A history of transculturation in South Africa

31 minutes to read
Nastassja Wessels

It is often debated whether the so-called "Cape Coloured" people in South Africa have a culture of their own. This paper uses the trajectory of the Cape Coloured identity as a paradigm through which culture can be viewed as dynamic, transformative and appropriative as a result of a violent colonial history. Colonialism had irrevocable effects on previously bounded, essentialist constructions of race, identity and language. The paper thus seeks to explore the question: How can the Cape Coloured identity re-conceptualize essentialist notions of culture through a history of cultural appropriation?


Globally very little is known about the group of people known as "Coloured" in South Africa. Their historical and societal identity construction presents a significant foundation for sociological, anthropological and cultural studies. Instead, the literature is mostly concerned with the historical politics of their identity, rather than aspects of cultural evolution. While various literatures allude to the appropriative nature of their identity, the correlation between cultural appropriation and Coloured people is yet to be explored in more detail and grossly under-theorized. Similarly, little theorizing has been done on the subject of cultural appropriation itself, other than critical studies regarding the exploitation of marginalized groups. In recent years cultural appropriation became a polarising topic receiving pervasive social media coverage and public scrutiny, especially with regard to African American and Native American culture and gentrification.

Further, the reduction of cultural appropriation to exploitation perpetuates essentialist notions of culture, reducing it to dress, style and other static representations. Similarly, the local societal constructions of Coloured identity in South Africa reiterate essentialist notions usually through an assumed lack of static notions of culture. Comparisons are made locally between Coloured culture (or lack thereof) and the rest of the marginalized groups in South Africa.

In 2016, a national public debate about Coloured identity was renewed when Olympian Wayde van Niekerk, who is classified as Coloured, broke the world record at the Rio olympics for the 400m sprints. The hashtag #ColouredExcellence started trending in South Africa immediately after the race. At first, it trended as a result of the national Coloured pride conveyed via social media; then, the hashtag was used against itself, voicing apprehension at the use of the term "Coloured" as opposed to a more unified term such as South African. Some argued that "Coloured" is an Apartheid construction, while others argued that Coloured people do not have a culture of their own and that they should start realizing that they are in fact Black. The last argument was proliferated during Apartheid as the Black consciousness movement gained traction.

The reduction of cultural appropriation to exploitation perpetuates essentialist notions of culture, reducing it to dress, style and other static representations.

I therefore became interested in how conceptions of culture can be critically reviewed under conditions of cultural identity construction through appropriation, considering the hybrid mix of people within the Coloured tapestry. Thus, the first part of this paper will briefly introduce cultural appropriation as re-conceptualized by Rogers (2006), and how it is linked to Berry’s acculturation model, which in turn may relate to Rogers’ theories about appropriation’s effects on cultural change. The second part of the paper will focus on the Coloured paradigm, through which we can determine the appropriative nature of Coloured identity by taking a look at historical contributions from various strands of literature that led to current societal constructions. Rogers’ categories of appropriation will be applied as the overall framework for this paper. I will conclude by attempting to answer the following questions: How does Coloured identity illustrate Rogers’ more heterogeneous theories of cultural appropriation? How does Coloured identity problematize essentialist notions of culture? If appropriative tactics led to the identity, should cultural appropriation merely be defined in terms of the exploitation of minority culture?

Rogers’ cultural appropriation and Berry’s acculturation model

Rogers theorized four categories of cultural appropriation that he says “could be understood as relevant to particular contexts or eras” (2006, p. 474), such as slavery and colonization. These categories include cultural exchange, dominance, exploitation and, ultimately, transculturation. His definition of cultural appropriation posits conditions under which cultural change may occur and hybrid cultures may develop. This paper will thus retain the following guide for understanding cultural appropriation contained within the following passage:

"Cultural appropriation [...] is an active process and, in this sense, retains the meaning of a ‘taking’. Mere exposure, for example, to the music or film of another culture does not constitute cultural appropriation. The active ‘making one’s own’ of another culture’s elements occurs [...] in various ways, under a variety of conditions, and with carrying functions and outcomes. The degree and scope of voluntariness (individually or culturally), the symmetry or asymmetry of power relations, the appropriation’s role in domination and/or resistance, the nature of the cultural boundaries involved, and other factors shape, and are shaped by, acts of cultural appropriation." (Rogers, 2006, p. 476)

Rogers defines appropriation as an active process, which resonates with John W. Berry’s (1997) lead article "Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation". However, Berry uses cross-cultural psychology to theorise the acculturation of immigrants in their new environment. Berry’s acculturation model proposes the psychosocial complexities of immigration, the negotiations between groups that lead to various outcomes, yet it also connotes the impact that slavery, colonization and Apartheid had on a society like that of South Africa. For example, integration, segregation and marginalization (Berry, 1997, p. 10), which are three of the four categories in Berry’s model, still plague South Africa today although mostly in abstraction. Similar to Berry’s assertions about acculturation patterns, Rogers theorizes that cultural appropriation is active, conditional and functional in some cases, such as, I would argue, that of the Coloured people.

