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Used for ill; used for good A century of collecting data on race in South Africa

Used for ill; used for good A century of collecting data on race in South Africa

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Used for ill; used for good A century of collecting data on race in South Africa

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  1. Used for ill; used for goodA century of collecting data on race in South Africa Tom Moultrie and Rob Dorrington Centre for Actuarial Research (CARe), UCT

  2. Introduction • Background • South Africa as an extreme case of the use and abuse of racial data • Data used for ill, and now (possibly?) for good • An enduring history of using race as the essential variable for social stratification, followed by rapid (and orderly) political and social transition • Power, identity and censuses • Race and identity in South Africa, 1900-1990 • Post-apartheid experience of race, identity and censuses 1990-2007 • Conclusions Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  3. A conventional view of power, identity and the census • Social statistics and censuses play an important role in reproducing and reifying a desired social ordering and hierarchy of a dominant elite • Such data simultaneously both anonymise and individualise • “systematic collection of data about people has affected not only the ways in which we conceive of a society, but also the ways in which we describe our neighbour. It has profoundly transformed what we choose to do, who we try to be, and what we think of ourselves” • A process of ‘naming into existence’ • A powerful tool for commanding and controlling elements of society Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  4. Defining ‘race’ in the context of demographic and health research • Three possible definitions • Race as biology (race as speciesism) • Race as phenotype • Race as social construct • The first two are largely irrelevant to this debate, as the first posits that there is only one race, while the second suggests that there are significant genetic contributors to variations in demographic and health outcomes, which is mostly untrue • So we are left with only the third possibility, where race is a proxy for a host of unmeasured (unmeasurable?) determinants Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  5. Race and social statistics in South Africa • Racial segregation began long before apartheid in 1948 • South Africa Act (1909) mandated a census of adult European men for constitutional purposes every five years, and other censuses of the entire population at the discretion of the Governor-General • Full enumerations attempted in 1911, 1921, 1936 and 1946 • Only 1936 covered the entire population with any degree of accuracy • “White-only” censuses in 1918, 1926, 1931 and 1941 Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  6. Data collection pre-1948 • 1911: Confused typology of race and ethnicity, possibly a consequence of attempted standardisation across Imperial censuses • 1921: Precedent-setting implementation of policy of having separate census forms for each race. • Significantly, too, the race attributed to respondents was no longer necessarily that reported to enumerators… Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  7. Instructions to Enumerators, 1921 • It will often occur than an Enumerator, especially in the poorer localities, will be asked for, say, a European form (C. 1) by persons who obviously cannot be classified as white. In such cases, Enumerators must be instructed to refrain from giving offence by any comment or question in the presence of the parties concerned, but to make a private note on the completed forms against the names of any persons he considers cannot be classed as European, and report the circumstances to you. Thereafter the particulars in respect of the persons in question should be transferred to the form or forms applicable to their race Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  8. Data collection pre-1948 • 1911: Confused typology of race and ethnicity, possibly a consequence of attempted standardisation across Imperial censuses • 1921: Precedent-setting implementation of policy of having separate census forms for each race. • Significantly, too, the race of respondents was no longer necessarily that reported • 1936: “As far as tabulation of the results is concerned, four separate tabulations are actually undertaken, and the tabulation cards are never mixed.…” Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  9. Race and social statistics after 1948 • Population Registration Act (1950) • Created the basic categories used to define race under apartheid, and was intended to standardise racial definitions across all legislation • Mandated the creation of an ongoing Population Register (populated by the results from the 1951 census) • The Act has been described as a “farrago of imprecision” (West), of “trying to define the indefinable” (Suzman), and a decade after its enactment, commentators could still point to the plethora of racial definitions still embodied in legislation • What accounts for this imprecision? • Difficulty in defining a social construct? Incompetence? Arrogance? Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  10. Race and social statistics after 1948 • 1951 Census: No explicit instructions on recoding race found, but process of labelling would have been simplified by other apartheid legislation, notably the Group Areas Act, and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act • 1970 Census: Additional collection of data on ethnicity of Africans, driven by a desire to create ‘independent’ Bantustans (and thereby further legitimate White rule) Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  11. The role of the census in shaping identity in apartheid South Africa • The debate around the power of the census to typify and impose a classificatory order on the population is largely irrelevant in the context of apartheid South Africa • Individual agency in defining one’s racial identity was almost non-existent; • ability to consider one’s race outside of the identity allocated was nigh impossible; • Hard to argue that it was the census that crystallised racial identity • Paradoxically, then, in the situation where state power to impose labels is strongest, the role of the census in “naming categories into existence” is weakest Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  12. Race, census and identity in post-apartheid South Africa • Population Registration Act repealed in 1991 • Removed the legal basis for classification of population by race • All racial classifications are now entirely self-reported • Consensus reached that it was desirable to continue to collect information on race; largely to track progress in redressing the iniquities of apartheid • To do so, the question on population group asked should really be “How would you have been classified under apartheid legislation” • Evident uncertainty as to how the question could be asked in censuses and surveys: Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  13. Questions on identity since 1991 Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  14. Questions on identity since 1991 • Enumerators were explicitly instructed not to challenge respondents on their reported identities, but no such concern was evident at a data processing stage: • In 2001, the option of “Other” was eliminated during data processing • “Missing” cases were subjected to ‘logical’ imputation • In other words, one’s freedom to define one’s racial identity was constrained to only four categories • Is this really freedom? Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  15. Should we continue to collect information on identity? • A qualified yes … • Run the risk of reifying race again • But not to do so is “tantamount to denying history” (Head) • Qualifications • Only while race has an effect that cannot be captured by other sociological factors • Where adequate data are not available, race may be the only proxy available • But what is the data on race now measuring? Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007

  16. Conclusions • The South African story offers several challenges to the dominant narratives of race, power and demography • It raises important questions about the nature of the apartheid state, and its relationship to the modernising project • The need for racial classification since 1991 has proved more durable than one might have suspected given South Africa’s history Moultrie and Dorrington - Montreal - 2007