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Extended Coloured family with roots in Cape Town, Kimberley and Pretoria
Total population
~ 6,285,300[1]
Regions with significant populations
South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe
 South Africa5,247,740 (2020 Estimate)[2]
Afrikaans, English
Predominantly Christianity, minority Islam
Related ethnic groups
Africans, Cape Dutch, Cape Coloureds, Cape Malays, San people, Khoikhoi, Zulu, Xhosa, Saint Helenians, Rehoboth Basters, Tswana
Coloured people as a proportion of the total population in South Africa.
  •   0–20%
  •   20–40%
  •   40–60%
  •   60–80%
  •   80–100%
Density of the Coloured population in South Africa.
  •   <1 /km²
  •   1–3 /km²
  •   3–10 /km²
  •   10–30 /km²
  •   30–100 /km²
  •   100–300 /km²
  •   300–1000 /km²
  •   1000–3000 /km²
  •   >3000 /km²
A genetic clustering of South African Coloured and five source populations.[6] Each vertical bar represents individual.

Coloureds (Afrikaans: Kleurlinge or Bruinmense, lit. "Brown people") are a multiracial ethnic group native to Southern Africa who have ancestry from more than one of the various populations inhabiting the region, including Khoisan, Bantu, European, Austronesian, South Asian or East Asian. Because of the combination of ethnicities, different families and individuals within a family may have a variety of different physical features.[7][8] Coloured was a legally defined racial classification during apartheid.[8][9]

In the Western Cape, a distinctive Cape Coloured and affiliated Cape Malay culture developed. In other parts of Southern Africa, people classified as Coloured were usually the descendants of individuals from two distinct ethnicities. Genetic studies suggest the group has the highest levels of mixed ancestry in the world.[10][11] Mitochondrial DNA studies have demonstrated that the maternal lines of the Coloured population are descended mostly from African Khoisan women. This ethnicity shows a gender-biased admixture.[12][13] While a plurality of male lines have come from Ngunis, Southern African, West African and East African populations, 45.2%, Western European lineages contributed 37.3% to paternal components and South Asian/Southeast Asian lineages 17.5%.[12][13]

Coloureds are to be mostly found in the western part of South Africa. In Cape Town, they form 45.4% of the total population, according to the South African National Census of 2011.[14]: 56–59 

The apartheid-era Population Registration Act, 1950 and subsequent amendments, codified the Coloured identity and defined its subgroups. Indian South Africans were initially classified under the act as a subgroup of Coloured.[15] As a consequence of Apartheid policies and despite the abolition of the Population Registration Act in 1991, Coloureds are regarded as one of four race groups in South Africa. These groups (blacks, European-African, Coloureds and Indians) still tend to have strong racial identities and to classify themselves and others, as members of these race groups[9][8] and the classification continues to persist in government policy, to an extent, as a result of attempts at redress such as Black Economic Empowerment and Employment Equity.[8][16][17]


Adam Kok III, leader of the Coloured Griqua People

The Cape Coloured community is predominantly descended from numerous interracial sexual unions, primarily between Western European men and Khoisan or mixed-race women in the Cape Colony from the 17th century onwards.[12][13]

In KwaZulu-Natal, the Coloured possess a diverse heritage including British, Irish, German, Mauritian, Saint Helenian, Indian, Xhosa and Zulu.[18][19]

Zimbabwean Coloureds are descended from Shona or Ndebele, British and Afrikaner settlers, as well as Arab and Asian people. Griqua, on the other hand, are descendants of Khoisan women and Afrikaner Trekboers. Despite these major differences, as both groups have ancestry from more than one naturalised racial group, they are classified as coloured in the South African context. Such mixed-race people did not necessarily self-identify this way; some preferred to call themselves black or Khoisan or just South African.[citation needed]