Berry’s model is thus an excellent foundation for situating Rogers’ paper in terms of these active processes of acculturation, defined as “the cultural changes resulting from these group encounters” where “individuals who have developed in one cultural context manage to adapt to new contexts that result from migration” (Berry, 1997, p. 6). The official definition, which Berry cites, considers the effects on both groups of people affected by migration, i.e. “acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into first-hand contact with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups” (p. 7). Rogers paper, however, considers the cultural "taking" aspect. We can use this to analyze power relations negotiated through early forms of globalization and transnational migration of groups during colonial times, i.e. slavery and colonization. These movements of people bred hybrid cultures such as the Coloured identity construction. It is an undeniable fact that the Coloured people of South Africa are not migrants, historically speaking. Yet, they can be used as a paradigm through which we can relate Berry's and Rogers’ conceptions of acculturation and transculturation. From the jus soli[1] perspective, they are a group of people of undetermined, mixed origin born on South African soil, assimilated, acculturated and socialized into a complex identity. 

Who are the Cape Coloured people?


There are various definitions or descriptions as to who the Coloured people are, but Mohamed Adhikari’s work is an appropriate starting point, defining the group as

"a phenotypically diverse group of people descended largely from Cape slaves, the indigenous Khoisan population and other people of African and Asian descent who had been assimilated into Cape colonial society by the late nineteenth century" (Adhikari, 2006, p. 468).

His work reads as a factual account of the origins of Cape Coloured people and lists four key characteristics of the self-identification agency within the identity: "assimilation", "intermediacy", "negative associations" and "marginality". It is thus somewhat similar to Berry’s model. These characteristics are also consequences Sheila Patterson, a British anthropologist, noted in her anthropological study during the Apartheid years. Patterson's study was reproduced into an important piece of work for the time, The Cape Coloured People (1953). Her work was important for social and cultural studies of ethnic minorities (Simpson, 1955, p. 389), since she infers that while the South African people comprised a disjointed society for obvious reasons during Apartheid, the Coloured people in particular were characterized by a “lack of cohesion” (Patterson, 1953, p. 16). She therefore insists that her study was “not concerned with the same problems as the physical anthropologist or historian,” but rather was an “attempt to indicate the lasting social consequences which followed the mingling of such diverse ingredients in a racial and cultural melting-pot for three hundred years (Patterson, 1953, p. 16). Rogers (2006) tackles this notion through ideas about hybridization and transculturation.

Adhikari’s works, however, includes socio-political and retrospective interpretations specific to the issue of identity, touching on the issue of Cape Coloured culture that is a key point of interest, namely “the perception that the community lacked cultural distinctiveness or full ethnic integrity” (Adhikari, 2006, p. 481). The question of Cape Coloured cultural "distinctiveness" can be directly interrogated through Rogers' critique of “the conceptualization of culture as a bounded essence, an entity analogous to an individual or state, [which] feeds into the process by which a culture is reified and transformed into a commodity fetish” (Rogers, 2006, p. 489-490), such as dress, music or art. Rogers thus looks at how we got to these essentialist views of culture by starting the paper off discussing cultural exchange, the first category in the process of cultural appropriation.

Cultural exchange  

According to Rogers, cultural exchange involves “the reciprocal exchange of symbols, artifacts, rituals, genres, and/ or technologies between cultures with roughly equal levels of power” (Rogers, 2006, p. 477). This category is idealistic since it is hard to imagine a society under oppressive regimes that would apply equal currents of power two-directionally. South Africa’s history of inequality automatically discounts the possibility of illustrating an ideal and equal exchange of culture under equal power dynamics. For this reason, Rogers (2006) implies that an abstract look at exchange is required, outside of its unequal context, which language as a cultural phenomenon is able to exemplify in many contexts.

For example, creolization suits Rogers’ suggestion that exchange is also “the reciprocal borrowing of linguistic words and phrases, mutual influence on religious beliefs and practices, […] and two-way flows of music and visual arts” (Rogers, 2006, p. 478). As a language with creolization origins, Afrikaans epitomizes hybridization that is a result of cultural exchange leading to code-mixing. Examples include the Dutch Reformed churches, which were literally referred to as the "Afrikaans" churches, situated in areas largely populated by Coloured people, as well as theatre productions such as District SixKanala by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, which displayed the creative ways in which Coloured people appropriated English and Afrikaans into a creative, hybrid language mix called "Kaaps" or "Afrikaaps". These examples also display the salience of exchange under conditions of cultural dominance; under Apartheid these conditions were manifest, as Afrikaans Nationalism could be viewed as a cultural dominance strategy, which Rogers describes as “the conditions under which acts of appropriation occur” (2006, p. 479). If acts of appropriation such as exchange occur under dominance strategies, the exchange cannot be equal.


