chapter  1
4 Pages

Chameleons

The apartheid government used the term ‘chameleon’ to describe people who were classified according to different categories of race. They categorised the population into four categories:  African, Coloured, Indian and White. This scheme was explicitly based on both phenotype and cultural markers, including “habits, education and speech, deportment and demeanour in general.” (Posel 2001: 63). Rights such as what kinds of jobs one was permitted to have, what kinds of education one could follow, where one was allowed to live and who one could marry depended on these categories. Categorisations were made by government officials on recurring occasions. “By elasticising the official definition of race beyond merely biological factors, the apartheid state created a mechanism for investing all facets of existence with racial significance” (Posel 2001: 65). What mattered were therefore not only signs of phenotype such as skin colour and hair contexture, but also social indicators such as job responsibilities, spoken languages, accent and racial categories of acquaintances in the social network of family and friends.