Oliver Borzo, 22, an American from the state of Iowa, stood behind Tsakani Chauke, 24, with his arms wrapped around her waist while he kissed her softly on the cheek as she blushed. The couple has been dating for six months. They first met at Tsakani’s work place in a grocery store, in Hoedspruit, South Africa, where Oliver moved to do two years of volunteer community service. Although Oliver had been watching Tsakani for months, he had never gathered the courage to approach her directly. Instead, he made sure to use her checkout line every time he went grocery shopping.
“I thought she was very pretty,” Oliver recalled, looking at her with bedroom eyes. “It was very awkward. Her co workers had noticed that I was looking at her and then all of them surrounded me and said ‘don’t you want to say hello to Tsakani’ And I thought, oh my gosh! I’m so nervous. I ran away that time but later came back and asked her out on a date.”
Since that day their love for each other is still going strong.
Tsakani remembers very well how it all started. “When he asked me out on a date, my heart was racing. I was kind of nervous, and I didn’t say anything back. I was very shocked because he was white, different from our skin color.”
The two are not just another ordinary couple in the eyes of many. Everywhere they go they attract attention. People can’t help but to stare at them, because this kind of relationship is something that rarely happens in South Africa.
Although apartheid was supposed to have ended fifteen years ago, racism still pretty much exists, even in the younger generations. Many issues pertaining to society, politics, culture, health, and economics are affected by race and sometimes it’s hard to separate what causes what. Nearly all South Africans and visitors to the country would agree that Black and White South Africans are still divided.
People, then, are shocked to see Oliver, a white man, with Tsakani, who is black. It makes life difficult for the lovebirds.
“Living in South Africa is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done. It is not what I’m used to,” explained Oliver. “I didn’t know I was white until I came in this country. Back home in the U.S, I am Oliver first then a white person, but here I am a white person first and being white is very stressful! I would much rather go to a grocery store knowing that people aren’t watching me, but when I go and people see me everyone just says ‘oh the white guy’. People notice me.” He continued, “White people drive by in their cars and see us holding hands on the streets. They look at me with this horror on their faces.”
Getting horrified looks on the streets is not the only problem the interracial couple has encountered. When Oliver first moved to Hoedspruit, he lived with an old white Afrikaans couple until they kicked him out when he brought Tsakani over to their place.
“They said that it was just not safe to have those, meaning black people, over because they are very dangerous. The thing that really bothered me is that he [the landlord] assumed that I understood that black people weren’t suppose to come over because I am white and as a white guy we both understand,” said Oliver. “I am a foreigner. No self-respecting Afrikaans man could ever bring in a black person, but I do because I am a self-respecting American man.” He continued. “My mom and dad brought me up to love everybody. I treat black and white the same.”
Tsakani too is affected by the unwanted attention they get from people everywhere. “People are always making nasty comments. I feel like everyone is just watching us. People are always asking me why I date a white man. Some of them come to my work place to ask me if I was the one they saw walking around on the streets with a white man,” she explained in a soft voice as she sat next to Oliver. “Sometimes this makes me angry, and other times I just ignore them.”
Tsakani’s friends are fine with her dating a white man because many of them feel that white men are faithful unlike black men. Her mom, though, isn’t so happy. She fears the possibility of having a white man as a son-in-law. She has never met Oliver and she refuses to see him. She simply doesn’t approve of their interracial relationship. On one occasion, her mother backed out of visiting her other daughter because she heard that Oliver was going to be there as well.
Even Tsakani’s white female boss is giving her a hard time at work, and she feels it is because of Oliver’s skin. According to Tsakani, her boss sometimes shouts at her when she makes a mistake. “I remember one day I was cashiering and I asked her for a pen. She said, ‘Why don’t you ask your American boyfriend to buy you a pen’ and then she laughed like she was joking, but this has happened many times,” recalled Tsakani. “I felt like shouting at her! She is just looking down on me and maybe she thinks I don’t deserve to date a white person.”
Although many people are against their relationship because of their different skin colors, Oliver and Tsakani are still going strong in their relationship and say that nothing is going to change. “Tsakani has made my life fuller and better. I can’t imagine life without her,” said Oliver as he took Tsakani’s hand in his and walked her to her place.
Oliver is even hopeful that the race issues will get better in South Africa. “My country has moved from a place where Tsakani and I would have been killed in some parts of America walking around together sixty years ago. But now, the same people who would have lynched us voted for a black man to be the president. So, I see a country that moves from racism to something better and South Africa will do the same. I think it’s inevitable.”
The question is how long will that take?