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Columbia University

Publication Date

Spring 2010

Program Name

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation


South Africa is working to come to terms with the residual effects of institutionalized racist policies that governed all aspects of its citizens’ lives during Apartheid. One struggle individuals and communities must wage is to define how they see their own racial identity in a post-Apartheid South Africa. There are many questions to ask. Is race no longer pertinent, or does it have a past that must be earnestly engaged and challenged, or does it constitute eternally fixed boundaries embodying cultural norms and biological traits? I, as I show in this paper, see the concept of race itself as a historical construct, one that must be engaged and challenged in order to understand it in its present form. Looking at the coloured community of Durban, this paper seeks to study the historical formation of coloured identity and the manner in which coloured people in Durban understand, or not, the formation of that identity. The aims of this paper lie in the belief that any race is a product of a particular kind of knowledge production that suited particular interests; race thus is a man-made creation and as such it has the potential to continue evolving. As South Africa attempts to forge a new national narrative, one where the idea of a “rainbow nation” plays a central role, it is important that racial categories be given the space by individuals and the government to evolve and be contested. I will show how coloured identity has come to occupy some of the meaning it now assumes. I will also show that though recent scholarship has called for a change in the way coloured identity is viewed, suggesting a move from an essentialist perspective to one that sees the identity as dynamic and shaped by history but also by those who presently own it, this consensus is missing in the broader community for various reasons. In conclusion I suggest that in order for South Africa to become a true “rainbow nation” ordinary citizens need to create a space for one another other to construct their own identities. For this to be possible, the state must set the example and begin understanding its citizens as composed of a complicated, intertwined set of identities.


Race and Ethnicity | Sociology of Culture


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