Hostname: page-component-7d8f8d645b-xmxxh Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-29T09:29:01.051Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

The White Wedding: Affect and Economy in South Africa in the Early Twentieth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 August 2014


Discussions of church weddings are not standard in accounts of African marriage in South Africa in the early twentieth century. However, from the 1890s onward, church weddings were becoming more common, and by the 1930s more Africans married in church than elsewhere. Indeed, these wedding ceremonies provide insight into how black families experienced and created their own social status in a context in which white South Africans viewed black weddings as a symbol of racial misappropriation. Via weddings and their associated commodification, families held on to and proclaimed the value of family life, and importantly, broader social networks as well as status-based associational life in an era of familial disintegration. At the same time weddings were often a double-edged indicator of status through their reference to sexual purity by means of white frocks.


Les discussions sur les mariages religieux ne sont pas standard dans les comptes-rendus de mariages africains en Afrique du Sud au début du XXe siècle. Cependant, depuis les années 1890, les mariages religieux sont de plus en plus communs, et depuis les années 1930 plus d’Africains se sont mariés à l’église qu'ailleurs. En effet, ces cérémonies de mariage donnent un aperçu de la façon dont les familles noires ont connu et ont créé leur propre statut social dans un contexte dans lequel les Sud-Africains blancs considéraient les mariages entre noirs comme un symbole de misappropriation raciale. Via ces mariages et leur consommation associée, les familles perpétuaient leurs valeurs sur la vie de de famille, ainsi que les réseaux sociaux plus larges et la vie associative fondée sur un statut dans une ère de désintégration familiale. En même temps ces mariages étaient souvent un indicateur à double tranchant à travers leur référence à la pureté sexuelle par le biais du port de robes blanches.

Copyright © African Studies Association 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Archival References
Department of Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand, Church of the Province of South Africa
AB1653. 1917. Minutes, St. John’s Diocese, July 8.
AB3154. 1930. Transkeian Missionary Conference.
AB799. 1935–1938. Minutes of Preachers’ and Teachers’ Meetings, St. Cuthberts.
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
ICM/CBMS Africa 2. 1940. Proceedings, Conference on African Family Life, June 26–27.
Cape Archives Depot, Cape Town
CAD 1/ALC 2/1/2/1 13/1933. Civil Court Proceedings, Native Affairs Court, Alice.
Books and Articles
Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
Bantu World. 1935a. “Pretty Wedding at Alcock Spruit, Mkwenya-Msimang.” July 20.
Bantu World. 1935b. “Johannesburg Marriage, Mathabathe–Nakene.” July 20.
Bantu World. 1937. “How to Plan a Happy Wedding.” February 27.
Bonner, Philip. 1982. “The Transvaal Native Congress, 1917–1920: The Radicalisation of the Black Petty Bourgeoisie on the Rand.” In Industrialisation and Social Change in South Africa, edited by Marks, Shula and Rathbone, Richard, 270313. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Bundy, Colin. 1979. Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry. London: James Currey.Google Scholar
Burke, Timothy. 1996. Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Christian Express (Cape Colony). 1885. “Port Elizabeth Exhibition.” January 1.
Christian Express (Cape Colony). 1917. “The Vital Problem in the Transkei.” March 1.
