Colonial Wedding: The Venue Responds

The Cowshed, the venue in South Africa that hosted the colonial-Africa themed wedding Kate wrote about on Tuesday, has responded to the internet’s allegations of racism by issuing a press release:

The Cow Shed has noted the accusations of racism leveled at it following the hosting of a wedding in April this year. In response, it would like to point out:
  • that the choice of wedding theme is the couple’s prerogative and The Cow Shed will do its best to accommodate their wishes, provided that these are not illegal and conform to generally accepted norms.
  • that the theme of the wedding in question was in fact based on Sydney Pollack’s film Out of Africa and that it was not, in any reasonable interpretation of that term, a celebration of colonialism.
  • that the waitrons who served at the function, at the couple’s request, comprised people of all race groups found in South Africa, including people of European descent.

My response:

  • I started to think about what this implies about their definition of “generally accepted norms,” but it made me very sad, so I have decided to direct my thoughts elsewhere.
  • An “Out of Africa” themed wedding is not celebrating colonialism “in any reasonable interpretation of that term”?  What do you think it was, a hard-hitting commentary?
  • Points for use of the uber-PC term “waitrons.”
  • Specifically asking that “people of all race groups” act as servers seems like a pretty weird request.  How did that come up, exactly?  “We’re having a colonial-Africa themed wedding, but we don’t want it to be too ‘on the nose’, so be a dear and make sure there are some white people handing out canapés, would you”?

Amanda Taub


  1. Good points. However, waitron is just the regular term for waitstaff in SA … no one uses the term 'waiter' or 'waitress.'

  2. Quit being such a ninny. It may be an unusual theme choice, but this "controversy" sounds like a lot of people just seeking out something to get outraged about.

  3. "waitrons" is awesome. for me it conjures an image of cybernetic service units. postfuturafrocolonial style.

  4. I was shocked when I did a training course with the police in SA and was informed in advance of the sex and racial background of each participant. …like, on an official piece of paper. I gather it is not unusual to comment upon or exige that staff not only divulge their race, but be selected for a job based on it.

  5. Anonymous #2: As part of post-apartheid reconciliation efforts, there is a massive affirmative action effort in place in multiple areas of business and public service. It even extends into the university system as a means to acknowledge and compensate the sub-standard opportunities and resources (or total lack thereof) available to non-White populations for decades. Since the police were part of the apartheid-enforcing mechanism, it becomes even more important know to acknowledge a multi-racial, multi-ethnic police force. For all of the sensitivity to race, disseminating that information or collecting it in an official capacity isn't taboo the way we think of it in the US or in Europe. In fact, it could even be (and this is total conjecture on my part) an effort to show how far SA has come in racial integration to an outsider.

  6. Although I do agree with your views in 95% of the cases discussed on this blog, this is not one of them.
    The reason is precisely that I have had many a discussion about enactment of cultural epochs and/or stereotypes in other cultures.
    In central europe, (and also in the US) role playing games, movies, and other media, as well as fashion labels, designers and so on adapt – for example – the style and mood of the 30s/40s in europe. Now, as we all know, for a large part of society in that day – jews, ‘gypsies’ etc. – these two decades meant oppression, and later persecution and death.
    Still, if I, for a wedding, choose to implement a dress code inspired by 30s/40s german/french/etc. fashion, and organize a Band/Singer to play swing, does that necessarily equal glorification or trivialization of Nazi crimes? I don’t think so.
    In every culture there is a need to re-tell and re-enact history. We shouldn’t be so quick to spell taboos. Culture is a matter of negotiation. Just as we can still read old, sexist fairytales to our children if we, at the same time, equip them with the knowlede necessary to recognize the suggested gender roles as a construct, we can also re-enact history without explicitly adressing every aspect, and still be aware of the implications.

    Of course there is a lot of romantization going on, here, too, but with re-telling and re-enactment, there seems to be a cultural need for a certain amount of romantization, even eroticization, of problematic situations, such as the hovering threat the Nazis posed to almost everyone who was in some way associated with their concept of “the enemy”.
    Placing a cultural taboo on a topic of such emotional gravity might lead to more problems.

    Of course, this wedding may have been the result of ignorant romantisation, but from the perspective of a cultural scientist, I think we shouldn’t be so quick to point a finger and limit reenactment to movies and theatres. That makes for an awful lot of snob. Cultural expression is everyones right, and even if there is overly much romantization going on, it’s still far less problematic to romanticize things on your own wedding than it would be if you were making a movie or a play…

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