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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 May, 2003, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
'Black Afrikaner' story to become film
The Sharpville massacre
Ms Laing grew up when apartheid tensions were highest
The true story of a black girl born to white parents in apartheid South Africa is to be made into a film by Miramax, the company behind such Oscar-winning smashes as A Beautiful Mind and Shakespeare In Love.

Skin, to be released next year, will be based on the life of Sandra Laing - already filmed as a documentary in the 1970s, which was immediately banned by South Africa's Government at the time.

Though her parents, brothers and grandparents were all white, and her parents members even of the National Party, Ms Laing was, through a genetic quirk, born with dark skin.

She was raised as an Afrikaner, and in her early years treated as white - but as she approached puberty, her skin turned ever darker, and her hair became more tightly curled.

"I always asked my parents why am I different to them, and they said to me that I mustn't worry, I am their child," Ms Laing told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.

"The kids were teasing me that I was black, when I took my clothes off they would laugh at me.

"I would stand behind a cupboard because my body was black, not the same as their bodies."

Legal fight

Sandra's skin-colour was most likely a genetic throw-back to a mixed-race ancestor.

The headmaster of the school, Mr Van Tonder, did nothing to discourage what was happening to Sandra.

"He always blamed me and punished me," Ms Laing said.

"Lots of times I was locked in a black, dark room."

When 10-years-old, Sandra was escorted out of school by two policemen and told she was expelled, although no reason was given.

Miramax joint-boss Harvey Weinstein
Miramax are taking on the project

Although Sandra's father Abraham tried to get her into nine other schools, she was turned down by all of them, and eventually the whole community began to turn against the family.

"We went to a restaurant and ordered food, and then the manager came to us and said to my father that I must go outside, I can't eat there," Ms Laing remembered.

She was eventually sent to a boarding school 900km from her home.

In 1967 Sandra was reclassified as white when, as a direct result of a campaign by her father, the law was changed to say that the child of two white parents could not belong to another racial group.

At the age of 15 she eloped to Swaziland with a black employee of her parents, Petrus Zwane, knowing her father would never permit the marriage.

Her father never forgave her - he threatened to kill her if she ever returned to the house, and told the rest of the family they were to have no contact with Sandra.


However, Tony Fabian, director of Skin, said he believed her father had been acting in his daughter's best interests.

"There is no question in my mind that Abraham Laing adored his child," he told Everywoman.

"The things that he did, he did in order to protect her... in South Africa at that time, to live as a black person and to be stripped of all the privileges of being white, was something that like all parents he wanted to protect her from.

Nelson Mandela
I just wish that Mandela was our president when I was born
Sandra Laing

"What he didn't reckon on was Sandra herself not being accepted by the white community."

On her return to South Africa, Sandra was forced by law to move to a black township - without running water, electricity, or sanitation.

Worse was to come, as she was informed by apartheid officials she could not keep her two babies, both born with black skin, as she was now officially white and people of different races were not allowed to live in the same house.

Officials told her she would need her father's permission to be classified as coloured (mixed-race) in order to keep the children, but he refused.

By now her husband Petrus had turned to drink, and her children were taken into care - it would be 10 years until she got them back.


In the meantime she remarried and had a further two children.

Although still shunned by her brothers, she did track down her mother Sannie in a nursing home shortly before she died in 2000.

"She had three strokes, she didn't remember anything," Ms Laing said.

"The second time I went back, she was much better and the sisters said that since she saw me she was much better."

A book about her life was recently published, the profits of which went back to Ms Laing, who has used them to set up a small business.

"I am trying to forget the past and live my new life," she said.

"I just wish that Mandela was our president when I was born - maybe I wouldn't have left home, I would have finished school, and I would have seen my brothers all the time."

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