Church, Kathryn. 2003. “Something Plain and Simple? Unpacking Custom-Made Wedding Dresses from Western Canada (1950–1995).” In Wedding Dress across Cultures, edited by Johnson, Donald Clay and Foster, Helen Bradley, 521. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
Cobley, Alan G. 1990. Class and Consciousness: The Black Petty Bourgeoisie in South Africa, 1924–1950. New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
Cole, Jennifer, and Thomas, Lynn M., eds. 2009. Love in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Comaroff, John L., and Comaroff, Jean. 1981. “The Management of Marriage in a Tswana Chiefdom.” In African Marriage in Southern Africa, edited by Krige, Eileen J. and Comaroff, John L., 2949. Cape Town: Juta.Google Scholar
Comaroff, John L., and Comaroff, Jean. 1992. Ethnography and the Historical Imagination: Studies in the Ethnographic Imagination. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.Google Scholar
Comaroff, John L., and Comaroff, Jean. 1997. Of Revelation and Revolution: The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cooper, Barbara M. 1995. “Women’s Worth and Wedding Gift Exchange in Maradi, Niger, 1907–89.” Journal of African History 36 (1): 121–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Durham, Deborah. 1999. “The Predicament of Dress: Polyvalency and the Ironies of Cultural Identity.” American Ethnologist 26 (2): 389411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ehrman, Edwina. 2011. The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions. London: V&A Publishers.Google Scholar
Erlank, Natasha. 2003. “Gender and Masculinity in South African Nationalist Discourse, 1912–1950.” Feminist Studies 29 (3): 653–71.Google Scholar
Erlank, Natasha. 2012. “Strange Bedfellows: The International Missionary Council, the International African Institute, and Research into African Marriage and Family.” In The Spiritual in the Secular: Missionaries and Knowledge About Africa, edited by Harries, Patrick and Maxwell, David, 267–92. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.Google Scholar
Gaitskell, Deborah. 1982. “Wailing for Purity: Prayer Unions, African Mothers and Adolescent Daughters 1912–1940.” In Industrialization and Social Change in South Africa, edited by Marks, Shula and Rathbone, Richard, 338–57. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Gaitskell, Deborah. 1990. “Devout Domesticity? A Century of African Women’s Christianity in South Africa.” In Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945, edited by Walker, Cherryl, 251–72. Cape Town: David Philip.Google Scholar
Gitari, David. 1984. “The Church and Polygamy.” Transformation 1 (1): 310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goodhew, David. 2004. Respectability and Resistance: A History of Sophiatown. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.Google Scholar
Goodhew, David. 2000. “Working-Class Respectability: The Example of the Western Areas of Johannesburg, 1930–55.” Journal of African History 41 (2): 241–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grahamstown Journal. 1913a. “The Spurling-Greathead Wedding.” June 12.
Grahamstown Journal. 1913b. “An Alexandria Wedding, Miss Gardner of Harvest Vale.” December 16.
Hansen, Karen Tranberg. 2004. “The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing, Fashion, and Culture.” Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 369–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hastings, Adrian. 1973. Christian Marriage in Africa. London: SPCK.Google Scholar
Henderson, James. 1928. “The Economic Life of the Native.” In Christianity and the Natives of South Africa : A Year-Book of South African Missions, edited by Taylor, James Dexter. Lovedale, S.A.: Lovedale Institution Press.Google Scholar
Hirsch, Jennifer S. 2003. A Courtship after Marriage: Sexuality and Love in Mexican Transnational Families. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Hirsch, Jennifer S., and Wardlow, Holly, eds. 2006. Modern Loves: The Anthropology of Romantic Courtship and Companionate Marriage. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hunter, Mark. 2010. Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Hunter, Monica. 1961 (1936). Reaction to Conquest: Effects of Contact with Europeans on the Pondo of South Africa. 2nd edition. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Jeater, Diana. 1993. Marriage, Perversion and Power: The Construction of Moral Discourse in Southern Rhodesia 18941930. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jordan, Archibald Campbell. 1980 (1940). The Wrath of the Ancestors: A Novel. Translated by Archibald, and Jordan, Priscilla. Alice, S.A.: Lovedale Press.Google Scholar
Judge, Melanie, Manion, Anthony, and Waal, Shaun de, eds. 2008. To Have and to Hold: The Making of Same-Sex Marriage in South Africa. Johannesburg: Jacana Media.Google Scholar
Keane, Webb. 2007. Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Krige, Eileen Jensen. 1936. “Changing Conditions in Marital Relations and Parental Duties Among Urbanized Natives.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 9 (1): 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krige, Eileen Jensen, and Comaroff, John L., eds. 1981. Essays on African Marriage in Southern Africa. Cape Town: Juta.Google Scholar
Kuper, Adam. 1982. Wives for Cattle: Bridewealth and Marriage in Southern Africa. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Lacey, Peter. 1969. The Wedding. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.Google Scholar
Levin, Ruth. 1947. “Marriage in Langa, Native Location.” School of African Studies, University of Cape Town. Cape Town: University of Cape Town.
