Revisiting Apartheid Race Categories

I attended a fascinating colloquium, as an associate of ccrri, at Wits last week that looked at the whole idea of race in postapartheid South Africa.  The colloquium posed the question to delegates on whether race – and the crude apartheid race categories of Black, White, Coloured and Indian – were really the best categories to continue using in South Africa today, and whether we could develop a more nuanced approach to redress.

Speakers included constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos (who has an incredibly successful blog at – I am jealous of the number of comments he gets!) on ‘Race, corrective measures and the South African  Consitutional Court’; Kira Erwin on ‘Theory and practice in the field of race and race thinking’; Professor Crain Soudien on ‘The modern seduction of race’; and Kate Lefko-Everett on ‘Exploring indicators of (dis)advantage’, amongst others.  Jonathan Jansen, a strong critic of racial redress – in the forms of employment equity and black economic empowerment -delivered a controversial keynote address where he called on all South Africans to reclaim agency for their own lives and stop blaming the past for their present day reality.

All in all, a few days of serious, thought-provoking discussion with no clear solutions to this complex problem.  Professor Melissa Steyn summed it up best when she suggested a new definition for a non-racial society that was a society ‘where all children, black or white, were born with the same opportunities in life.’  A definition I’m sure we can all agree with and an admirable goal for this ‘new’ South Africa of ours.

Harry Garuba, one of the participants
Harry Garuba, one of the participants

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