The Griqua were subjected to an ambiguity of other creole people within Southern African social order. According to Nurse and Jenkins (1975), the leader of this “mixed” group, Adam Kok I, was a former slave of the Dutch governor who was manumitted and provided land outside Cape Town in the eighteenth century (Nurse 1975:71). With territories beyond the Dutch East India Company’s administration, Kok provided refuge to deserting soldiers, runaway slaves and remaining members of various Khoikhoi tribes.[18] In South Africa and neighbouring countries, the white minority governments historically segregated Africans from Europeans after settlement had progressed. They classified all such mixed race people together in one class, despite their numerous ethnic and national differences in ancestry. The imperial and apartheid governments categorized them as Coloured. In addition, other distinctly homogeneous ethnic groups also traditionally viewed the mixed-race populations as a separate group.

During the apartheid era in South Africa of the second half of the 20th century, the government used the term "Coloured" to describe one of the four main racial groups it defined by law. This was an effort to impose white supremacy and maintain racial divisions. Individuals were classified as White South Africans (formally classified as "European"), Black South Africans (formally classified as "Native", "Bantu" or simply "African" and comprising the majority of the population), Coloureds (mixed-race) and Indians (formally classified as "Asian").[8]

Coloured people may have ethnic ancestry from Indonesia, mixed-race, and Khoisan ancestry. The Apartheid government treated them as one people, despite their differences. 'Cape Muslims' were also classified as 'coloured.' They generally have Indonesian and black ancestry, as many Indonesian slaves had children with African partners. Many Griqua began to self-identify as Coloureds during the apartheid era, because of the benefits of such classification. For example, Coloureds did not have to carry a dompas (an identity document designed to limit the movements of the non-white populace), while the Griqua, who were seen as an indigenous African group, did.

Roussow speaking Afrikaans.

In the 21st century, Coloured people constitute a plurality of the population in the provinces of Western Cape (48.8%), and a large minority in the Northern Cape (40.3%), both areas of centuries of mixing among the populations. In the Eastern Cape, they make up 8.3% of the population. Most speak Afrikaans, as they were generally descendants of Dutch and Afrikaner men and grew up in their society. About twenty percent of the Coloured speak English as their mother tongue, mostly those of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Virtually all Cape Town Coloured are bilingual.[20][21]


At least one genetic study indicates that Cape Coloureds have ancestries from the following ethnic groups; not all Coloureds in South Africa had the same ancestry.[22]

The Malagasy component in the Coloured composite gene pool is itself a blend of Malay and Bantu genetic markers.

This genetic admixture appears to be gender-biased. A majority of maternal genetic material is Khoisan. The Cape Coloured population is descended predominantly from unions of European and European-African males with autochthonous Khoisan females.[12][13]

Coloureds in KwaZulu-Natal tend to be descended from unions between Zulu women and British settlers, and the group includes people with Mauritian and St Helenian ancestry.[19][18]

Pre-apartheid era[edit]

Coloured people played an important role in the struggle against apartheid and its predecessor policies. The African Political Organisation, established in 1902, had an exclusively Coloured membership; its leader Abdullah Abdurahman rallied Coloured political efforts for many years.[23] Many Coloured people later joined the African National Congress and the United Democratic Front. Whether in these organisations or others, many Coloured people were active in the fight against apartheid.

The political rights of Coloured people 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). In the Transvaal Republic or the Orange Free State, they had few rights. Coloured members were elected to Cape Town's municipal authority (including, for many years, Abdurahman). The establishment of the Union of South Africa gave Coloured people the franchise, although by 1930 they were restricted to electing White representatives. They conducted frequent voting boycotts in protest. Such boycotts may have contributed to the victory of the National Party in 1948. They carried out an apartheid programme that stripped Coloured people of their remaining voting powers.

Coloured people were subject to forced relocation. For instance, the government relocated Coloured from the urban Cape Town areas of District Six, which was later bulldozed. Other areas they were forced to leave included Constantia, Claremont, Simon's Town. Inhabitants were moved to racially designated sections of the metropolitan area on the Cape Flats. Additionally, under apartheid, Coloured people received education inferior to that of Whites. It was, however, better than that provided to Black South Africans.

