The Asian Presence in South Africa

I recently came across this blog, Cape-Slavery-Heritage authored by Patric Tariq Mellet that focuses on the diverse heritage of the Coloured people in southern Africa.Coloureds are a mixed-race people with some Black African ancestry but not enough to be considered Black under South African law. The statistics differ by they make about 8.8% to 10% of the South African population.

What I found fascinating were the author, Patric Tariq Mellet's posts on the Asian presence in the lives of Coloureds. When most people think of Coloureds it is easy to conclude that they are descendants of European settlers and Africans but they are actually much more divergent than that. While most Coloureds in countries like Namibia and Zimbabwe are descendants of European men and African women, in South Africa particularly in the Western cape, Coloureds apparently they have the highest levels of mixed ancestry on the globe and are a blend of African, European, East Asian and Indian.

Basically looking at their history we've got a mix of Black African slaves and seafarers who at some point or the other settled in the Cape; Malagasy, Indian and Indonesian slaves and/or indentured labourers including those who migrated on their free will and the few Muslim clerics or political leaders that were exiled by the British or Dutch due to their vocal opposition to colonisation; Chinese slaves, convicts and prisoners relocated to the Cape by the same British or Dutch. There was also the presence of sea-faring Asians who were marooned and ended up settling somewhere in southern Africa and marrying local women etc. Yeah, it was really a melting pot.

Click to enlarge. Source: Cape-Slavery-Heritage

Furthermore the blog Cape-Slavery-Heritage is really amazing because it details the diversity of the Cape academically. For example from reading that blog I learnt the 'Indonesian' slaves and labourers brought to South Africa by the Europeans were not really from Indonesia but from several other countries such as Macao, the Philippines, Borneo...The blog also has amazing pictures like the one above of Cape Malays.

Here are a couple of posts that I think readers of this blog may find interesting;

The Indians in South Africa prior to indentured labour and 'passenger Indian' migration post 1860 

The Cape-Malay Question- Part 1 and Part 2

The Filipino Connection to Coloured Heritage- the Kalk Bay Manillas

Fahfee, Dreams, Numbers and the Lottery- A historical progression (This post in particular focuses on the Chinese presence through fahfee, a game of chance which is believed to have been introduced by Chinese immigrants.)


  1. personally, i don't really think its really fair to call the cape coloureds the most "racially diverse" people. although they are clearly very diverse racially, they are not the only ones; "black" people in the united states (and in many parts of the caribbean) are mixed with african, european, and native american ancestry; out west (california, nevada, arizona, etc) where i live, there are "blacks" with all the admixture i already mentioned plus chinese ancestry (i personally know of people who can trace their chinese ancestry back to the 1800s during the building of the railroads) and mexican ancestry (back to the "cowboy era"). they are not the only ones that are so throughly "mixed". just sayin'. *^_^*

  2. yeah apparently Cape Coloureds have the highest levels of mixed ancestry in the globe according to this article that basically argues that 'Africans have the world's greatest genetic variation'. this is not to say that other people are not racially diverse (but probably that some people are more diverse than others?) i guess since the people who reached such a conclusion got there through their research, they know what they are saying.

    i know about the mixed ancestry of African Americans but didn't know about the Coloureds which is why i wanted to share. in fact i actually believe that much more of the world's population than we'd like to think are actually 'mixed'. with people and cultures exchanging for several centuries i really doubt anyone is 'pure'. i've talked about Africans and Arabs in ancient China, read about ancient Indians in Korea and know about Arabs all over Africa in the medieval times so yeah people have been 'mixing' for a very long time now.

  3. During Apartheid, Coloreds also could have been unmixed Chinese, Indians, South East Asians and anyone else not defined as "white" or Japanese (they seem to slip by on a regular basis).

    However, having met quite a few people from the Cape and having seen several dozen of their locally produced documentaries, I've definitely seen the results of their "melting pot."

    As always, thank you for the history lessons. I like your style. Keep it coming, Madame Superior Historian.

