Honorary whites

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Honorary whites is a term that was used by the apartheid regime of South Africa to grant almost all of the rights and privileges of whites to those who would otherwise have been treated as non-whites.[clarification needed] This was made on a case by case basis to select individuals but also to groups of people, mostly people of East and Southeast Asian descent who were ascribed as honorary whites. Such examples include some Austronesians, Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese who were granted this "honorary white" status, and later on other Chinese and individually designated figures of various other races were added as well.


The designation was ascribed to all Japanese people (who also once were ascribed as Honorary Aryans by Nazi Germany) in the 1960s. At the time, Japan was going through a post-war economic miracle, and this designation assisted a trade pact formed between South Africa and Japan in the early 1960s, when Tokyo's Yawata Iron & Steel Co. offered to purchase 5 million tonnes of South African pig iron, worth more than $250 million, over a 10-year period.[1]

With such a huge deal in the works, then Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd determined that it would be tactless and disadvantageous to trade arrangements to subject the Japanese people to the same restrictions as other ethnicities because trade delegations from Japan would regularly visit South Africa for business and trade.[1]

Afterward, Pretoria's Group Areas Board publicly announced that all Japanese people would be considered white. Johannesburg's city officials even decided that, "in view of the trade agreements", the municipal swimming pools would be open to all Japanese guests.[1]

The designation gave Japanese almost all of the same rights and privileges as whites (except for the right to vote; they were also exempt from conscription). Until the early 1970s, opposition party politicians and the press questioned why Japanese were granted special privileges, citing hypocrisy and inconsistencies with apartheid.[2]


The new designation granted to the Japanese seemed grossly unfair to South Africa's small Chinese community (roughly 7,000 at that time), who, it seemed, would enjoy none of the new benefits given to the Japanese. As Time quoted one of Cape Town's leading Chinese businessmen, "If anything, we are whiter in appearance than our fellow Japanese friends." Another indignantly demanded: "Does this mean that the Japanese, now that they are [considered] White, cannot associate with us without running afoul of the Immorality Act?"[1]

Furthermore, inclusion of other Asians as honorary whites complicated matters on how the Chinese were treated, and apartheid regulation on Chinese varied from department to department and province to province as locals could not distinguish these Asians apart from each other, due to similar genetic traits.[1]

In 1984, the Group Areas Act was amended to allow Chinese South Africans to live in areas the government had declared white areas and use the facilities within them.[3] Chinese South Africans were required to apply for a permit from the government in order to move into a white area. Permission had to be obtained from all the neighbours in the suburb for the application to be accepted.[4][5]


At the time, Hong Kong was a part of British Overseas Territories. Despite South Africa's strained relationship with the United Kingdom at that time, Hong Kong still maintained trade relationships with South Africa. In order to lure investment in South Africa, Hong Kong Chinese were offered the honorary whites status by the government for living and investment purposes. [6][7][8]


The inclusion of Taiwanese was due to the important relations between South Africa and Taiwan (ROC), who at the time were being increasingly isolated from the world, especially after Resolution 2578, when Chiang Kai-shek's regime lost its seat at the United Nations.[3][9] By 1979, Taiwan had become South Africa's fifth largest trading partner. As South Africa's National Party continued to support the right-wing Chinese Nationalists (KMT), even after the Communist Party of China gained control of the mainland, the relations of the two warmed, as both were isolated from the international community and treated as pariah states.[2]

South Koreans[edit]

Unlike Japan and Taiwan (ROC), South Korea was unwilling and eventually outright refused to establish diplomatic relations with South Africa because of apartheid.[10] Although South Africa offered honorary white status to South Korean citizens when the two countries negotiated diplomatic relations in 1961, South Korea severed ties with South Africa in 1978 in protest against apartheid, and full diplomatic relations between the two countries were not reestablished until 1992, when apartheid was abolished.[11]


The "honorary white" status was given to other special visitors belonging to other races, including:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e South Africa: Honorary Whites, TIME, 19 January 1962
  2. ^ a b Afro-Hispanic Review: White, Honorary White, or Non-White: Apartheid Era Constructions of Chinese, Dr. Yoon Jung Park (Univ of Johannesburg), Spring 2008
  3. ^ a b "In South Africa, Chinese is the New Black". The Wall Street Journal. 19 June 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  4. ^ Gerardy, Justine (21 June 2008). "Chinese have trod murky path as 'non-people'". IOL News. Retrieved 2 January 2016. they had to get permission right down to the neighbours
  5. ^ Ho, Ufrieda (24 April 2015). "Alan Ho's death stirs hope out of tragedy". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2 January 2016. Still, a family that wanted to move into a white suburb had to ask the permission of their neighbours – 10 houses to the front, 10 to the back and 10 on each side of the house they intended to call home.
  6. ^ Far Eastern Economic Review, 1964, page 518
  7. ^ Sanctions and Honorary Whites: Diplomatic Policies and Economic Realities in Relations Between Japan and South Africa, Masako Osada, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, page 94
  8. ^ A Matter of Honour: Being Chinese in South Africa, Yoon Jung Park, Lexington Books, 2008 page 159
  9. ^ "Premier Sun visits four African countries". Taiwan Review. Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan). 5 January 1980. Archived from the original on 30 December 2011.
  10. ^ In Search of a Better Life: A History of Korean Migration to Cape Town Archived 22 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Kim Mino, University of Cape Town, page 7
  11. ^ "South Korea–South Africa Relations". The Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Republic of South Africa. 6 April 2015. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  12. ^ Braithwaite, Edward Ricardo (1975). "Honorary white": a visit to South Africa. Bodley Head. ISBN 978-0-370-10357-0.
  13. ^ "'Yagga' Rowe Tackles Apartheid". CaribbeanCricket.com. Retrieved 9 October 2017.
  14. ^ Reid, Neil (9 May 2010). "Bee Gee: I never felt I was an honorary white". Sunday News. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  15. ^ Brown, Michael (18 April 2010). "Rugby: Once was hatred". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  16. ^ "Evonne Goolagong - The Goolagong Impact". Sports.jrank.org. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  17. ^ "Remembering Arthur Ashe" Society of North American Sports Historians