Romance wins as color bar bends in South Africa -- or did it?

A South African love story with a difference could have important repercussions for the government. The big headline about the affair in the largest Afrikaans-language, government-supporting newspaper, Rapport, this past weekend is calculated to touch the heart and win sympathy.

It says: "Color bar could not stop love . . . Susan and Aubrey are now together again at last."

But Susan Green is classified as Colored (a person of mixed race) and Aubrey Jooste is classified white. And under South African law, no white person is allowed to marry somebody belonging to another racial group -- or have any love relationship across the "color bar."

This is considered by right-wing supporters of the National Party government to be one of the cornerstones of the government's apartheid policy -- the policy that decrees that there must be social, economic, and political segregation of the races.

And it is supported by the hierarchy of the main Afrikaans all-white Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, a church whose members are overwhelmingly government supporters.

The romance between Susan Green, a widow, and Aubrey Jooste, a divorce, first hit the headlines about six months ago.

They went to court to get married, but the presiding officer took a look at Susan's identity document -- ominously called a "book of life" -- and refused to carry on with the ceremony. This was because the computer number on her birth certificate showed that she was Colored, and Aubrey's number was white.

Susan had always regarded herself as white. Her first husband was a white man. But since his death, something had happened, and she and her children had been reclassified as Colored.

So Susan started to fight back. She went to the newspapers, and she applied to the Department of the Interior to be reclassified as a white person again, according to South African standards.

Aubrey stuck by her. They continued to stay together though this could have landed them in jail. The Group Areas Act prevents Colored people living in the same areas as whites. And the Immorality Act forbids a love relationship between people of different races.

Finally, last week, Susan was given formal permission to marry Aubrey -- but she still has not been reclassified from Colored to white. Officials are still studying the case.

The decision may have been well meant, but it has thrown South Africa's race laws into confusion. In fact, one legal expert says the government itself may have committed an illegal act by allowing the couple to marry.

The case has highlighted not only the government's objectionable race laws, but also the tangle that can be created by trying to avoid the consequences of applying these laws -- instead of having the courage to defy its own right wing and actually scrap the laws.

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