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 various ethnic groups. Most notably, Japanese and Taiwanese were granted the honorary white status, while the Chinese and individually designated figures were later added as well.


The designation was applied to Japanese people (who were also once considered Honorary Aryans) in the 1960s to assist a trade pact formed between South Africa and Japan in the early 1960s, when Tokyo's Yawata Iron & Steel Co. offered to purchase 5,000,000 tons of South African pig iron, worth more than $250,000,000, over a ten-year period.[1] With such a huge deal in the works, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd determined that it would be tactless and disadvantageous to their trade arrangements to subject the Japanese people to the same restrictions as other ethnicities, since trade delegations from Japan would now regularly visit South Africa for business. Thenceforth, Pretoria's Group Areas Board publicly announced that all Japanese people would be considered white, at least for purposes of residence. 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 inconsistencies with the 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 wrote:

If anything, we are whiter in appearance than our Japanese friends.' huffed one of Cape Town's leading Chinese businessmen. Demanded another indignantly: 'Does this mean that the Japanese, now that they are [considered] White, cannot associate with us without running afoul of the Immorality Act?'[1]

Inclusion of other East Asians as honorary whites (Japanese and South Korean), and eventually Taiwanese, 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 them apart from each other. The Chinese argued for their inclusion into honorary white status with five ploys: convincing whites that they made a positive virtue of racial distinctiveness, adjusting their lifestyle to be more acceptable to whites, constructing parallel institutions, developing reputation for academic excellence and as a quiet and trouble-free community, and differentiating themselves from blacks.[2] In 1984, South African Chinese, now increased to about 10,000, finally obtained the same official rights as the Japanese in South Africa, that is, to be treated as whites in terms of the Group Areas Act.[3][4]

Other East Asians[edit]

Up until the abolition of apartheid, the "honorary white" status was eventually extended to people of other East Asian nationalities, including those from South Korea and Taiwan.

South Koreans[edit]

Unlike Japan, South Korea was unwilling to establish diplomatic relations with South Africa because of the apartheid.[5] South Africa offered the honorary white status to Koreans when the two countries negotiated diplomatic relations in 1961. South Korea severed ties with South Africa in 1978 as a sanction against apartheid, and full diplomatic relations between the two countries were not established until 1992.[6]


The inclusion of Taiwanese was due to the good and important relations between South Africa and Taiwan.[4][7] By 1979, Taiwan had become South Africa's fifth largest trading partner. As South Africa continued to support the Chinese Nationalists even after the Chinese Communist Party gained control of the mainland, the relations of the two warmed, as both were isolated from the international community.[2]


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Time, South Africa: Honorary Whites, 19 January 1962
  2. ^ a b c Afro-Hispanic Review: White, Honorary White, or Non-White: Apartheid Era Constructions of Chinese, Dr. Yoon Jung Park (Univ of Johannesburg), Spring 2008
  3. ^ "Sanctions and Honorary White", Masako Osada ISBN 978-0-313-31877-1
  4. ^ a b "In South Africa, Chinese is the New Black". WSJ. 19 June 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2013. But after South Africa established an economic alliance with Taiwan in the 1970s, Taiwanese immigrants were welcomed as 'honorary whites,' and other Chinese in South Africa began to be treated more like whites. Although they never attained the formal 'honorary white' status of Taiwanese, Koreans and Japanese in South Africa and couldn’t vote, Chinese-South Africans were no longer required to use segregated facilities, and in the early 1980s they were exempted from some of the discriminatory laws that applied to other non-whites. 
  5. ^ http://uctscholar.uct.ac.za/PDF/98482_Kim_M.pdf Kim (Univ. of Cape Town) p.7
  6. ^ http://zaf.mofa.go.kr/english/af/zaf/bilateral/bilateral/index.jsp The Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Republic of South Africa
  7. ^ Taiwan Review (Taiwan State Information Service, Premier Sun Yun-suan visit to South Africa 1980)
  8. ^ ISBN 978-0-370-10357-0
  9. ^ "'Yagga' Rowe Tackles Apartheid", CaribbeanCricket.com
  10. ^ Reid, Neil (9 May 2010). "Bee Gee: I never felt I was an honorary white". Sunday News. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  11. ^ Brown, Michael (18 April 2010). "Rugby: Once was hatred". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  12. ^ http://sports.jrank.org/pages/1677/Goolagong-Evonne-Goolagong-Impact.html