Cape Coloreds

ALTERNATE NAMES: Coloureds, Coloreds

LOCATION: South Africa

POPULATION: 3.6 million

LANGUAGE: Afrikaans; English

RELIGION: Christianity; Islam


South Africa's 3.6 million mixed-race people are referred to as Cape Coloreds or Coloreds. In other places in the world, the word colored used to describe race is considered disparaging (negative or critical). In South Africa, it is used to describe an important segment of the population.

South Africa's Coloreds are descended from the intermarriage of white settlers, African natives, and Asian slaves who were brought to South Africa from the Dutch colonies of Asia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most Coloreds worked as domestic servants, farm laborers, and fisher-folk, but large numbers were also involved in the skilled trades. Colored masons and engineers are responsible for nearly all of the beautiful buildings in Cape Town, and colored seamstresses and tailors are well-known for their craftsmanship.

Coloreds were always closely associated with whites. They spoke the same languages (English and Afrikaans), worshiped in the same churches (mostly Christian Protestant, but also some Catholic), enjoyed the same foods, wore the same kind of clothes, and—especially in latter years—enjoyed the same sports and pastimes. In spite of this common heritage, Coloreds were never fully integrated into white society.

There is still a sense among Coloreds that they continue to be victims of discrimination in South Africa, but this time at the hands of the black majority government.


Most of South Africa's 3.6 million Coloreds live in both the urban and rural areas around Cape Town, where they make up influential political and cultural groups. However, they have also migrated to other major centers, and significant concentrations can be found around the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, East London, and Durban. There are also important groups in the neighboring nations of Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The region around Cape Town is known as the western Cape. It is regarded as the traditional homeland of the Coloreds. Coloreds play a vital role in the agriculture industry (fruit, wine, wheat, and dairy products), not only as farm laborers but also as managers, skilled artisans, and increasingly as property-owning entrepreneurs. They also dominate the fishing industry that has grown up in the rich cold waters of the country's west coast. In the cities, many Coloreds work in trades such as carpentry, plumbing, auto repair, and construction, and in professions like health care, accounting, law, and education.


Coloreds speak two languages, English and Afrikaans. At one stage during the struggle against apartheid, many Coloreds chose to avoid speaking Afrikaans because of its association with white domination. It is not unusual for Coloreds to combine the two languages in a distinctive, informal local dialect. It is especially heard in humor and in light-hearted songs known as moppies . In formal settings, however, Coloreds use either formal English or Afrikaans.


Most folklore is shared by Afrikaners and Coloreds. There are goel or ghost stories, which are frequently as amusing as they are alarming, that can be traced to the stories of slaves from India and Malaysia. A popular time to tell goel stories is in Cape Town in summer when the strong southeast wind, known as the "Cape Doctor," blows. Sometimes it blows so hard that people can hardly walk in the city and the harbor is closed to shipping. Cape Doctor time, when windows are rattling and doors are creaking, is ideal for the telling of goel stories.

Folk music features traditional ballads and moppies (joke songs). An especially delightful moppie tells the story of a baboon trying to learn how to swim. He learns very quickly when he sees a crocodile in front of him and a shark behind.


The Coloreds of Cape Town observe two main religions—Christianity (mostly Protestantism, but also some Catholicism) and Islam, which plays an influential role in a large sector of the population. In urban areas where Coloreds live in large numbers, it is common to hear the faithful Muslims (observers of Islam) being summoned to prayer from mosques. Muslim Coloreds take an intense interest in events in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Religious beliefs are seen as a factor in the emergence of a strong conservative element among Coloreds.


For more than one hundred years, Cape Town's Coloreds were associated with a New Year's Day parade. Neighborhoods formed troops that dressed in colorful satin costumes and marched or danced behind guitar and banjo bands. Each troop had its own combination of colors. When they all arrived at central sports fields, they competed for trophies in front of large crowds of spectators. This tradition was largely abandoned during the latter days of apartheid because many members of the community felt the name it had been given by the white population was racist. When apartheid was eliminated in the 1990s, the citizens of Cape Town revived the parade.

A traditional song performed in the parade is "January, February." The words consist simply of the months of the year sung to a catchy tune and rhythm. Everybody knows this song, and spectators often join in when the band marches by.


Birthdays are celebrated by parties where the guests bring gifts. Baptism of infants, confirmation, and first communion are celebrated among Christian Coloreds. On their twenty-first birthday, many young adults in South Africa receive a symbolic key to adulthood.


Although separation of the races was the norm in South Africa for most of the twentieth century, there were always close contacts between whites and Coloreds. They met in the workplace, stores, and the street. Until 1986, it was illegal for members of different race groups to have sexual relations, and people were prosecuted for breaking this law.