However, van der Waal (2012) also mentions the aspects of cultural identity that linguistic exchanges enacted on the Cape Coloured people in particular, citing Pierre Bourdieu’s “political economy of language … to which language is a form of cultural capital and an instrument of power in symbolic exchanges, involving social stratification” (van der Waal, 2012, p. 447). Afrikaans has historically been identified as the language of the oppressor, or Boer and White man, i.e. Dutch descendants acculturated into a South African existence. This effective distinction, i.e. as "language of the oppressor," was the result of the historical appropriation of Afrikaans from the Coloured creole variety using standardization processes and redefining who native speakers were. Coloured speakers used the poorer, creolised dialect, while White nationalists used the standardised Bloemfontein-Pretoria variety, which the Apartheid government then imposed on the education system.

This distinction between the two varieties of Afrikaans illustrates the appropriative nature of the creolization process started by the Cape Coloured people. However, historically and sociolinguistically Afrikaans was the language of the oppressed. The characterization of "language of the oppressor" thus essentially minimises the role of ethnic minorities in the Afrikaans narrative (van der Waal, 2012, p. 449). Many words were borrowed from Dutch, while some linguistic forms were adapted from Arabic, Khoisan and other languages and cultures that existed at the Cape (van der Waal, 2012, p. 458). This polemical view that Afrikaans was the language of the oppressor effectively led to the 1976 Soweto Uprising, which was a nation-wide revolt led by the "non-White" students of South Africa against the use of the standardised version of Afrikaans (alongside English) as the medium of instruction in schools during the much later years of the 1953 Bantu Education Act[2]. As a key moment in South Africa's social history, the Soweto Uprising was effective and polarising enough to lead to the end of Apartheid.

Exchange as an appropriative category is dependent on parity between cultures or societies, and is thus idealistic. It was during the late nineteenth century that the white supremacist government, appropriating Afrikaans from its creole context and attempting to standardize a pure form of the language, instigated “linguistic ethno-nationalism” (van der Waal, 2012, p. 449). A history of structural violence and linguistic exchanges since colonization thus shaped the political conflicts of Afrikaans problematizing the ideal of an equal exchange. However, the existence of the Afrikaans origin dispute does blur the boundaries between its origins in cultural exchange and more salient aspects of language acculturation within Rogers’ categories of cultural dominance, exploitation and transculturation. 

Cultural dominance

In 2016, a spate of fires in the Cape inadvertently brought the topic of the disputed origins of Afrikaans back into the public eye. The small holding of S.J. du Toit, thought to be the "father of Afrikaans," had burnt down. Deon Maas, a journalist for Netwerk24 used the opportunity to voice that the house burnt down along with all the recorded "lies" about the origins of Afrikaans. What Maas described poses a problem for the idea of "a reciprocal exchange," but does support the functionality that Rogers attributed to exchange as

"an ideal [that] establishes ethical standards by which other types of appropriation should be judged (i.e., reciprocal, balanced, and voluntary); as a theory, it serves as an easy target for critical scholars to demonstrate the inadequacy of pluralist and transparent (i.e., liberal) models of power" (Rogers, 2006, p. 478).

Therefore, based on this function as an ideal from which other categories should be judged, Deon Maas’ assertion resonates with conditions of cultural dominance. Cultural dominance refers to a condition “characterized by the unidirectional imposition of elements of a dominant culture [i.e. Dutch, British/European colonizers] onto a subordinated (marginalized, colonized) culture [i.e. Black, Coloured, Indian/Asian, etc. South Africans]” (Rogers, 2006, p. 479). However, “this does not mean that members of subordinated cultures do not negotiate this imposition in a variety of ways, manifesting at least limited forms of agency in how they appropriate the imposed cultural elements (p. 480). Colonization as a concept contains a cultural dominance subtext by virtue of its unequal and violent power relations.

Afrikaans language politics exemplify this category perhaps more so than that of cultural exchange representing a “relative lack of choice” on the part of the subordinates (Rogers, 2006, p. 479), which caused the "resistance tactics" (one of Rogers’ subcategories under the dominance category) displayed by the Soweto Uprising. Although the Uprising was based on the assumption that Afrikaans was the language of the oppressor, which caused the resistance to its dominance in education, the Coloured community re-appropriated Afrikaans through a process of assimilation so much so that today Afrikaans is the home language of more Coloured people than other groups in South Africa. Rogers describes this process as involving the “internalization of the imposed culture, including reformation of identity, values, and ideologies” (2006, p. 481). Today, this "reformation of identity" is even more evident in the proliferation of Afrikaaps. Van der Waal says Afrikaaps is an “indication of the celebratory and politically conscious way in which the re-appropriation occurred, eventually from the community level to popular culture (van der Waal, 2012, p. 458). This stemmed from previous internalizations under Apartheid where the Coloured group experienced linguistic alienation caused by the White standardization of Afrikaans in opposition to their vernacular and/or dialect. 


