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8— Coloured Identity and Coloured Politics in the Western Cape Region of South Africa
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Bullets and Ballots

Attempts by the state and ruling class in South Africa to sponsor the development of a client Coloured class are not a recent phenomenon. They have their origin in the endeavours of the colonial administrations to deflect opposition based on mass resistance by the colonized people.

The indigenous people resisted the process of colonization in a variety of ways.[2] Some attempted to reconstitute an independent existence by migrating beyond the Cape's frontiers or by living as brigands outside the law.[3] The majority, however, were forced into wage labour.[4] Many, whom the settlers termed 'Hottentots', entered colonial service and some were found to be 'the most efficient troops for dealing with the Kaffirs'.[5]

Their loyalty to the colonial regime, however, could not be assumed.[6] In 1799 a rising of Khoi and Xhosa under Ndhalambi shattered the complacency of the first British administration (1795–1803). For, as Marais noted, 'if the rising spread to the western Hottentots and slaves the white man's hold on the colony would be


shaken to its foundations'.[7] The skilful intervention of the colonial administration served to deflect this challenge and to quieten the disaffected Khoi.[8] Under a growing rule of law the Khoi and other 'Hottentot' people were offered some protection in employment and civil society. These measures placed 'Hottentots' in a position which was relatively superior to that of the Bantu-speaking peoples. At the same time, Eric Walker has noted that the regulations in certain circumstances reduced the 'Hottentots' to the 'level of serfs at the disposal of local officials'.[9]

Khoi resistance had been deflected but the constant fear of further uprisings, Trapido has suggested, 'meant that the sense of unease among European settlers was sustained in the first half of the nineteenth century'.[10] In 1851 these fears were increased when 'Hottentots' in the Theopolis and Kat River districts allied themselves with the Tembu in a direct attack on the colony. The rebellion was defeated. Nevertheless, the clear extent of alienation strengthened the hand of those colonial administrators who favoured giving propertied 'Hottentots' a greater stake in the political system.[11] Prominent amongst those calling for the enfranchisement of such people was the Cape Attorney-General, William Porter. He noted:

I would rather meet the Hottentot at the hustings voting for his representative than meet the Hottentot in the wilds with a gun on his shoulder. . . . If these people have much physical force,—are armed, and—as you say—disaffected—is it not better to disarm them by letting them participate in the privileges of the constitution than by refusing them those long expected privileges to drive them into laager.[12]

The granting of self-rule to the Cape Colony in 1853 provided the opportunity for the implementation of such an incorporative strategy. A limited franchise for non-European males was introduced, embracing only the wealthier and more educated colonial subjects. This limited franchise served, with varying success, to incorporate the intellectual and petty-bourgeois non-Europeans who might otherwise, had they been excluded, have provided a vocal leadership for the organization of non-European resistance to the regime.[13] The historian William M. Macmillan commented that 'as a partial experiment the constitution of 1853 was abundantly justified' but that the 'very success of this experiment was won at the price of economic well-being'.[14] Though the constitution allowed 'the more fortunate individuals among them to rise to competence, the great mass of them were still a poor servant class'.[15]

By 1853 the colonial administration began to refer to growing numbers of the Cape Colony's population as 'Coloured'. In the main, the category referred to disenfranchised people of mixed race, freed slaves and Khoisan and 'Hottentots' who had not, following their colonization, been absorbed into the Xhosa or other Bantu-speaking groups or had not taken refuge outside the colony's frontiers. But, although a racial hierarchy was already an integral aspect of ruling class ideology, this had not yet crystallized in the exclusion of all Bantu-speaking people from the franchise. The period of Cape liberalism allowed people of African origin to participate in colonial politics. The principal criteria were related to class and a clear distinction was made between the minority of educated Bantu-speaking people and the vast majority of so-called 'blanket-Kafirs'.[16]

Until the turn of the century the term 'Coloured' commonly included all non-European people.[17] The official census of 1875 included in the category 'Coloured' all 'non-European' people, including 'Fingoes' and 'Kafir proper'.[18] The 1892 census maintained the same distinctions declaring that the Cape


population 'falls naturally into the two main classes, the European or White and Coloured'.[19] Private employers tended to perceive similar distinctions. So, for example, in 1890 A.R. McKenzie, the principal labour contractor in the Cape Town docks, referred to the fact that he employed 'principally Kaffirs; all our labourers are Coloured, and are of different nationalities and tribes'.[20] Clearly, in the latter half of the nineteenth century the term Coloured chiefly referred, in the discourse of the ruling class, to 'all non-European people'.

Yet, by 1904, this wide definition was no longer accepted. In the space of fifteen years the notion of Coloured was reconstituted. Increasingly the term came to denote an intermediate class of people distinct from the Bantu-speaking population. In marked contrast to the census of 1890, the Cape census of 1904 broke from previous practice and distinguished three 'clearly defined race groups in this colony: White, Bantu and Coloured'.[21] Included in the last category were 'all intermediate shades between the first two'.[22] A decisive shift in colonial discourse appears to have taken place in the years surrounding the Anglo-Boer War. In this period the reconstitution and identification of a distinct Coloured category was not reflected in state discourse only, nor associated only with changes within the colonial administration and ruling class. In a dialectical process, the crystallization of a Coloured identity reflected a shifting of ground within the subordinated society itself. This was reflected in the growth of separate Coloured political organizations and the creation of a distinct Coloured consciousness.

Specific notions of Coloured identity, I suggest, were forged in the white heat of the years surrounding the Anglo-Boer War. The reconstitution of Coloured identity into a form which approximates that which exists today is a relatively recent phenomenon which can be traced to those critical years. But from the outset the notion of a distinct Coloured identity was a focus of intense ideological and political struggle. The ambiguity and anxiety which is associated with the term was characteristic of Coloured identity from the outset. These tensions, if anything, have intensified over time.

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