The history of the Coloured people is coemergent with the first permanent European settlement on the Cape Peninsula, which was established in 1652. Intermarriage and cohabitation between settlers and Khoi was common and, at that time, often encouraged by all parties. When slaves were introduced from East Africa, India, Ceylon, and Malaysia, the process was repeated. The heterogeneity of the Coloured people intensified with the continuing arrival of diverse immigrant populations throughout the history of South Africa. In 1950 Parliament enacted two laws designed to prevent both intermarriage and miscegenation; this legislation was repealed thirty-five years later, having proved unenforceable. The history of the Coloureds has thus always been inextricably bound up with both Whites and people of color. Many Whites resemble Coloureds and vice versa, a reality that inspired the South African state to enforce a rigid color bar through the Population Registration Act.
The culture of the Coloured frontiersmen of the northwestern Cape and Namibia, known as the Basters, is similar to that of their White counterparts in other parts of southern Africa. It is often impossible to distinguish between the institutions of the White and Brown Voortrekkers. The special place of the Cape Malays (who are Muslims) in the culture of the urban Cape Coloureds must also be noted.