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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa


Roughly 3.2 million South Africans of mixed-race (Khoikhoi and European or Asian) ancestry were known as "coloureds" in apartheid terminology. About 83 percent of them speak Afrikaans as their first language, and most of the remainder speak English as their first language. Almost 85 percent of coloureds live in Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces, and a sizable coloured community lives in KwaZulu-Natal.

The largest subgroup within the coloured population is the Griqua, a largely Afrikaner-Khoikhoi population that developed a distinct culture as early as the seventeenth century. Their community was centered just north of the area that later became the Orange Free State. Growing conflicts with Afrikaner farmers and, later, diamond diggers, prompted Griqua leaders to seek the protection of the British, and later, to relocate portions of their community to the eastern Cape Colony and Natal. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century demands for land and the implementation of apartheid forced Griqua communities to move repeatedly, and many eventually settled north of Cape Town. They number at least 300,000 in the 1990s. Most speak a variant of Afrikaans as their first language and are members of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Another large subgroup, the Cape Malays, number about 180,000, primarily in the Western Cape, in the 1990s. Most are descendants of Afrikaners, indigenous Khoikhoi, and slaves brought to South Africa from the Dutch East Indies. The Cape Malays have retained many cultural elements from their diverse origins, but they are recognized as a distinct community largely because most are Muslims.

The coloured population suffered many indignities under apartheid, such as eviction from homes and neighborhoods preferred by whites. But the limited political reforms of the 1980s gave them political rights that were denied blacks, such as a separate house of parliament in the tricameral legislature and the right to vote in national elections. Coloured politicians took advantage of their status to improve life for their constituents, but at the same time, many were active in the antiapartheid movement.

In April 1994, the coloured community in the Western Cape gave the NP its only provincial victory in the national elections. Coloured voters outnumbered black voters by three-to-one, and white voters by two-to-one, according to local estimates. The population voted for the NP by a large margin, in part out of fear that its interests would be sidelined by a provincial government dominated by the ANC, and in part because conservative members of the coloured community had distanced themselves from the ANC's revolutionary rhetoric over the years. Another important consideration for many was their desire to preserve their first language, which is Afrikaans.

English Speakers

Data as of May 1996