Today there are Facebook pages such as Vannie Kaap[3] (translated as "from the Cape"), which celebrate the Coloured use of the Afrikaans vernacular. Vannie Kaap reclaims ownership of the language using the pun “Vannie,” both meaning "from" (Vernacular Afrikaans "van die") and sounding like "funny" (English), paired with "Kaap" (Afrikaans for Cape Town or the Cape), so that the group's name can also be read as Funny Cape. The group celebrates the humorous aspects of being Coloured and its Cape Town associations, using humour and satire to illustrate a consciousness which Coloured people are often described as possessing to mask their collective pain. Rogers (2006, p. 481) would describe this appropriative tactic as "overt acceptance and internalization to overt rejection of the imposed culture to covert resistance”, which the use of Kaaps exemplifies in this way. Adhikari could clarify this using his theory of assimilation, which matches Rogers’ in part and supports the idea of Kaaps’s resistive qualities:

"[Assimilation is] less of an impulse for acculturation than a striving for acknowledgement of worth of Coloured people as individuals and as citizens, and inclusion within the dominant society on the principle that it was ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’ rather than colour that mattered" (Adhikari, 2006, p. 475).

In other words, through negotiating their place in society as the middle of the social hierarchy[4] during Apartheid, they constantly strived for "Whiteness" on merit. Additionally, this led to a linguistic variety of Afrikaans that included the British colonizer’s language, English. It thus became a code-mixing dialect, i.e. Kaaps, as previously introduced. It should be mentioned that Coloured people were later reclassified as a sub-category of the Black construction of race after previously being categorized separately. Nevertheless, Kaaps was also an indication of Rogers' (2006) mimicry strategy, whereby one could say that Coloured people mimicked the British colonizer while simultaneously resisting the Dutch colonizer’s cultural imposition and dominance on the community. It was a dual tactic illustrating two of Rogers’ (2006) dominance sub-categories, i.e. mimicry and resistance.

This dual tactic later gave rise to a more overt resistance, which Rogers (2006) calls intransigence. This overt resistance was displayed in a portion of the community, which was aligning with the Black consciousness movement’s denial and overt resistance to the classification[5] of "Coloured", leading to a reclassification as a sub-group of Black, as previously stated. This led to some Coloured people, even today, referring to themselves as "so-called Coloured" when identifying the Apartheid government’s classification. It is a display of anti-agency yet acknowledgement that they were different to the Black racial construction although they shared a consciousness.

By approriating the creolised variety and creating a standard Afrikaans language to solidify their roots in South Africa and skirt their colonial origins, the Dutch violently imposed a nationalist ideology on all non-White South Africans.

Going back to the Afrikaans language and its use as a dominance strategy by the Apartheid government, van der Waal (2012), citing Grebe, supports the basic idea that power relations complicate an ideal exchange of linguistic forms. Van der Waal therefore embraces Erasmus’ (2008) critique of the essentialist notions that the term "creole" poses for a language like Afrikaans, instead championing the approach that sees creole as a process:

"The creation of a standard Afrikaans language was a conscious construction of a racial collective identity, an ‘imagined community’, situating the language of ordinary white Afrikaners between the working-class vernacular of the Coloured population and the Dutch of the White elite" (van der Waal, 2012, p. 450).

However, he finds the term "creolization" (a process) useful as critical praxis that foregrounds ... historical specificities, similarities and relations of power” and reserves the use of the notion for Coloured people's cultural experience situated within their unique suppression and internalizations carried down from the trauma of slavery (van der Waal, 2012, p. 448). Similarly, by approriating the creolised variety and creating a standard Afrikaans language to solidify their roots in South Africa and skirt their colonial origins, the Dutch violently imposed a nationalist ideology on all non-White South Africans. Creolization of Dutch in South Africa also conceptually manifests itself in Berry’s definition of acculturation as a process exerting cultural change:

"The concept of acculturation is employed to refer to the cultural changes resulting from these group encounters, while the concepts of psychological acculturation and adaptation are employed to refer to the psychological changes and eventual outcomes that occur as a result of the individuals experiencing acculturation. Three interrelated aspects of adaptation are identified: psychological, sociocultural, and economic" (Berry, 1997, p. 6).

Berry’s (1997) definition is important to note under conditions of dominance because of the "interrelated aspects" that he describes, which can only be viewed as affected severely under dominance relations. It is only through dominance that a language such as Afrikaans, with its Dutch base, could be birthed in the first place, exacting psychological, sociocultural and economic changes for people like the socially "awkward" Coloured group. Consider how the history of the Afrikaans language is still disputed today, as previously discussed. 