  4. Another great piece, EC - this really is your niche. I always learn something when I read your posts.

    What's up next?

  5. @Hateya

    thanks! i'm not sure about the unmixed Chinese but i always thought that during apartheid, the Indians had their own category. i had this discussion with a friend yesterday (she majored in African Studies) and she basically informed me that during apartheid the Coloureds were placed above Blacks but now the Coloureds are apparently the bottom of the totem pole.


    thanks! i have to finish up those posts on historical Sino-African relations so that should be up next.

  6. @EccentricYoruba

    I can't say for certain what was happening during the Apartheid era because my information is secondhand. A South African woman told me that Chinese and Indians had the status of "colored" whereas the Japanese had the status of "whites." Perhaps the specifics didn't matter to her because she was black.

    The Japanese status was confirmed by a Japanese math student who had briefly studied in Johannesburg with his professor from Hong Kong. Upon arrival, they discovered that the student had "rights" and the professor was merely tolerated to a limited extent. Eventually, the professor got fed up and two ended up in Taiwan where hard-bodied budding mathematician and I met and did a variety of naughty things together. :D The gods know that man was talented!! **I must not remember him! I must not remember him - yum!!!**

  7. @Hateya,

    wow i had no idea that these laws were still in place. i remember when the internet was abuzz on how the Chinese were supposed to be reclassified as 'Black' but i'm actually quite clueless on South African law myself >.<

    lmao Hateya! you seem to have had quite a few adventures.

  8. @EccentricYoruba

    I don't know what laws are in place now. I don't know the Chinese status, only what the Japanese were then.

    lmao Hateya! you seem to have had quite a few adventures.

    Between 19 and 24 years old, I lived happily, shamelessly and scandalously although I was born and raised in the Bible Belt. Neither racists nor bible thumpers could put chains on my mind or my body, apparently. ;)

  9. I had no clue there were so many Asians in South Africa until I met a coworker that was a South African of South Asian (mostly Indian) descent. She said her family had been there since the 1800s.

  10. I believe it was about 3 years ago or so that South African Chinese were reclassified as being "black."

    That raised eyebrows round the world for a minute.

  11. If Chinese are classified as "black," does this mean they've been elevated?

    I just remembered earlier today that two of my overseas Chinese classmates in Taiwan were from Mauritius and they said their families had been there for several generations; thus, it does indeed look as though Chinese have been in Africa for quite some time.

  12. Yep, if South African Chinese are classified as 'black' it does mean that they will get the chance to benefit from a lot of opportunities, for example companies are required to employ a certain number of 'black' people (and this does not include Coloureds) by law.

    This really reminds me, I need to write another article on historical Sino-African relations! I've been putting it off for weeks and I need to stop being lazy >.<

  13. @eccentricyoruba

    Don't beat yourself up about being lazy. It happens. :D When you're ready, we'll be here to absorb the information. I found information regarding the Japanese and African-Americans. It started out as a wonderful relationship and it went sour because of politicians and business leaders who had their heads buried in their butts.

  14. @ Hateya & EccentricYoruba

    Get scribblin', ladies! Folks can only be teased for so long.

  15. @Ankhesen

    Teasing requires abs!!! :D I'm not teasing, just exhausted.

  16. @Ankh

    No teasers yet but I'm scribbling!

  17. Hmm, speaking as a South African black born and spent most of my time in growing up in Durban.

    I'm not sure that I like that Chinese people are classified as black people now with the ruling, they still got it better than most black people in South Africa that really needs the benefits.

    Especially now when China is taking over Africa with economical colonialism, immigration and pushing out the west.

    Not that the black empowerment act is without its flaws, it has made whites move away to places where they get jobs easier and it has created a dangerous brain drain.

  18. Well, what do you want to know more about?

    You know, under apartheid we did not have that big a Chinese population. Only about 10000 or so.

    Now we had a large influx of Chinese immigrants after apartheid so the 10,000 has turned into 250,000 or so (the last number I heard).

