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We are all Coloured

We are all Coloured

by Nathan Zeno / 04.06.2009

While the equal rights or gay marker flag has rainbow colours, it is not a true representation of a rainbow. Its edges are defined. In a true rainbow, the colour lines are blurred. Moreover, in a true multi-cultural society, so are the definitions of race and identity. South Africa is a nation of mixed descent, one where, supposedly, the idea of race has been abandoned and cultural identity is re-enforced. If cultural identity defines our colour, then we are all a mixed breed of Scottish quadroons, Dutch pentaroons, Zulu sextoons, and so forth. Essentially, we are all coloured now. But we are all individuals with, like all humans before us, mixed heritage. Embracing your heritage is part of defining your identity, no matter how dark or bright.

What Zulu doesn’t have a little Xhosa? What Afrikaner in Oranje doesn’t have a hidden Malay great grandparent? I was struck by these thoughts when I witnessed a certain inconsistency of thinking. I was driving in a car with two friends – one proud of her mixed descent, the other proud of his Zulu heritage, myself a bastard Scot, French, Jew Methodist agnostic, mostly bemused. Now these definitions don’t really cover who these people are and certainly are only laid down in retrospect, for instruction. I am discussing a philosopher from the 1800s, who I quote. In the quote the word “kaffir” is used; this skims past my coloured friend and offends my Zulu friend (note – I am here defining them).

Later in the conversation we are discussing where to go out. My Zulu friend wants to go somewhere where there are “drunk white girls.” This amuses me, and offends my coloured friend. After all, what is wrong with drunk girls of all colours? 

What I am trying to illustrate is that we are a nation of individuals, each one made up of their own specific heritage and we all respond according to those experiences and choices that have made us. It is pointless to try and clearly define these things, as it is pointless to not accept where we come from. We are a nation of drifters and bastards, hewn in the hard sun and cold winters.


Made by joy and regret, like any other nation or grouping of people. There will always be someone to offend and someone to amuse. Sometimes we say horrible things in innocence; sometimes we reveal our innocence when we are most horrible. Being defensive or offensive really doesn’t work. Acceptance of the past is a way forward, trying to change it is just impossible, so then why do we fight about who we are? Surely. the facts of where we come from are unchangeable and even quite beautiful in dissecting the tangents that connect us all?

Images courtesy Levi’s® Original Music © Ian Engelbrecht – shot at Oppikoppi 2008.

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  1. Oldtimer says:

    Where you were raised, your race, your home language, your religion or lack thereof are all pretty good indicators of your culture. From that you can predict likely values and ethics. You can figure out who will try and sell you dodgy gear, who will nick your cellphone and who will hack you to pieces for muti. That type of thing.

    When it comes to offense, you never offend someone, they are offended by what you do/say according to *their* set of standards. Its all up to you whether you want to play along with that. Whether their rules clash with some of yours. Like the Danish mohammed-cartoon story. Muslims wanted the Danes to play according to their rules, and got “offended” when they didn’t. Tough. You just have to be grown up enough to realize that not everyone thinks like you do.

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  2. Michael Graaf says:

    “Coloured” is still a racial term. Race is not a scientific concept, but a social tag. I would say South Africans are becoming creolised – i.e. mixing colonial and indigenous cultural and linguistic influences. Sometimes this coincides with genetic mixing, sometimes not.

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  3. Nathan Zeno says:

    Oldtimer. – You show up often here at Mahala, well often enough, and I must just say, I love you. You represent the diversity that makes this amazingly tangential place. I may not agree with your opinion (and your constant “look at me” statements) but I love that you have them and are free to express them. Long may you visit us and spark debate.

    Michael. – Creol? Isn’t that a prawn flavored snack from the early 90’s, one that’s taste kinda lingers? Doesn’t really fit the comparison I was making, that the boundaries between colours are not black and white (sorry, couldn’t resist)

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  4. Oldtimer says:

    “Look at me statements”?? WTF? Are you trying to be insulting, or are you just unintentionally patronizing?

    Here’s how it goes in a debate. Someone says something, then the other person replies to that. Just commenting how you “love” the other person and reveling in their “diversity” is not a debate. Just going “ooh someone commented, isn’t that lovely” is just wimpy.

    Seriously Nathan, catch a wake up bru. If you don’t agree, be a man and say why.

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  5. Oldtimer says:

    In fact I came back to tell you “up yours boet”. There is nothing in my comments that attempts to draw attention to myself. You on the other hand are the pretentious wanker writing these vacuous articles. “Look at me I’m a journalist and know everything about life.” Asshole.

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  6. badass says:

    omg. who is the boy giving the finger? he’s hott!!

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  7. coloured woman says:

    personally ii have to agree with oldtimer. yes i get everyone is mixed in some way but the way your article makes it dirogotory to me as acoloured woman. for us being coloured is not easy, we have to live with a constant stigma and people cant let go of their perceptions if what we are and how we are suppose to act. i love being coloured because iuts a race that allows one to express yourself to the best of your ability.

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  8. Brysen says:

    Mighty useful. Make no mistake, I arppceaite it.

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  9. Confused says:

    I am coloured and proudly so. But difficult to be proud if I cannot express my uniqueness. We all want to be special. Why do coloured people wish to hind behind being called just South Afrian.

    I would like a good reason why the word ‘coloured’ is offensive? It is an adjective to describe your mixed heritage. You have the 11 official languages spoken by all South Africans? Man even I am getting confused now.

    Asked how to spell it, then it becomes confusing. My spell check on my pc says it should read ‘colored’. If I remove the ‘u’ does it change the meaning?
    If I use the world ‘coloured paper’ are you offended? There is more to this word than one thinks.

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  10. lentotwane says:

    I am engaged to a colored lady, we been together since 08, and we on the brink of reproducing, bt my problem is she wants our kids to only have setswana names, and i was hoping for her to also bring her side into the childrens’ heritage, am just confused abt tht, and she insists that our kids dont speak afrikaans which she and her whole family spks

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