The Coloured group’s continued use of Afrikaans, as an identifying characteristic of the Cape Coloureds who were the group using Afrikaans the most during its inception and the group using it the most today (StatsSA, 2011), firstly illustrates Rogers’ cultural dominance assimilation strategy. They used the language despite the Afrikaner exploitation of their unique use of the language. Rogers (2006, p. 481) defines this assimilation as involving “internalization of the imposed culture, including reformation of identity, values, and ideologies,” dissimilar from Berry’s (1997) definition located more in multiculturalism within a society characterized by immigration. Secondly, the continued use of the language took shape as cultural dominance integration, which Rogers (2006, p. 481) defines as “internalization of some or all the imposed culture without (complete) displacement or erasure of native culture and identity,” which is similar to Berry’s theory of a maintenance strategy within integration. 

The process of Afrikaans creolization and the integration of Kaaps or Afrikaaps can be situated within these definitions. Cape Afrikaans was reproduced into a dialect, occurring from previous internalizations under Apartheid, where the Coloured group experienced linguistic alienation caused by the White standardization of Afrikaans and the creation of Afrikaans nationalism. The impurity of the original form can still be disputed on the basis of an essentialist construction; e.g., who created the language and whose standard could be viewed under notions of purity. Van der Waal (2012) addresses creolization as a cultural strategy in South Africa by taking a critical look at the politics of language within that context. In particular, he critically assesses Afrikaans purity and the Cape Coloured Kaaps dialect. Citing Caribbean scholar Édouard Glissant, he argues for creolization as “relation,” which points to “white cultural hegemony in the politics of Afrikaans and its socioeconomic inequalities [needing] to be addressed” (van der Waal, 2012, p. 446). This "white cultural hegemony" is implied throughout Adhikari’s works as an important mark of Cape Coloured identity. Hence, Adhikari (2008, p. 93) theorises “the primacy of Coloured agency in the making of their own identity.” Van der Waal’s paper supports this by approaching the language politics of Kaaps or Afrikaaps.

Berry (1997) would see this situation as cultural change, while Rogers (2006) would see the appropriative tactics negotiated between two cultures as a cultural exchange through cultural dominance. But this could be viewed as cultural exploitation - in light of Coloured exclusion from the Afrikaans origin narrative - which ultimately reaches transculturation. After all, the Afrikaans standard was later appropriated by the Cape Coloured people, despite the 1976 Soweto Uprising, according to scholars like Adhikari and van der Waal. The creole version originated from Cape Coloured people, which the Afrikaner population now view as "belonging" to the White Afrikaner. However, it is Kaaps that is often identified as a uniquely Coloured dialect, often stereotyped in media representations of the Coloured group.

Cultural exploitation

This category is perhaps the most widely understood under the blanket banner of cultural appropriation. Rogers views this category as characterized by: degrading, erroneous and stereotypical depictions of a culture by another group, deprivation of material advantage that results in theft of cultural symbols such as artist manifestations, and failure to recognize sovereign claims of a minority or subordinate culture (Rogers, 2006, pp. 486-488).

The Coloured people of the Cape have been violently displaced from their homes along the mountain when the District Six area was abolished during the Group Areas Act as one of the most notable exploits of their culture. It was in District Six where much of the Coloured appropriative tactics proliferated from the most multicultural space in South Africa since the slaves arrived at the Cape in the 1600s. It was there that Jewish Holocaust refugees found escape, same as Cape Malays, Indians, Muslims, some assimilated into a melting pot of Coloured identity, and a host of races, cultures, identities and creeds lived in the kind of harmony that gave rise to the Musical District Six – Kanala, , books that were banned during Apartheid, such as Richard Rives’ (1986) Buckingham Palace, and other artistic manifestations that displayed the District Six culture through creative languaging and language repertoires, food culture, dress and other more bounded, essentialist manifestations of culture. It was in District Six that the Coloured gang culture thrived, and the 1966 displacement[6] caused a collective memory of the unity in hybridity as well as diversity. Many who lost their homes in District Six are still unable to claim any form of compensation for their loss today and the District Six museum is in constant talks with stakeholders who hold parts of the land. This is not only to claim compensation, but to claim acknowledgement of the wrong done to the group of people who lived there. For many, it is not about land, but about the culture that was lost and displaced, when the people were forcibly removed.

In the case of the Coloured people, cultural exploitation has led to an embracement of certain stereotypes and transculturation.

I have described Coloured people as holding an "awkward" position in society, since they are often described as "not black enough" and "not white enough." This has limited and even zeroed their power, access and recognition as a cultural classification. Coloured people were previously referred to as "Other" in official Apartheid terms. One could argue that this imposition is what led to the postcolonial “internalizations of colonial relation” (Patke, 2006, p. 371) that Adkhikari (2006) says Coloured people embody, now often referred to as "Coloured mentality" by the community:

"Having internalized the racist values of the dominant society and having accepted racial mixture as the defining characteristic of their identity, Coloured people by and large viewed the community as indelibly stigmatized by their supposed condition of racial hybridity" (Adkhikari, 2006, p. 482).

