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Assessment for Coloreds in South Africa

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Coloreds in South Africa, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
South Africa Facts
Area:    1,219,912 sq. km.
Capital:    Pretoria
Total Population:    42,942,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Coloreds in South Africa face a low risk of rebellion and protest. There is no repression against the group; nor do Coloreds face any political, economic or cultural restrictions or disadvantages. The government is democratic, stable and accommodative, thereby reducing the potential for future group discontent. Nonetheless, the group's economic problems are an area of concern that the government should take more steps to address.

Analytic Summary

The Coloreds of South Africa are heavily concentrated in the Western Cape region in the southwest of the country. They are a mixed-race people. Some are descendants of liaisons between early black inhabitants of South Africa (called Khoisan) and white settlers; others are descendants of relationships between the Khosian and black slaves in Angola. They speak Afrikaans as well as other native languages. They are culturally distinct from the majority black community; however, there is a high level of within-group heterogeneity.

The apartheid system defined Coloreds as a distinct ethnic category. The apartheid system mandated total separation of races that resulted in the Coloreds living separately from both blacks and whites. Colored townships were closely associated with larger white cities and were administered by whites. They did not share the same privileges as whites in the country, yet they had higher status than blacks. Coloreds were granted some advantages under apartheid, including their own parliament that was largely powerless. They were generally better educated and earned more than the blacks. The Coloreds became an inward-looking group under the apartheid system, intent on protecting their few privileges.

Since the transformation of South African society in the 1990s, Coloreds have been in a somewhat ambiguous position. The group's income is higher than that of blacks, but substantially lower than that of the minority white and Asian groups. In Western Cape, where the Coloreds are a majority, they are underrepresented in senior management positions. A majority of coloreds live in conditions of abject poverty; however, their living standards are higher than that of most blacks. A 2000 estimate showed that the median income for Coloreds was roughly twice that of blacks but one-third that of whites. While affirmative action policies benefit Coloreds to a limited extent, they are largely in favor of blacks (POLDIS03 = 0; ECDIS03 = 1). For example, the Equity Employment Act and Equality Act of 1998 mandates that companies mirror the demography of society. Coloreds are a very small percentage of the population, so this puts them at a disadvantage. The rate of HIV infection of Coloreds is higher than that among whites and Asians, but lower than that of the black community.

Coloreds do not face any significant cultural, political or economic discrimination. They are, in fact, an important political voice in the country. The group is primarily concerned with economic opportunities. Although racially based attacks are few in number, the group is worried about the high rates of crime in South Africa.

Coloreds work through several conventional organizations to improve their position. In the first all-race elections of 1994, both the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party (NP) courted the Colored vote. Coloreds overwhelmingly supported the NP and gave it its only regional victory. In the 1999 elections, the NP lost support from Coloreds through ministerial defections to the ANC and through electoral loss to the ANC and the Democratic Party (DP). In 2000, the Democratic Party and the New National Party merged to form the Democratic Alliance. It is led by whites but did get substantial support from Coloreds. In recent years, the group has allied with Asians in seeking better economic opportunities. There is no intragroup conflict (COMCON01-03 = 0).

The current situation of Coloreds in South Africa is stable. The ANC has included group members in the government. Most political parties in the country vie for support from Coloreds. The group does not face any repression or intergroup violence. Coloreds do not have a history of rebellion. In 2001-2003, the only recorded instances of group protest involved soldiers of white, black and Indian origin demanding economic benefits (PROT01 = 1, PROT02 = 2).


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Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2003.

Saunders, Christopher, 1983, Historical Dictionary of South Africa, Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.

van Rensburg, Heila Janse (Ed), 1994, South Africa Yearbook.

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