Sandra Laing (born 1955 in Piet Retief), is a woman who was born to white parents but reclassified as "colored" during the apartheid era in South Africa. She is the subject of the 2009 biographical film Skin.
Sandra Lang with her biological mother
Sandra was born in Piet Retief, a small conservative town in apartheid South Africa. Both Sandra's parents and all her grandparents were white. Her eldest brother was also white but Sandra and her younger brother had African features. Sandra's parents were both members of the National Party and supporters of the Apartheid system.
During apartheid, schools were segregated; however, since both her parents were white, she was sent to an all white school. Her parents hoped that as she got older she would get lighter; however, instead she grew darker and her hair became more tightly coiled. At boarding school she was shunned by the other school mates because of her skin color.
Anthony Fabian with Sandra Laing and her husband Johannes Motloung, after the
world premiere ofSkin
When she was 10 years old, the school authorities expelled Sandra and she was escorted by two police officers from the school. Her parents fought several legal battles to have her declared white, but no school would enroll her. Her father underwent a blood test for paternity in the 1960s. The results confirmed that he could not be excluded as the father. However, this test predated modern DNA tests.
Since she was shunned by the white community, Sandra's only friends were the children of black employees. At age 15, she eloped with a black man to Swaziland. Her father threatened to kill her and broke off contact with her. She remained estranged from her family. She did, however, manage to track down her mother in a nursing home shortly before her mother died in 2001. Her mother unfortunately had lost her memory after a succession of strokes. A book called When She Was White by Judith Stone reports that Sandra's mother, Sannie Laing, did remember Sandra and was happy to see her. Sandra's brothers, both of whom are still alive, had no contact with Sandra at the time the book was written.