This situating of Afrikaans between Coloured and White people was also evident by the Coloured appropriations of English into the Afrikaans vernacular that became known as "Kombuis Engels" or Kitchen English. This label embodied the use of the vernacular as that of the kitchen slave, which is a common stereotype imposed on Coloured people, who are stereotypically seen as maintaining a working and servant class status in South African society. Exploitation such as stereotyping does lead to resistive tactics by the subordinate group. However, in the case of the Coloured people, cultural exploitation has led to an embracement of certain stereotypes and transculturation.


Adhikari’s various works formed a constructive basis for analysis by providing testimonies and historical accounts of the Cape Coloured condition. In his 2008 article, he theorized four paradigms: essentialist, instrumentalist, social constructivist, and creolisation. Each of these delivers aspects of miscegenation, culture, politics and race as appropriative contributions to identity. In particular, under creolization, he cites Zimitri Erasmus’ views “that Coloured identity is not characterized by ‘borrowing per se but by cultural borrowing and creation under the very specific conditions of creolization’” (Adhikari, 2008, p. 95). This echoes Rogers’ notions on transculturation, which perhaps could be read as a proxy for creolization here as that which “points to culture as a relational phenomenon that itself is constituted by acts of appropriation” (Rogers, 2006, p. 475), or cultural borrowing in Zimitri’s words.

Essentialist views, according to Adhikari, focus on the history of miscegenation as "racial hybridity is taken to be the essence of Colouredness” (Adhikari, 2008, p. 84). One part of the essentialist conceptualizations of this identity is therefore racial, which is most likely why the idea of culture is so hard for South Africans to grasp when they refer to Coloured culture. This view is a product of historical "Othering" and alienation of the Coloured group by those in charge since colonization. Patterson (1953) summarized a list of historical definitions legitimated by the South African government since 1905. These definitions arose from being unable to define the Coloured people in terms of race, which can differ from group to individual with varying mixes of ancestry. Citing the Cape Coloured Commission’s confusion on what the existing definitions of the label "Coloured" were, Patterson (1953, p. 631) drew attention to the “difficulties [that] are bound to arise when the admixture[7] of Coloured blood has taken place in the more distant past.” One such difficulty has manifested in the form of "admixed" culture, which may have produced a hybrid, trans-culture through appropriations, or as Rogers puts it, “a variety of potentially effective agencies” (2006, p. 494) from the different mixes that influenced the Coloured identity. Nevertheless, it is the agency of the people in the construction of their own identity that is pivotal. As Adhikari stated citing Erasmus: “Coloured identity was ‘made and remade by Coloured people themselves to give meaning to their everyday lives’” (Adhikari, 2012, p. 95). Transculturation is, after all, self-manifested in many ways through negotiation tactics.

Bringing it all together

As already mentioned, colonization as a concept contains a cultural dominance subtext by virtue of its unequal and violent power relations. For this reason the work of Rajeev S. Patke (2006) was useful as a critical analysis of the validity of the term "postcolonial" yet also as an insightful view into how the term is used in relation to culture. Patke states that

"‘postcoloniality’ functions as a period concept which marks the gap separating the formation of nation from the maturation of new social formations relatively free of cultural cringe. As a name for a predicament, it represents the phase of writing in which cultural identity foregrounds itself as a historical problem" (2006, 370).

Cape Coloured identity is widely critically surveyed as a "historical problem". Cultural distinctiveness or lack thereof is consistently analysed as a particular kind of "cultural cringe" or an “internalized inferiority complex” (Wikipedia, 2017). The result has been Coloured disassociations from Whiteness or Blackness and ultimately associations with lack instead. In fact, Adkhikari addresses the internalizations suffered by Coloured people as directly impacting their identity throughout his work.

Coloured culture cannot be defined through essentialist views of culture.    

Patke’s work thus echoes the factual accounts expressed by Adkhikari, Patterson and others about the three-tier hierarchical structure imposed by Apartheid that placed the Coloured people in an awkward position, as powerless yet empowered; below White and above Black:

"‘postcolonial’ has acquired a wider connotation. Whether we describe culture as a form of ‘having’ or a form of ‘doing,’ or some kind of dynamic relation between the two notions, a culture may be described as postcolonial wherever … a nation or people or a set of individuals suffers its colonial past as a legacy that mixes partial empowerment with partial disablement in respect to the habits of thought and feeling that determine cultural practices and produce cultural artifacts" (Patke, 2006: 370).

