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Published in: Society 1/2021

08-04-2021 | Social Science and Public Policy

Immigration and the (Ir)relevance of the South African Racial Classification System: Towards Transforming the Official Racial Categories

Author: Amanuel Isak Tewolde

Published in: Society | Issue 1/2021

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Abstract

Scholars examining the South African racial classification system have suggested that apartheid-era racial categories continue to officially classify the South African population. However, there is little discussion about the extent to which the South African racial classification configuration is relevant to new immigrants and refugees (or their descendants) and whether the system will endure or undergo transformation in the face of a growing immigration-induced racial and ethnic diversity. It is palpable that new immigrants and refugees will continue to find apartheid-era South African racial categories incompatible with identities they brought from their home countries. I draw on some empirical works conducted in South Africa and examples in other national contexts such as the USA to argue that the rigid quaternary South African racial classification system, which is based on White, Black, Indian, and Colored racial categories, might be transformed or re-configured due to shifts and transformations in the racial and ethnic makeup of the South African population owing to immigration. Furthermore, such re-configuration might occur if immigrant and refugee communities or their descendants lobby the South African state to create identities for them. Currently, and in the context of widespread public and institutional xenophobia and exclusion of non-citizens, it is paramount to create categories that refer to “foreign-origin” to tackle systemic discrimination based on foreign origin and accelerate institutional integration of refugees and immigrants.

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Footnotes
1
Within this paper, the concepts “racial classification”, “race”, or racial categories, such as “Black”, “Colored”, “White”, and “Indian”, refer to socio-political constructions rather than biological or objective.
 
2
The term “immigrant” refers to persons who move to another country to reside permanently
 
3
Most refugees and immigrants in South Africa do not come through a quota system or authorized entry as practiced by most Western countries such as the USA. Most of post-apartheid refugees and immigrants to South Africa, the majority of Black African refuges, enter the country through border ports of entry. Some do not require a visa such as those from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, an dMozambique, while others are smuggled in as they require a visa such as those from Somalia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
 
4
An asylum seeker is “someone whose request for sanctuary has yet to be processed” (UNHCR 2017b).
 
5
A “refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence and who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group” (UNHCR 2017a).
 
6
In post-apartheid South Africa, the function of the census in South Africa is, among others, to ensure equitable distribution of government services and funds and evaluating discrimination. Such was not the function during the era of apartheid as the apartheid system was solely interested in apportioning economic and political power to White Europeans.
 
7
The post-apartheid state retained apartheid-era racial categories to ensure that previously disadvantaged racial groups classified as “Black” are given preferential treatment in sectors such as government jobs and tertiary education. In post-apartheid period and for affirmative action purposes, the term “Black” encompasses Africans and racial groups previously defined as “Colored” and “Indian”.
 
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Metadata
Title
Immigration and the (Ir)relevance of the South African Racial Classification System: Towards Transforming the Official Racial Categories
Author
Amanuel Isak Tewolde
Publication date
08-04-2021
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Society / Issue 1/2021
Print ISSN: 0147-2011
Electronic ISSN: 1936-4725
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-021-00563-1

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