Indian Identity in South Africa

  • Kathryn PillayEmail author
Reference work entry


After the first democratic election took place in 1994, a commitment was made, by the ANC led government, to “nonracialism” based on a Constitution, adopted in 1996, which was inclusive of all who lived in the country. This chapter argues that even though the democratic state acknowledges South Africans of Indian descent as part of the national discourse, it nevertheless still perpetuates the notion of essential “differences” between “peoples” which originated in colonialism was entrenched further after the formation of the Union and legitimized through various policies during apartheid. This continuation of such “race” classification in legislated and bureaucratic form, conflates race and ethnicity, and ensures racialization and “race thinking,” which is evident in self-perceptions and the perceptions of “others.” The argument is demonstrated by examining the role of the South African state historically in the maintenance of racial categories which in turn allow “Indians” to be stereotyped, homogenized, and labeled as a separate and distinct group. This formal process ultimately results in the confirmed perception of them as “a people” or “community” with fixed and essentialized identities and ultimately “belonging” to another country, to which they could easily “return,” as evidenced by calls to “go home” echoed at various points in time during the post-1994 democratic era. Processes of othering and anti-“Indian” sentiment, reminiscent of the political eras prior to democracy, persist therefore in public and popular discourse in contemporary South African society and are exposed at various junctures.


Indian Race South Africa Classification Xenophobia Identity 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

Section editors and affiliations

  • Steven Ratuva
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and SociologyUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  2. 2.Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific StudiesUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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