"Postcolonial" in this way becomes an important distinction that locates Coloured Identity as alienated from the rest of the South African groups. They were partially "disabled" during Apartheid based on skin tone and partially "empowered" based on enjoying more rights than those with a darker skin tone (Black). They were also unable to claim ancestral rights to the soil. However, this also locates the group along the same plane as frequently revisited constructions of postcolonial culture, such as Native Americans, which Rogers uses to illustrate his position that

"although transculturation recognizes issues of power, assumptions of cultural purity, degaradation, bounded singularity, and essence are problematized as both empirically questionable and ideologically circumspect due to the implication of such assumptions in (neo)colonialism and other oppressive systems" (Rogers, 2006, p. 499).

Coloured identity pairs with Rogers’ categories of appropriation, i.e. exchange, dominance, and exploitation, but is also linked to transculturation. Rogers considers transculturation to be more of a modern concept. Yet, the Coloured identity is also involved in a cultural evolution from postcolonial assimilation into a segregated society’s more bounded constructions of race and culture. Coloured identity reconstructs culture as “relational or dialogic” (Rogers, 2006, p. 499) as transculturation does. Additionally, as Adhikari posits, Coloured people accepted their own agency in their more heterogeneous, unbounded identity construction.


Coloured culture cannot be defined through essentialist views of culture. Coloured people's identity could be viewed as having undergone a process of transculturation over many, many years. It started with appropriative tactics such as cultural exchange and was negotiated through appropriations among the Coloured people, Black people and the dominance of the White Afrikaners of European origin. This assimilation was illustrated through the creolization of the language and integration through acceptance of the standard appropriated by the Dutch. These tactics were exploitative on the part of the White South Africans, however integrative tactics were used by Coloured people through the celebration of their own Afrikaaps vernacular. Intransigence was displayed through the overt resistance to being classified as Coloured once Black Consciousness proliferated on the Struggle scene, and mimicry was displayed through the idea that Whiteness was something to strive towards, once they were reclassified as a sub-group of Black. Their updated status during Apartheid did away with the three-tier hierarchy, and their covert resistance was manifested through the use of the self-characterization of "so-called Coloured" by the older generation. Additionally, the exploitation of the Coloured people was illustrated through the disputed origin of the Afrikaans language as historically Coloured, Islamic and Khoi, of whom all make-up the Coloured identity partly in essentialist and partly in miscegenation terms. 

Coloured culture should therefore be viewed as manifesting in transculturation: hybrid, adaptive and unable to be defined by normative, bounded and essentialist views of culture, being open to interpretations by those who identify as Coloured. Appropriation, in terms of a "taking" may have led to the Coloured identity as it stands today, therefore it cannot be accepted that appropriation is reduced to exploitation. In order for these misconceptions about Coloured identity and cultural appropriation to be refuted, more research on the matter is required. The Cape Coloured identity does provide a prospect for studies on cultural appropriation from cultural exchange to transculturation through a historical paradigm.



[translated from Brand bring einde aan 'n miete]

Die eerste keer dat Afrikaans ernstig opgeneem is as ’n taal, was in die vroeë 1800’s in Moslemskole, madrassas. [Afrikaans was first taken seriously as a language during the 1800s in Madrassas, which are Muslim schools.]

Die taal is vroeër gepraat in ’n verskeidenheid van plekke en variasies, maar dit was die wettiging van Islam in die Kaap in 1804 wat die taal ’n hupstoot gegee het. [The language was spoken in a variety of places and variations, but it was the sanctioning of Islam in the Cape during 1804 that gave the language the push it deserved.]


Die grootste teenstand teen die ontwikkeling van Afrikaans het gekom van opgevoede Afrikaners, meestal Kapenaars, wat dit as ’n “hotnotstaal” vir ongeletterdes en plaasmense beskou het. [The biggest resistance against the development of Afrikaans came from the Afrikaners, mostly Capetonians, who considered it a hottnots [a derogatory word for Coloured (mostly) and similar ethnicities in the Cape] language for illiterates and farm workers.]


Teen die tyd van die Groot Trek, was daar reeds drie herkenbare vorms van Afrikaans. [There were already three recognizable forms of Afrikaans by the time of the Groot Trek]

Die Afrikaans wat wel in Kaapstad gepraat is, is gepraat deur die slawe. Hierdie slawe was nie wit nie en hulle was Moslems. [Indeed it was Muslim slaves who spoke the Afrikaans that was used in the Cape.]

Omdat die slawe van verskillende plekke af gekom het, was daar somtyds taalprobleme in die madrassas. [Because slaves came from different places there were often times language problems in the Madrassas.]

Nadat Islam ontban is in 1804 is meer en meer Afrikaans begin gebruik in die skole om die taalprobleem te fnuik. [After Islam was permitted in 1804 more and more Afrikaans was used in schools to combat language problems.]

Teen 1815 is omtrent alle Maleis vervang deur Afrikaans in die skole. Hulle het steeds die Arabiese alfabet gebruik, maar die taal was Afrikaans.

