What’s the colour of love?
How Sindi Sithole met Marinus van Zyl ... and learned many truths, both good and bad, about SA society
In 2003, when Zimbabwe-born medical student Sindi Sithole’s professor heard she was marrying a white Afrikaner, he called her aside during a ward round and asked her not to change her surname.
He told her if her surname changed to Van Zyl, it would create an unfair expectation in patients' minds.
She explains his words: “It would be very unfair of me to create an expectation in patients’ minds and then they see me ... and are disappointed.”
She says she still had to pass her medical studies at the University of Pretoria, so she lied and said she would have a double-barrelled surname: Sithole-Van Zyl.She married Marinus, who works in IT, in 2004 after he courted her from 2001. They met at church, and live in Johannesburg.She is now Dr Sindi van Zyl, a general practitioner.
She says patients, usually black women, are sometimes shocked. They tell her she doesn’t look like a black woman who would be married to a white man. Then they are speechless when she asks them what a black woman married to a white man should look like. She thinks it may be like Naomi Campbell, tall with a weave. “I don’t fit into this stereotype.”
Van Zyl is a larger-than-life character with a Twitter following of 53,000 with whom she shares her life, her love of avocados, shopping, handbags, perfume, and her mixed-race children she has nicknamed the Caramellos.She is open about her struggles with a credit card. “There is always high drama,” she says, faced with what she feels is racism from black people.
Once, when a black cashier looked at her credit card and saw the name Dr van Zyl, instead of asking for her identity card she called the manager. The assumption was Van Zyl had stolen the card.
Van Zyl was furious, stormed outside to her husband and started to cry. He was so angry he entered the store the wrong way, pushing open the exit sliding doors .
“Make it right, make it right,” he demanded of the manager as his wife stood sobbing. The manager told her Van Zyl had been making a scene. In the end she received her shopping for free and was always treated as a VIP in that store.Marinus’s cousins from North West were horrified when they learned he was marrying a black woman.
They believed God would not approve of an interracial relationship. They told Marinus they did not want their kids to grow up believing it was okay for races to mix.
At one stage his cousin complained that his own wife was once faced with being treated by a black medical student when she went to a doctor in Rustenburg.
“The blacks are everywhere now and are even doctors,” he reportedly said. His wife had refused to be examined by this black medical student – who turned out to be Sindi.
“That medical student is my wife-to-be,” Marinus told his stunned cousins.
Van Zyl says Twitter has now become ugly. Last week her friend spotted a tweet about Van Zyl that said she had “married a coloniser”. Such attacks on her family make her furious. She says Twitter has become a place of racial tension and hatred.
“Twitter is fractured and imploding. It has a very toxic side.”
She disabled her account two weeks ago. But her husband, calm as ever, encouraged her to rejoin because people ask her health-related questions.
So she is back but a “little less naive”.