Apartheid era[edit]

Explanation of South African identity numbers in an identity document during apartheid in terms of official White, Coloured and Indian population subgroups

J. G. Strijdom, known as "the Lion of the North", worked to restrict Coloured rights. He removed their ability to exercise their franchise. Strijdom's government expanded the number of Senate seats from 48 to 89. All of the additional 41 members hailed from the National Party, increasing its representation in the Senate to 77 in total. The Appellate Division Quorum Bill increased the number of judges necessary for constitutional decisions in the Appeal Court from five to eleven. Strijdom, knowing that he had his two-thirds majority, held a joint sitting of parliament in May 1956. The entrenchment clause regarding the Coloured vote, known as the South African Act, was amended.

Coloureds were placed on a separate voters' roll. They could elect four whites to represent them in the House of Assembly. Two whites would be elected to the Cape Provincial Council and the governor general could appoint one senator. Both blacks and whites opposed this measure. The Torch Commando was very prominent, while the Black Sash (white women, uniformly dressed, standing on street corners with placards) also made themselves heard.

Many Coloureds refused to register for the new voters' roll and the number of Coloured voters dropped dramatically. In the next election, only 50.2% of them voted. They had no interest in voting for white representatives—an activity which many of them saw as pointless.

Under the Population Registration Act, as amended, Coloureds were formally classified into various subgroups, including Cape Coloureds, Cape Malays and "other coloured". A portion of the small Chinese South African community was also classified as a coloured subgroup.[1][2]

In 1958, the government established the Department of Coloured Affairs, followed in 1959 by the Union for Coloured Affairs. The latter had 27 members and served as an advisory link between the government and the Coloured people.

The 1964 Coloured Persons Representative Council turned out to be a constitutional hitch[clarification needed] which never really got going. In 1969, the Coloureds elected forty onto the council to supplement the twenty nominated by the government, taking the total number to sixty.

Following the 1983 referendum, in which 66.3% of white voters supported the change, the Constitution was reformed to allow the Coloured and Indian minorities limited participation in separate and subordinate Houses in a tricameral Parliament. This was part of a change in which the Coloured minority was to 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.

Post-apartheid era[edit]

During the 1994 all-race elections, some Coloured people voted for the white National Party. The National Party recast itself as the New National Party, partly to attract non-White voters. This political alliance, often perplexing to outsiders, has sometimes been explained in terms of the culture and language shared by White and Coloured New National Party members, who both spoke Afrikaans. In addition, both groups opposed affirmative action programmes that might give preference to non-Coloured Black people, and some Coloured people feared giving up older privileges, such as access to municipal jobs, if African National Congress gained leadership in the government.

Since the late 20th century, Coloured identity politics have grown in influence. The Western Cape has been a site of the rise of opposition parties, such as the Democratic Alliance (DA). The Western Cape is considered as an area in which this party might gain ground against the dominant African National Congress. The Democratic Alliance drew in some former New National Party voters and won considerable Coloured support. The New National Party collapsed in the 2004 elections. Coloured support aided the Democratic Alliance's victory in the 2006 Cape Town municipal elections.

Patricia de Lille, former mayor of Cape Town and founder of the now-defunct Independent Democrats, does not use the label Coloured but many observers would consider her as Coloured by visible appearance. The Independent Democrats party sought the Coloured vote and gained significant ground in the municipal and local elections in 2006, particularly in districts in the Western Cape with high proportions of Coloured residents. The firebrand Peter Marais (formerly a provincial leader of the New National Party) has sought to portray his New Labour Party as the political voice for Coloured people.

Coloured people supported and were members of the African National Congress before, during and after the apartheid era: notable politicians include Ebrahim Rasool (previously Western Cape premier), Beatrice Marshoff, John Schuurman and Allan Hendrickse. The Democratic Alliance won control over the Western Cape during the 2009 National and Provincial Elections and subsequently brokered an alliance with the Independent Democrats.