Hierdie madrassas was dus die eerste Afrikaanse skole, nie die een op Augusta Kleinbosch nie. [By 1815 nearly all Malaysian replaced Afrikaans in schools. They would continue to use the Arabic alphabet, but the language was Afrikaans.]

Teen 1840 is die eerste gedrukte instruksies in Afrikaans deur die madrassas gepubliseer. Hierdie was dus die eerste publikasie in Afrikaans, nie die Afrikaanse Patriot of Ons Klyntjinie. [By 1840 the Madrassas published the first published works in Afrikaans. Thus, this was the first publication in Afrikaans, and not Patriot of Ons Klyntjinie.]

In 1856 het die Kaapse drukker M.C. Schonegevel die eerste boek in Afrikaans gedruk. Die skrywer se naam was sjeg Ahmad al-Ishmuni. [In 1856 the Cape printer M.C Schonegevel printed the first Afrikaans book. The writer was Sheik Ahmad al-Ishmuni.]

Kort op sy hakke het sjeg Abu Bakr Effendi, ’n Turkse Moslem-heilige, sy eie aangepaste Arabies-Afrikaanse alfabet gebruik om sy eerste boek in Afrikaans te skryf. Die jaar was 1860. [On his heels was Abu Bakr Effendi, a Turkish Muslim holy man, who in 1860 used his own adapted Arabic-Afrikaans alphabet to write his first book in Afrikaans.]

In 1874 was Arnoldus Pannevis die man wat ’n beroep gedoen het op verskeie Europese Bybelgenootskappe om geld beskikbaar te stel om die Bybel in Afrikaans te vertaal. [In 1874 Arnoldus Pannevis called on a European Bible organization to fund an Afrikaans translation of the Bible.]

Hy het aangevoer dat die meeste mense nie meer die Bybel in Hollands kon verstaan nie. ’n Mens kan natuurlik ook spekuleer dat die gewildheid van Afrikaans onder ’n groep mense wat nie sy kleur of godsdiens gedeel het nie, ook ’n rol sou speel in sy geldinsamelingsprojek. [He argued that most people did not understand the Dutch version of the Bible. One could speculate that the popularity of Afrikaans under the group of people who were not from his racial classification (white) most likely played a role in his funding initiatives.]

Op 14 Augustus 1875 het S.J. du Toit en ’n klomp invloedryke boere van die Paarl-omgewing bymekaargekom om die GRA te stig. Hierdie mense het dieselfde demografie verteenwoordig wat die taal 30 jaar tevore as ’n “hotnotstaal” beskryf het. [On 14 August 1875 SJ du Toit and many influential farmers in the Paarl area came together to form the GRA. These were the same demographic representation of people who described Afrikaans as a hottnots language 30 years prior.]

In wat net as ’n wanbesteding van geld beskou kan word, is daar besluit om die geld vir die Bybelvertaling eers te gebruik om ’n organisasie te stig wat Christelik-nasionaal van aard sal wees en Afrikaans sal gebruik om ’n nuwe nasie te bou. [In what can only be described as a misuse of funds, it was decided to use the money for the Bible translation to instead kick start an Afrikaans national Christian organization that would become a platform for building a new national identity.]

Hierdie organisasie het natuurlik nie plek gehad vir gewese Moslemslawe nie, al was hulle die voorste gebruikers en ontwikkelaars van die taal tot dusver. Die Bybel is eers in 1933 in Afrikaans vertaal. [This organization, naturally, did not make provision for Muslim slaves, even though they were the first users and developers on the language to date. The Bible was only translated into Afrikaans in 1933.]

[Excerpt from Deon Maas’s article on Netwerk24.com]


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[1] Jus soli

[2] Bantu Education Act: The act racially segregated and unequally distributed education amoung South African society between 1953 and 1979 (Wikipedia, 2017). Unfortunately, this solidified its legacy as the language of the oppressor, which is still often disputed.

[3] Vannie Kaap can be viewed at: www.facebook.com/vanniekaap.co.za

[4] Adhikari explains it as the three-tier system of Apartheid, with White people at the top, Black people at the bottom, and Coloured people in the middle of the hierarchy, “less than white, but better than black” (Adhikari, 2006, p. 477).

[5] Classification of the term "Coloured" occurred during the Population Registration Act in the 1970s, later rejected due to the popularization of Black Consciousness ideology (Adhikari, 2006, 469).

[6] The Group Areas Act led to the displacement of Coloured people from District Six, at the foot of Table Mountain, to what is now known as the Cape Flats, which is literally flat lands, far from the City Centre and therefore far from employment possibilities and other attractive features of City Centre life.

[7] Definition of admixture: "‘children of European extraction’ means children of purely European extraction, judgment is given to the effect that, ‘when once it is established that one of a man’s nearer ancestors […] was black like a Negro or yellow like a Bushman or Hottentot or Chinaman, he is regarded as being of other than European descent’" (Patterson, 1953, p. 361)