Whites and colored adjusted easily to the elimination of apartheid laws. Relations between Coloreds and members of the majority black groups are still evolving, and there has been tension because many Coloreds feel that the government does not always consider the interests of Coloreds.


When most of the apartheid laws were introduced after 1948, many Coloreds were forcibly moved from their traditional residential areas to segregated suburbs and townships. This relocation was bitterly resented and resisted, and it remains one of the worst memories of South African history.

District Six, an area in Cape Town, was the traditional home of many Colored families. Under apartheid laws, it was renewed, but for whites. The Colored residents were forced to move to the sandy Cape Flats, where crime, alcoholism, and other social problems soon developed. As of the late 1990s, Coloreds can live wherever their economic status allows. Some have moved into gracious homes, but the problems of forced removal created a legacy which will take a long time to eradicate.


Colored families tend to be conservative and mutually supportive. It was largely these qualities that enabled the community to survive the treatment it received during the apartheid years.


Colored South Africans wear both formal and casual clothing, similar to that worn by people in major industrial nations anywhere in the world. Young people wear jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts, and baseball caps have become popular. Jackets and ties are becoming less common everywhere, even in the workplace. This is a result of the example set by President Nelson Mandela and other leaders, who wear comfortable casual clothes rather than Western-style business attire.

12 • FOOD

Coloreds are famous for bredies (stews) made with mutton (lamb), tomatoes, cabbage, or local plants known as water-blommetjies. Also popular are small, triangular pies known as samoesas that contain a ground meat mixture seasoned with curry. Samoesas are ideal for snacks or lunch and are often served as appetizers or at cocktail parties. Working men often carry a lunch consisting of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with a bredie.


Education is viewed as the road to self-improvement among Coloreds. As a result, families save and sacrifice to send their children to the best available schools and colleges. In the past, Coloreds were allowed to attend only those institutions designated for them. While these schools were better equipped than those allocated to black Africans, they were nevertheless inferior to the schools for whites. When the transition from apartheid to non-racial democracy took place in 1994, the student-to-teacher ratio in white schools was eighteen to one; in Colored schools, it was twenty-two to one; and in black schools, it was fifty to one.


The Colored schools produced notable figures in the fields of medicine, law, government, diplomacy, the arts, engineering, commerce and industry, and education itself. Some of South Africa's finest writers and poets—such as the internationally acclaimed Adam Small—are Colored.


During apartheid, Coloreds were kept by law out of the best jobs and the best schools. Because they were restricted in where they could live, Coloreds had to travel long distances each day to low-paying jobs. The result was a high incidence of crime, alcoholism, and other social ills. When apart-heid ended in 1991 and the black majority assumed power in government, many Coloreds feared that the government would create programs that gave strong education, economic, and employment advantages to blacks. This would leave the Coloreds on the sidelines. They did not want to lose what they have gained in economic and educational opportunities.


The most popular sports are soccer, cricket, rugby, and track and field. After 1991, there was increasing interest in tennis, swimming, golf, yachting, and wind-and wave-surfing, sports not open to Coloreds under apartheid. Hiking and mountaineering are popular, especially in the western part of the country.


Coloreds enjoy the same entertainment as most people in industrialized society—pop and classical music, the movies, dances and nightclubs, and radio and television.


Coloreds enjoy varied hobbies typical of citizens of an industrialized society.


Until the mid-1990s, South Africa was governed by apartheid. The result was a relatively poor education for Coloreds because their schools had poor facilities, and many Coloreds abandoned schooling early to help support their families. When people were forced to move into townships and suburbs defined by the race, social problems such as alcoholism, poor health care, and a rising crime rate resulted. Not all of these negative factors have been eliminated under the new democratic system. Colored leaders want to ensure that their people will not be abandoned by the black majority.


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Picard, Hymen W. J. Grand Parade, the Birth of Greater Cape Town, 1850–1913. Cape Town: Struik, 1969.

Reader's Digest Illustrated History of South Africa. Cape Town: Reader's Digest Association, 1994.

Suzman, Helen. In No Uncertain Terms, A South African Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1993

Wilson, Monica, and Leonard Thompson, eds. The Oxford History of South Africa II (1870–1966). Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.


Embassy of South Africa, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available , 1998.

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Interknowledge Corp. South Africa. [Online] Available , 1998.

Southern African Development Community. South Africa. [Online] Available , 1998.

User Contributions:

Was the book'a walk in the night'written to depict the situation of the coloureds during the apartheid?
What type of dance and music do we coloreds normally enjoy
And what are our cultural phrases or greetings

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