    And there's a tendency amongst Asians in South Africa to only hire only other Asians as far as they can.

    Not to say that we only got Chinese immigrants, we got immigrants from other African countries as well. Zimbabwe and Somalia are two big nationalities. And I tell you most poor South Africans are pissed and fed up with immigrants, you can tell that from the riots and killings.

    And you know what the big problem in South Africa at the moment? Jobs.

    No one got a job. Especially unskilled black people. You think it's bad in American with the crisis? It's 25% in SA every race included and that's a very narrow estimation from the government.

    Oh and here's where Chinas economical colonialism kicks in.

    It's the old story, China makes deal with people like Mugabe and Bashir to get access to resources, but the Chinese people are smart. They make it look like it's a win win deal!

    And it is. For the elite of the countries.

    For the average African it's not so much, Cheap stuff comes in and puts local manufactures out of work since they can't compete with the low prices. And what are that vast unskilled labour force to do if they can't work in factories?

    So China gets the resources instead of going to building Africa and in return we have to buy the stuff that it's made of, and thus taking jobs from us. Same thing that US and Europe did and still do, but China is pushing them out. I even heard that Sudan gets weapons from China.

    Anyway I don't live in South Africa anymore, I live in Europe with my husband and kids. It's just my view that China are just as destructive as the old colonial powers was. And god help us all if Malema get voted in after Zuma. That fool will run SA to the ground.

  19. And i mean destructive in economic terms not in human lives.

  20. How did I miss out on this great story?

    Anyways, South Africa has always intrigued me, especially when it came to their racial classifications. Racial classifications in the states are already ambiguous and crazy to me,and it's just as crazy in S.A.

    To me, these racial classifications are nothing,but two things..support builders for racists and a way for minorities to surrender their powers and themselves for it to continue to purify them. Several years ago, I was looking at a documentary about the Coloureds of SA. It was very appalling to see how some of them disregarded Black S.A.'s.One segment of the show was talking about the elections between the Fredrik DeKlerk and Nelson Mandela. When the reporter asked who they were going to vote for, a lot of them that was interviewed said that they were going to vote for DeKlerk.While I feel vote for the guy you're comfortable with at the same with , the Coloureds interviewed for the show mainly did it because of Mandela's race.

    I was thinking about this..how some people get the "White" stamp of approval,while others don't. Depending on what part of the Arab world you're from like Syria or Lebanon,you're good to go,but if you're Palestinian Arab, you're a nobody. In Latin America, it's Cuba being on top and being respected,in Asia it's Japan. Even with Europe, you have White "ethnics" Like Jewish people, Italians, Polish or Greeks,but if you're from England or France, you're just White and more worthy.

    It wasn't that long ago that Japanese were confined to concentration camps and the Chinese with the Exclusion acts laws, Now years later, the Japanese "goes" with the White race? Why was that? there has been and always be an agenda behind it. Though Coloured SA's was never classified as White, they had special privileges that Black Africans wasn't afforded to have.Overall, no group would be fully White no matter how close they were to the White man.

    That was what sad about some of the Coloureds and other "higher caste" minorities..they were used and the unsuspecting ones,continue to be done that way. You'll hear some non-Blacks say that they are "White" People because of what the census say,but something should click off in the minds that it's a trap. Let's say that I was an a Syrian-American. According to the census bureau ,I can go with the White race,but I'm treated like garbage for it. These days Arabs, whether Christian/Muslim or anybody who looks like them are mistreated.It's makes no sense, yet Arabs are classified as"White".

    Recently, I read a blog where a young Korean girl felt that White people like them more than any race of people,while another Asian man told her not to fall for it. He's right, as mentioned on here ,she's tolerated,not necessarily liked. She's falling for that trap. For a while,it seems that she treated like a White person,but eventually whether directly or indirectly, she's going to be reminded of who she is.That kind of naive thinking is going to be her downfall.


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