Population Registration Act, 1950

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Population Registration Act, 1950
Coat of Arms of South Africa (1932-2000).svg
Parliament of South Africa
  • Act to make provision for the compilation of a Register of the Population of the Union; for the issue of Identity Cards to persons whose names are included in the Register; and for matters incidental thereto.
CitationAct No. 30 of 1950
Enacted byParliament of South Africa
Royal assent22 June 1950
Commenced7 July 1950
Repealed28 June 1991
Administered byMinister of the Interior
Repealed by
Population Registration Act Repeal Act, 1991
Status: Repealed

The Population Registration Act of 1950 required that each inhabitant of South Africa be classified and registered in accordance with their racial characteristics as part of the system of apartheid.[1][2][3]

Race classification certificate issued in terms of the Population Registration Act
Explanation of South African identity numbers in an identity document during apartheid in terms of official White, Coloured and Indian population subgroups

Social rights, political rights, educational opportunities, and economic status were largely determined by the group to which an individual belonged. There were three basic racial classifications under the law: Black, White and Coloured (mixed). Indians (that is, South Asians from the former British India, and their descendants) were later added as a separate classification as they were seen as having "no historical right to the country".

An Office for Race Classification was set up to overview the classification process. Classification into groups was carried out using criteria such as outer appearance, general acceptance and social standing. For example, it defined a "white person" as one who "in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person, or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously a white person." Because some aspects of the profile were of a social nature,[2] reclassification was not uncommon, and a board was established to conduct that process. The following criteria were used for separating the coloured people from the white people:[2]

  • Characteristics of the person's head hair
  • Characteristics of the person's other hair
  • Skin colour
  • Facial features
  • Home language and especially the knowledge of Afrikaans
  • Area where the person lives, the person's friends and acquaintances
  • Employment
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Eating and drinking habits

This law worked in tandem with other laws passed as part of the apartheid system. Under the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, it was illegal for a white person to marry a person of another race. With the enactment of the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950, it also became a crime for a white person and a person of another race to have sexual intercourse.

Under the act, as amended, Coloureds and Indians were formally classified into various subgroups, including Cape Coloured, Malay, Griqua, Chinese, Indian, Other Asian and Other Coloured.[4][5]

The South African Parliament repealed the act on 17 June 1991. However, the racial categories defined in the act remain ingrained in South African culture[6][7][8][9] and they still form the basis of some official policies and statistics aimed at redressing past economic imbalances (Black Economic Empowerment and Employment Equity).[8][10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "South African Demographic Health Survey" (PDF). Department of Health. 1998. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Posel, Deborah (2001). "What's in a name? Racial categorisations under apartheid and their afterlife" (PDF). Michigan State University. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  3. ^ "South African activist teacher gets education doctorate". Stanford News Service. 1991. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  4. ^ Valentine, Sue. "An appalling 'science'". Sunday Times Heritage Project. The Times. Archived from the original on 23 April 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  5. ^ Leach, Graham (1986). South Africa : no easy path to peace (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 70. ISBN 0710208480. Population Registration Act, 1959 cape coloured.
  6. ^ Rondganger, Lee (6 June 2006). "Being an African makes me who I am". IOL. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  7. ^ du Preez, Max (9 March 2011). "Are we all 'coloured'?". News24. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  8. ^ a b 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 8 November 2006.
  9. ^ 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. ^ Lehohla, Pali (5 May 2005). "Debate over race and censuses not peculiar to SA". Business Report. Archived from the original on 14 August 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2013. Others pointed out that the repeal of the Population Registration Act in 1991 removed any legal basis for specifying 'race'. The Identification Act of 1997 makes no mention of race. On the other hand, the Employment Equity Act speaks of 'designated groups' being 'black people, women and people with disabilities'. The Act defines 'black' as referring to 'Africans, coloureds and Indians'. Apartheid and the racial identification which underpinned it explicitly linked race with differential access to resources and power. If the post-apartheid order was committed to remedying this, race would have to be included in surveys and censuses, so that progress in eradicating the consequences of apartheid could be measured and monitored. This was the reasoning that led to a 'self-identifying' question about 'race' or 'population group' in both the 1996 and 2001 population censuses, and in Statistics SA's household survey programme.
  11. ^ Davis, Rebecca (25 November 2013). "DA: We're not over race, but united we stand". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 25 November 2013.

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