Lewis, Jack. 1984. “The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry: A Critique and Reassesment.” Journal of Southern African Studies 11 (1): 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Longmore, Laura. 1966. The Dispossessed: A Study of the Sex-Life of Bantu Women in Urban Areas and Around Johannesburg. London: Corgi.Google Scholar
Lovett, Margot. 1996. “She Thinks She’s Like a Man”: Marriage and (De)Constructing Identity in Colonial Buha, Western Tanzania, 1943–1960.” Canadian Journal of African Studies 30 (1): 5268.Google Scholar
Magona, Sindiwe. 1990. To My Children’s Children. Cape Town: David Phillip.Google Scholar
Matthews, Frieda. 1995. Remembrances. Bellville, S.A.: Mayibuye.Google Scholar
Mokitimi, S. 1949. “African Religion.” In Handbook of Race Relations in South Africa, edited by Hellmann, Ellen, 556–72. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Peffer, John. 2013. “‘Together in the Picture.’Chimurenga Chronic, April 19.Google Scholar
Penner, Barbara. 2004. “‘A Vision of Love and Luxury’: The Commercialization of Nineteenth–Century American Weddings.” Winterthur Portfolio 39 (1): 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Peterson, Derek R. 2006. “Morality Plays: Marriage, Church Courts, and Colonial Agency in Central Tanganyika, ca. 1876–1928.” American Historical Review 111 (4): 9831010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, Arthur, ed. 1953. Survey of African Marriage and Family Life. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Rich, Jeremy. 2006. “My Matrimonial Bureau: Masculine Concerns and Presbyterian Mission Evangelization in the Gabon Estuary, c. 1900–1915.” Journal of Religion in Africa 36 (2): 200–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ross, Robert. 2008. Clothing: A Global History. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
Schapera, Isaac. 1940. Married Life in an African Tribe. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
Schiltz, Marc. 2002. “A Yoruba Tale of Marriage, Magic, Misogyny and Love.” Journal of Religion in Africa 32 (3): 335–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Switzer, Les, and Switzer, Donna. 1979. The Black Press in South Africa and Lesotho: A Descriptive Bibliographic Guide to African, Coloured and Indian Newspapers, Newsletters and Magazines 1836–1976. Boston: G.K. Hall.Google Scholar
Thomas, Lynn M. 2006. “The Modern Girl and Racial Respectability in 1930s South Africa.” Journal of African History 47 (3): 461–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thomas, Lynn M. 2009. “Love, Sex, and the Modern Girl in 1930s Southern Africa.” In Love in Africa, edited by Cole, Jennifer and Thomas, Lynn M., 31–57. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Turner, Jann, dir. 2009. White Wedding. South Africa: Ster-Kinekor.Google Scholar
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1922. “Umtshato e Bhai, Msengana-Maqanda.” November 25.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1936a. “Engaged.” January 25.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1936b. “Wedding Bells at Grahamstown.” July 4.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1936c. “Dr. Roseberry and Mrs. Bokwe’s Thanks.” July 25.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1937a. “A Marriage Has Been Arranged.” May 1.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1937b. “Silgee–Frost Wedding, Happy Social Event.” October 30.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1937c. “Tshange–Gumede Wedding, List of Wedding Presents.” October 30.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1937d. “How to Plan a Happy Wedding.” February 27.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1938a. “Herschel, Wedding: Phillips-Tlate.” February 5.
Umteteli wa Bantu. 1938b. “Butterworth Wedding, Busakwe-Kabane.” August 6.
Urban-Mead, Wendy. 2004. “Religion, Women and Gender in the Brethren in Christ Church, Matabeleland, Zimbabwe 1898–1978.” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University.
Urban-Mead, Wendy. 2008. “Negotiating ‘Plainness’ and Gender: Dancing and Apparel at Christian Weddings in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, 1913–1944.” Journal of Religion in Africa 38 (2): 209–46.
Van der Vliet, Virginia. 1991. “Traditional Husbands, Modern Wives? Constructing Marriages in a South African Township.” African Studies 50 (1–2): 219–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wauchope, Isaac Williams. 2008. Isaac Williams Wauchope: Selected Writings 1874–1916, edited and translated by Opland, Jeff and Nyamende, Abner. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.Google Scholar
Wilson, Francis. 2013. “Historical Background to the Links Between Fort Hare and the Hunterstoun Centre.”
Wilson, Monica. 1972. “The Wedding Cakes: A Study of Ritual Change.” In The Interpretation of Ritual: Essays in Honour of A. I. Richards, edited by La Fontaine, J. S., 187201. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
Wilson, Monica, Kaplan, Selma, and Maki, T.. 1952. Keiskammahoek Rural Survey: Social Structure. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter.Google Scholar