Honestly, a man like Simon Kuper should know better. The sports columnist for the Financial Times was born in Uganda, raised in the Netherlands, but both his parents are South African. In a recent article (“Apartheid casts its long dark shadow on the game”, Financial Times, 4 December 2009), Kuper discusses the racial divisions in South Africa and how they are reflected in terms of sport: White South Africans tend to gravitate towards rugby and cricket, whereas their Black compatriots overwhelmingly prefer soccer.
There exists in South Africa, however, a very large community known as the Coloureds, who are of mixed ethnic descent. Mr. Kuper, in his article, implies that they exist merely thanks to “the racial classifications of apartheid”, as if there were no Coloured people before 1948. Furthermore, he explicitly calls the difference between Coloured and Black South Africans “artificial” and an “ugly leftover from apartheid”. This is simple ignorance. He also refuses to use the word Coloured without quotation-marks, though one suspects he does not refer to Basques as “Basques”, Scots as “Scots”, Maoris as “Maoris” or so on and so forth.
The Coloureds (or kleurlinge or bruinmense in Afrikaans) are a very distinct people who form the majority of the population in the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces. They are over four million in number and, while their distinct identity only came about after the intermarriage (and interbreeding) between the Dutch and natives after 1652, they include the genetic descendants of the old Khoisan tribes, the first people of the Cape. The Coloureds have been hugely influential in the history of the Afrikaans language, which is spoken by nine out of ten Coloured people. Just as the majority of Coloureds speak Afrikaans, the majority of Afrikaans-speakers are Coloured, not Afrikaner.
In short, Coloured people are real. They exist, and are a distinct, historical, vibrant, active culture. It is true that Coloureds are sometimes lobbed together with Zulus, Xhosa, Tswana, and others as “Black” but if one is forced to pigeon-hole them in Black-and-White terms it would be much more accurate to say either that they are both or that they are neither. Indeed, Coloureds, like Indian and White South Africans, have often faced discrimination at the hands of the ruling party, which is multi-ethnic in composition but dominated by Xhosas & Zulus in practice. The differences between Blacks and Coloureds are no more “artificial” than those between English and Irish. Mr. Kuper may want to ignore those differences (ergo, erase Coloured identity) but I say vive la différence.