Max du Preez

Are we all 'coloured'?

2011-03-09 12:40

We really need to find new terminology for the different population groups in South Africa, especially now that we’re moving back into a political culture of obsession with race.

Problem One:
if “coloured” means people of mixed blood, then the vast majority of people born in South Africa are coloureds, myself included.

Studies in the 1980s have found that white Afrikaners have an average of seven percent “black” blood, mostly because of early relationships and marriages between white settlers and slaves or Khoisan. Some Afrikaners, like my family, have considerably more than seven percent black blood.

This is also true of black South Africans. Three quick examples: ANC veteran Walter Sisulu’s father was a white man; Winnie Mandela’s mother had light skin, blue eyes and long hair and her mother-in-law called her a mlungu; Nelson Mandela’s mitochondrial DNA was found to be pure Khoisan. There were many runaway slaves from the East Indies and European shipwreck survivors in the 16th, 17th and 18th century who became part of the Zulu and Xhosa peoples.

Problem Two:
Probably a majority of people classified “coloured” during the apartheid years were descendants of the Khoikhoi and the San or Bushmen, with, of course, some white, slave and black blood. But when the ANC and other so-called Africanists refer to “Africans”, they exclude these people.

This is sheer madness: the descendants of the first peoples of southern Africa are excluded from the term African? The Khoisan were here thousands of years before the first black farming groups arrived from further north. They are the original Africans.

Problem Three:
Most South Africans who love their country and are proud of our nation and our democracy declare themselves to be Africans. It is a term that has become associated with citizens who regard themselves as indigenous, as part of the whole nation, as part of the African continent.

So when the ANC and others refer to black South Africans as Africans, they exclude coloured, white and Indian South Africans from calling themselves Africans.

I have proclaimed for decades in columns and elsewhere that I see myself as an African, as indigenous to South Africa and Africa, and that I associate myself with the peoples, cultures and problems of the African continent.

If the ANC says I’m not African, then what does that make me? I’m certainly not a European.

Let me explain this problem by telling you of my daughter. Her father is a mixture of French Huguenot, German and Dutch settlers of the 17th century, slaves from Indonesia and Sri Lanka and at least one Khoi woman, Pietronella, daughter of Krotoa and materfamilias of the Saayman clan. I had my DNA tested at the National Health Laboratory. They tell me from my father’s side I’m in the E1b1b1c1 haplogroup – 23% of Ethiopians belong to this small genetic group.

My daughter’s mother is a mixture of early Chinese/Indian Mauritian immigrants to the Eastern Cape, Afrikaners and Scots from Kenya.

Do you really want me to tell my child she is European?

Problem Four: are coloureds and Indian South Africans not also black? So if we can’t call “black” black people black, what should we call them? I see Professor Jonathan Jansen is calling them “racial Africans”. Is that the way to go?

Decades ago ethnologists called “black” black people Bantu-speakers, because they all come from one language family who have spread all over sub-Saharan Africa. And then the apartheid racists started using the word Bantu in a derogatory way and now it is just unacceptable. Or should we rehabilitate the word?

Even better:
let’s all try very hard to move away from this renewed obsession with race and we won’t need the terminology.

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