From Academic Kids

See also: Colored

In the South African context, the term Coloured refers to various people of mixed Bantu, Khoisan, and European descent (with some Malay or Indian ancestry, especially in the Western Cape) together with some racially "pure" Khoisans. In the apartheid era in order to keep divisions and therefore maintain a "race" focused society the term "Coloureds" was invented as one of the four main racial groups identified by law: Blacks, Whites, Coloureds and Indians. (The terms are capitalised in apartheid era law.)


The "Coloureds"

The "Coloureds" do not have one racial identity. They form a number of racially and culturally distinct groups and were legally considered a separate group under Apartheid's racial classification legislation. Most speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue, and are Christian, belonging to a branch of the Dutch Reformed Church. In the 1950s and 1960s, laws prohibiting interracial sex and marriage, the proclamation of separate residential areas, the provision of separate schooling etc attempted to make the so called "Coloureds" appear to be far more of one identifiable ethnic group than they are in reality. Indeed, many sub-classifications were required in the law to include all those that the government categorised Coloured.

"Coloureds" are spread across the country but the largest and most distinctive group is that of the Griqua, numbering more than 300,000 individuals, with that of the Cape Coloureds (located in the Western Cape where there was strong influence from Indonesian and Malay slaves brought by Dutch colonists) being second largest, with an estimated population of 180,000. The Asian influence had led to a slightly different language use and a strongly Muslim heritage among Cape Malays. The Apartheid bureaucracy devised complex (and often arbitrary) criteria at the time that the Population Registration Act was implemented to determine who was Coloured. Minor officials would administer tests such as the pencil test (testing the curliness of hair) to determine if someone should be categorised Coloured or Black, or Coloured or White. Different members of the same family found themselves in different race groups. Further tests detemined membership of the various sub-racial groups of the "Coloureds".

The commonest language of South African Coloured people is Afrikaans, followed by English.

By and large, Coloured people do not much like the term Coloured, but it continues in use for lack of a satisfactory alternative. The expressions 'so-called Coloured' (Afrikaans sogenaamde Kleurlinge) and 'brown people' (bruin mense) have acquired a wide usage in recent years.

Apartheid and beyond

Discriminated against by apartheid, Coloureds were as a matter of state policy forced to live in segregated townships - in some cases leaving homes their families had occupied for generations - and received an inferior education, though better than that provided to Black South Africans. They played an important role in the struggle against apartheid: for example the African Political Organisation established in 1902 had an exclusively Coloured membership. To note their segregation and demonstrate their identity, they held an annual Coon Carnival in Cape Town.

The political rights of Coloureds varied by location and over time. In the 19th century they theoretically had similar rights to Whites in the Cape Colony (though income and property qualifications affected them disproportionately) but had few or no political rights in the Transvaal Republic or the Orange Free State. There were Coloured members elected to Cape Town's municipal authority. The establishment of the Union of South Africa gave them the franchise, though by 1930 they were restricted to electing White representatives, and there were frequent voting boycotts in protest. This may have helped the election of the National Party in 1948 with an apartheid programme aimed at stripping Coloureds of their remaining voting powers, and led to a constutional crisis between the Government and the Supreme Court over entrenched clauses of the constitution. Coloureds lost their votes largely in the 1950s, with the last municipal votes being removed in 1972.

In 1983, the Constitution was reformed to allow the Coloured and Asian minorities a limited participation in separate and subordinate Houses in a tricameral Parliament, a development which enjoyed limited support. The theory was that the Coloured minority could be allowed limited rights, but the Black majority were to become citizens of independent homelands. These separate arrangements were removed by the negotiations which took place from 1990 to provide all South Africans with the vote.

During the 1994 all-race elections, Coloureds tended to vote for the white National Party, which had formerly oppressed them. This trend has continued, and Coloured identity politics has become important in the Western Cape, with the white-led New National Party and Democratic Alliance vying for the Coloured vote. There is also substantial Coloured support for the African National Congress: Ebrahim Rasool, Dipuo Peters, Beatrice Marshoff, Manne Dipico, and Allan Hendrickse have been noteworthy Coloured politicians affiliated with the ANC. The firebrand Peter Marais (formerly a provincial leader of the New Nationalists) has also sought to portray his New Labour Party as the political voice for Coloured people.

Southern Africa

The term "Coloured" is also used to describe people of mixed race in Namibia, where the term Baster is also encountered, to refer to those of partial Khoisan descent; under South African rule, the policy of apartheid was extended to what was then called South West Africa, and the treatment of Coloureds was comparable to that of South Africa. It is also used in Zimbabwe, where, unlike South Africa, most people of mixed race have Bantu ancestry, being descended from the offspring of European men and Shona and Ndebele women; under white minority rule in the then Rhodesia, Coloureds had more privileges than black Africans, including full voting rights, but still faced discrimination. In Swaziland, the term Eurafrican is used.

Other usage

The American English term (spelt as colored) had a related, but different meaning and was primarily used to refer to African Americans. The use of term in this way is now considered offensive in most contexts; nonetheless it remains part of the title of the NAACP, a prominent African-American organization, and has been employed by some members of the African-American community as a legitimate ethnic/racial label when intentionally self-chosen and used in a respectful manner. In a British context "coloured" has also been used to refer to black people, although this is now regarded as offensive and old fashioned.

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