The ANC has had some success in winning Coloured votes, particularly among labour-affiliated and middle-class Coloured voters. Some Coloureds express distrust of the ANC with the comment, saying that the Coloured were considered "not white enough under apartheid and not black enough under the ANC."[24] In the 2004 election, voter apathy was high in historically Coloured areas.[25] The ANC faces the dilemma of having to balance the increasingly nationalistic economic aspirations of its core black African support base, with its ambition to regain control of the Western Cape, which would require support from Coloureds.[17]

Western Cape Independence

There has been significant advocacy for Western Cape Independence, particularly among the 49% of Western Cape residents who identify as Coloured as well as White residents who make up 16% of the population. Western Cape independence has become a mainstream part of the political discussion in the Western Cape since 2019. The Capexit pressure group has achieved over 816 000 signatures on its petition for Western Cape independence as of the 5th of August 2021 and Western Cape independence has been endorsed by the Freedom Front Plus party that have 10 seats in the South African parliament. The support for Western Cape Independence among coloured residents is primarily due to South Africa’s troubled economic situation as well as the unique cultural identity of the coloured people that has been derived from the indigenous Khoisan people of the Cape as well as the first European settlers that landed in 1652 at what would become the Cape Of Good Hope.

The Gatovol Capetonian movement was established in 2018 by three coloured men in the Western Cape and is led by Fadiel Adams. The group gained support among coloured residents in the Cape flats. The groups number 1 listed goal is Cape Independence. The group believes that Black Economic Empowerment laws are harming Coloured South Africans in the Western Cape and preventing them from housing benefits and jobs. The group has stated that is opposes the migration of Black South Africans in to the Western Cape from the Eastern Cape as they are taking social benefits through BEE that would otherwise be given to Coloured residents. The pressure group has also stated it wants to raise awareness among the broader minority community including white and Indian South Africans about the way minority groups are being “mauled over” by the ANC. The group believes that the Western Cape belongs to the Coloured people as the Khoisan people who are indigenous to the Western Cape and the broader Cape region form a significant part of their ancestry along with the first European settlers.

Southern Africa[edit]

Racial-demographic map of South Africa published by the CIA in 1979, with data from the 1970 South African census.

The term Coloured is also used in Namibia, to describe persons of mixed race, specifically part Khoisan, and part European. The Basters of Namibia constitute a separate ethnic group that are sometimes considered a sub-group of the Coloured population of that country. Under South African rule, the policies and laws of apartheid were extended to what was then called South West Africa. In Namibia, Coloureds were treated by the government in a way comparable to that of South African Coloureds.

In Zimbabwe and to a lesser extent Zambia, the term Coloured or Goffal was used to refer to people of mixed race. Most are descended from mixed African and British, or African and Indian, progenitors. Some Coloured families descended from Cape Coloured migrants from South Africa who had children with local women. Under Rhodesia's predominantly white government, Coloureds had more privileges than black Africans[?], including full voting rights, but still faced social discrimination. The term Coloured is also used in Eswatini.



As far as family life, housing, eating habits, clothing and so on are concerned, the Christian Coloureds generally maintain a Western lifestyle. Marriages are strictly monogamous, although extramarital and premarital sexual relationships can occur and are perceived differently from family to family. Among the working and agrarian classes, permanent relationships are often officially ratified only after a while if at all.

The average family size of six does not differ from those of other Western families and, as with the latter, is generally related to socio-economic status. Extended families are common. Coloured children are often expected to refer to any extended relatives as their "auntie" or "uncle" as a formality.

While many affluent families live in large, modern, and sometimes luxurious homes, many urban coloured people rely on state-owned economic and sub-economic housing.

