History: Language and Identity

Such is the legacy of Apartheid's brutal regime that the racial categories that were ossified and applied with obsessive zeal under it continue to hold some currency in South Africa. Those categories were 'White', 'Coloured', 'Asian' and 'Native', particularly with regard to Coloured. 

 

To a British ear 'Coloured' sounds like a throwback to Enoch Powell-style 1970s racism but in a South African context Coloured was never equated with 'black'.

Coloured identity and the history of the present-day Coloured people of South Africa [...] has not only been marginalized in most general political and academic discourses, but whose history has also been subject to popular misconceptions and assumptions p.280

 

The analysis identifies four 'core' elements or constituents of Coloured identity which, in spite of the fluid changes that occurred in the content defining this phenomenon over time, combined to 'reproduce and stabilize' that identity throughout the twentieth century. These principal constituents of Coloured identity are assimilationism, the Coloured people's intermediate status in the racial hierarchy, the 'negative connotations with which Coloured identity was imbued', especially the shame attached to their supposed racial hybridity, and the marginality of the Coloured people p.280

 

This marginality was defined by the fact that Coloured people constituted no more than nine per cent of the population throughout the twentieth century, and lacked significant economic and political power. p.282

 

Coloured identity, as Adhikari rightly observes, is in flux and experiencing a degree of change unparalleled since its emergence in the nineteenth century. Coloureds are experiencing difficulty with questions of how they should deal with their multiple identities as black, as African, as South African, and as Coloured. Compounding all these difficulties of adjusting are Coloured perceptions of discrimination and marginalisation by the African-dominated government in the new South Africa.

 

JAMES MUZONDIDYA Review of Not White Enough, Not Black Enough: Racial Identity in the South African Coloured Community by Mohamed Adhikari

Kronos No. 32 (November 2006)


The Western Cape: the First Settlers