Colour, citizenship and constitutionalism : an oral history of political identity among middle-class coloured people with special reference to the formation of the Coloured Advisory Council in 1943 and the removal of the male franchise in 1956

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis explores the political identity of middle-class coloured people in metropolitan Cape Town focusing particularly on the period extending from the formation of the Coloured Advisory Council in 1943 to the removal of the qualified coloured male franchise in 1956. The findings of the thesis are based largely on thirty-one random interviews with coloured men and women over the age of sixty-three. All of the males had the vote and either the fathers or husbands of all the women had enjoyed the vote. The 'open attitude' style of interviewing was employed, enabling the interviewees to help frame the discussions. Politics for most of my respondents was not an integral influence within their childhood. Most men, however, recalled their fathers voting and have clear memories of election days, political movements of the time and meetings that took place. All, except one, became teachers. Their post-secondary education, often at the University of Cape Town, encouraged most to grapple with the political and social processes of the day. By the 1940s the majority of the males began to challenge the prevailing political structures and beliefs of mainstream coloured society. The childhood memories of political events of most women were comparatively less pronounced. Some recalled their fathers voting, although memories of their mothers involvement in church and welfare activities are clearer. They also recalled political events that affected them directly. Most of the women interviewed either became teachers or they married teachers. This exposed them to what they saw as male-dominated coloured politics and they experienced a sense of political alienation from these political processes. This does not necessarily imply that they were apolitical. On the contrary, looking back, they see themselves as having given expression to political concerns in alternative ways. They also showed greater interest in 'white politics' as expressed through the United Party accepting that it was 'white politics' that ultimately had the power to determine their social and economic well-being. Most women showed limited concern about the removal of qualified males from the common voters' roll. They saw this as having a minimal impact on their social well-being. It was largely the Group Areas Act that socially and economically affected their lives, giving rise to a heightened level of political awareness and involvement. The ambiguities and divisions which marked middle-class coloured political groupings could be attributed partly to the historical policies of social-engineering practised by successive governments, whose intention was to construct a coloured political identity separate from whites, while being grounded in civil privileges not extended to Africans. Most of my interviewees acknowledged that by the 1940s they had accepted these privileges. They were naturally reluctant to see these undermined politically. From 1948 onwards middle-class coloured privileges began to be eroded. This signalled the emergence of a new era of coloured identity.

Bibliography: pages 173-186.