Cultural aspects[edit]

There are many singing and choir associations as well as orchestras in the Coloured community. The Eoan Group Theatre Company performs opera and ballet in Cape Town. The Kaapse Klopse carnival, held annually on 2 January in Cape Town, and the Cape Malay choir and orchestral performances are an important part of the city's holiday season. Kaapse Klopse consists of several competing groups that have been singing and dancing through Cape Town's streets on New Year's Day earlier this year. Nowadays the drumlines in cheerful, brightly Coloured costumes perform in a stadium. Christmas festivities take place in a sacred atmosphere but are no less vivid, mainly including choirs and orchestras that sing and play Christmas songs in the streets. In the field of performing arts and literature, several Coloureds performed with the CAPAB (Cape Performing Arts Board) ballet and opera company, and the community yielded three major Afrikaans poets the well-known poets, Adam Small, S.V. Petersen, and P.J. Philander. In 1968, the Culture and Recreation Council was established to promote the cultural activities of the Coloured Community.


Until 1841 missionary societies provided all the school facilities for Coloured children.

All South African children are expected to attend school from the age of seven to sixteen years, minimum.

Economic activities[edit]

Initially, the Coloureds were mainly semi-skilled and unskilled labourers who, as builders, masons, carpenters and painters, made an important contribution to the early construction industry at the Cape. Many were also fishermen and farm workers, and the latter had an important share in the development of the wine, fruit and grain farms in the Western Cape.

The Malays were, and still are, skilled furniture makers, dressmakers and coopers. In recent years, more and more Coloureds have been working in the manufacturing and construction industry. There are still many Coloured fishermen, and most Coloureds in the countryside are farm workers and even farmers. The largest percentage of economically active Coloureds is found in the manufacturing industry. About 35% of the economically active Coloured Women are employed in clothing, textile, food and other factories.

Another important field of work is the service sector, while an ever-increasing number of Coloureds operate in administrative, clerical and sales positions. All the more professional and managerial posts and posts are. In order to stimulate the economic development of the Coloureds, the Coloured Development Corporation was established in 1962. The corporation provided capital to businessmen, offered training courses and undertook the establishment of shopping centres, factories and the like.


