love with Zimbabwean values every time she learns new things.

Over half a decade after they came together, flames of love still glow. Could the secret be working together in many arts initiatives, could it be the beautiful children they had together, or maybe just understanding each other and learning to value and respect one another?

According to Mhako, a blend of the above mentioned attributes keeps their relationship going.

“We met through a dance-theatre project that we were working on together as a collaboration. We had some mutual friends too,” he said.

The two worked together on Kuenda Productions, a dance theatre that featured many nationalities.

They travelled to different continents, and ended up falling in love. Dance was their shared passion, and years down the line they came back to Zimbabwe with a contemporary dance festival Mafuwe.

The two dated for a year before they started staying together. Mhako had to move to Germany to be with his partner.

Staying together before marriage is obviously a taboo in Zimbabwe but a normal practice in Europe.

This is one of many cultural differences the couple have, but they seem to be handling them very well.

“When the relationship started we were very aware of the cultural differences. However, we did not put much focus and energy into the differences but on how we can build a strong foundation based on the diversity and the fun in discovering new culture, values and norms,” said Mhako.

The two plan on getting married in the near future. There comes the question of lobola.

“I would have loved to pay lobola, but in their culture the practice was abandoned. A proposal, a ring and a wedding are the only exchanges,” he said.

“What matters in her culture the most are not material exchanges when getting married, but the love between the two and the support from their families.”

The two come from very different cultures, and the ideas of a wedding obviously differ. As their big day beckons, one would wonder what to expect when they tie the knot.

“We would want a blend of the two cultures or alternatively two weddings, one in her culture and another in mine,” said Mhako.

When a woman visits their partner’s rural home or their in-laws, there are obvious expectations from their daughter-in-law say, cooking, cleaning and many other chores. One would expect a European woman to plainly refute these duties, something that may cause tensions with the in-laws.

According to Mhako, Janicke has been doing the exact opposite.

“Interestingly she is fascinated by our culture and some practices and gets along well with my mom and my siblings so they find fun in teaching her and she enjoys trying out new things,” he said.

“Also my family is supportive and does not surrender all chores to their daughters-in-law as what happens in some communities. They don’t see her as a labourer but an equal member of the family, so essentially we all partake and help each other even at our own home.”

As our practices are strange to Janicke, so are hers to Mhako.

“A long time ago the girl and her family used to pay the bride price in Cindy’s culture. I found that very strange and funny,” he said.

One would have thought being black Mhako would find it hard to get along with his white in-laws and his partner’s friends.

“We never really struggled with issues of acceptance from both sides,” said Mhako.

“To my surprise her friends warmly accepted me and most of them became my friends too.

“The good thing was also that we had several mutual friends before we fell in love.”

As the couple have three children, one would think cultures would again clash as to how to raise them.

“We take the good from both cultures and I would say we are moulding our own culture and values,” said Mhako.

Relationships have always required a lot of work, interracial ones doubly so. It takes understanding and sacrifice to make them work, and when they flourish, they are a beautiful thing.