Racial Classification


Apartheid, a political and economic system built on race, required laws and administrative authorities to determine each person's racial identity. Race is never an objective, biological characteristic; in any society, race is a socially constructed concept. The Population Registration Act of 1950 required that each citizen be issued an identity document stating his or her race as either White, Native [African], or Coloured. "Coloured" was used to define people who were neither white nor “native,” a catch-all category primarily for people of mixed race. A category for Indians was created by other legislation.

Local Race Classification Boards had the power to determine an individual's race. In a society with so many people of mixed ethnic background, these decisions were based as much on people's social status as on their physical appearance or descent. The decision about one’s racial category determined every aspect of life in South Africa - where you could live, what job you could hold, what public facilities you could use, who you could marry, and whether you had the right to vote.

Web Documents

Suggested Films

Classified People
Director: Yolande Zauberman

AODL African Studies Center MSU NEH Matrix