Numerous South African cuisines can be traced back to Coloured people. It is said that bobotie, snoek based dishes,  koe'sisters, bredies, Malay roti and gatsbies are staple diets of Coloureds and other South Africans as well. A popular Coloured cuisine also include braai (English: barbecue). [26] Most dishes are passed down for many generations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Coloured people group are reported in 17 countries". Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  2. ^ "Mid-year population estimates, 2020" (PDF). Statistics South Africa. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  3. ^ "Namibia" CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  4. ^ "Zimbabwe Population Census 2012" (PDF). Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT). October 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 September 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  5. ^ Milner-Thornton, Juliette Bridgette (2012). The Long Shadow of the British Empire: The Ongoing Legacies of Race and Class in Zambia. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 9–15. ISBN 978-1-349-34284-6.
  6. ^ Calafell, Francesc; Daya, Michelle; van der Merwe, Lize; Galal, Ushma; Möller, Marlo; Salie, Muneeb; Chimusa, Emile R.; Galanter, Joshua M.; van Helden, Paul D.; Henn, Brenna M.; Gignoux, Chris R.; Hoal, Eileen (2013). "A Panel of Ancestry Informative Markers for the Complex Five-Way Admixed South African Coloured Population". PLOS ONE. 8 (12): e82224. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...882224D. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082224. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3869660. PMID 24376522.
  7. ^ "coloured". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e Posel, Deborah (2001). "What's in a name? Racial categorisations under apartheid and their afterlife" (PDF). Transformation: 50–74. ISSN 0258-7696. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-11-08.
  9. ^ a b Pillay, Kathryn (2019). "Indian Identity in South Africa". The Palgrave Handbook of Ethnicity. pp. 77–92. doi:10.1007/978-981-13-2898-5_9. ISBN 978-981-13-2897-8.
  10. ^ Schmid, Randolph E. (April 30, 2009). "Africans have world's greatest genetic variation". NBC News. Retrieved 2009-10-23.
  11. ^ Tishkoff SA, Reed FA, Friedlaender FR, et al. (April 2009). "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans". Science. 324 (5930): 1035–44. Bibcode:2009Sci...324.1035T. doi:10.1126/science.1172257. PMC 2947357. PMID 19407144.
  12. ^ a b c d Quintana-Murci, L; Harmant, C; H, Quach; Balanovsky, O; Zaporozhchenko, V; Bormans, C; van Helden, PD; et al. (2010). "Strong maternal Khoisan contribution to the South African coloured population: a case of gender-biased admixture". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 86 (4): 611–620. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2010.02.014. PMC 2850426. PMID 20346436.
  13. ^ a b c d Schlebusch, CM; Naidoo, T; Soodyall, H (2009). "SNaPshot minisequencing to resolve mitochondrial macro-haplogroups found in Africa". Electrophoresis. 30 (21): 3657–3664. doi:10.1002/elps.200900197. PMID 19810027. S2CID 19515426.
  14. ^ Census 2011 Municipal report: Western Cape (PDF). Statistics South Africa. 2012. ISBN 978-0-621-41459-2. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  15. ^ "1950. Population Registration Act No 30 - the O'Malley Archives".
  16. ^ "Manyi: 'Over-supply' of coloureds in Western Cape". February 24, 2011.
  17. ^ a b "BBC News - How race still colours South African elections". April 20, 2011 – via
  18. ^ a b c Palmer, Fileve T. (2015). Through a Coloured Lens: Post-Apartheid Identity amongst Coloureds in KZN (PhD). Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University. hdl:2022/19854.
  19. ^ a b Fynn, Lorraine Margaret (1991). The "Coloured" Community of Durban: A Study of Changing Perceptions of Identity (PDF) (Master of Social Science). Durban: University of Natal.
  20. ^ Deumert, Ana (2005). "The unbearable lightness of being bilingual: English–Afrikaans language contact in South Africa" (PDF). Language Sciences. 27 (1): 113–135. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2004.10.002. ISSN 0388-0001.
  21. ^ "The Vibrant, Colourful, Coloured People". 2011-09-17. Archived from the original on 2012-06-16. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  22. ^ de Wit, E; Delport, W; Rugamika, CE; Meintjes, A; Möller, M; van Helden, PD; Seoighe, C; Hoal, EG (August 2010). "Genome-wide analysis of the structure of the South African Coloured Population in the Western Cape". Human Genetics. 128 (2): 145–53. doi:10.1007/s00439-010-0836-1. PMID 20490549. S2CID 24696284.
  23. ^ "Dr Abdullah Abdurahman 1872 - 1940". South African History Online. Archived from the original on 2007-11-21. Retrieved 2009-10-23.
  24. ^ Welsh, David (2005). "A hollowing-out of our democracy?". Helen Suzman Foundation. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2009-10-23.
  25. ^ Faull, Jonathan (June 21, 2004). "Election Synopsis - How the West was Won (and Lost) - May 2004". Institute for Democracy in Africa. Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-23.
  26. ^ Zainab Lagardien, Traditional Cape Malay Cooking, Random House Struik 2008


  • Gekonsolideerde Algemene Bibliografie: Die Kleurlinge Van Suid-Afrika, South Africa Department of Coloured Affairs, Inligtingsafdeling, 1960, 79 p.
  • Mohamed Adhikari, Not White Enough, Not Black Enough: Racial Identity in the South African Coloured Community, Ohio University Press, 2005, 252 p. ISBN 9780896802445
  • Vernie A. February, Mind Your Colour: The "coloured" Stereotype in South African Literature, Routledge, 1981, 248 p. ISBN 9780710300027
  • R. E. Van der Ross, 100 Questions about Coloured South Africans, 1993, 36 p. ISBN 9780620178044
  • Philippe Gervais-Lambony, La nouvelle Afrique du Sud, problèmes politiques et sociaux, la Documentation française, 1998
  • François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar, Histoire de l'Afrique du Sud, 2006, Seuil


External links[edit]