Cape's Mixed Race History Should Inform the Equity Debate
I found Andrew Kenny's letter (May 23) about affirmative action very interesting, because I am also intrigued by the ethnic definitions.
For example, just about my earliest ancestors at the Cape were two blacks from Guinea called Evert and Anna, who appear to have arrived with the first batch of slaves in 1658 (most of the early ones came from Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar and India).
Evert and Anna contrived to obtain manumission and became "free blacks". Their son Johannes Colyn became a free burgher, the Cape outpost's upper crust, in spite of the fact that he was black, and married another freed slave named Maria, who was born here.
And this is only one side of the family. Heaven only knows what I will discover next. But that is beside the point. Am I white because I have blue eyes and a generally "larnie" appearance, or coloured because of Anna and Evert, plus whatever else lurks in my genealogy? Or "African" for the same reason? Or should I be in a special category not currently catered for "previously advantaged coloured", for example?
One could go on from here and ask whether any of the long-established "white" families are genetically rather than superficially white. Indisputable records show that virtually from the first there was wholesale intermarriage (not to talk of less formal liaisons) between free burghers, Company servants and slave women of all origins.
The Dutch East India Company's officials saw nothing wrong with this; to them the important qualifications for free burgher status were that the person not be born in slavery, be a baptised Christian and be conceived in wedlock. That seems to have applied at all levels, since Governor Simon van der Stel was indisputably of mixed race.
Given all this, it stands to reason that by 1700 or so the free burghers - not to mention various other sections of the population - must have been literally a motley crew.
So it seems to me that if one were to carry out some tests which are rather more scientific than the pencil test (which is about the present Act's speed), one might happen on a great truth: the old-establishment white and coloured populations are actually one group - either coloureds of many shades or whites of equally as many . …