Racial Hierarchy in South Africa

Racial hierarchy is a term used to define a system of social stratification that mainly focuses on the mindset of some people that certain racial classes acquire higher positions in society as compared to their other counterparts. The racial groups possessing maximum power along with authority are at the top of the racial hierarchy while the racial groups with least or no authority are placed at the bottom of this hierarchy. Now a day’s discrimination and division of people on the basis of racial group is considered illegal and strong laws have been issued by various countries. The major levels of racial hierarchy in South Africa are as follows:

Racial Hierarchy in South Africa
Racial Hierarchy in South Africa
  • White South Africans
  • Blacks
  • Coloreds (mixed black and white)
  • Asians

The South African Hierarchy reflects the ideologies of the South African people towards the concept of racism. This Hierarchy set the standards of the privileges of various races. The population registration act in 1950 classified all the residents of South Africa into four main racial groups. The major characteristics of this racial hierarchy were-

  • The people of South Africa were divided as “White”, “Black”, “Colored” and finally “Asians”.
  • The Group Areas Act in 1950 further assigned different areas to different races and people were forced to live in their respective areas.
  • Moreover passing of the boundaries without a permit was considered illegal.
  • Even the amenities in public areas like universities, hospitals and parks were labeled separately according to these racial groups.

The groups of racial hierarchy in South Africa are described below in brief as below starting with the racial group possessing maximum authority and powers and ending with the racial group with least power and authority in South Africa –

White South Africans

This category incorporates people from South Africa who are European descendant and do not consider themselves part of other racial groups. South African’s white population is divided into approximately three-fifths Afrikaans speakers that totally round to about net 60%. This group by far the largest European-descendant population group in Africa and accounts for almost 13% of the population.


The main ancestral racial group of South Africa is of Blacks. The major Nguni and Sotho group of Black Africans account for approximately 90% of the Black population and further approximate 75% of the entire South African population.

Coloreds (mixed black and white)

The term colored refers to an heterogeneous ethnic group that possess ancestry from Europe, West Africa, various tribes of Southern Africa, Malaya, Mauritius, Indonesia, Saint Helena, Mozambique, India and Madagascar. Total 9 % of the population is incorporated by this racial group.


The maximum Asian South African population is Indian in origin. These people are mostly descendant of workers transported to work on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal areas around in 19th century. Most of them were bought workers who were to work there with minimal or zero authority of their own. They account for almost 3% of the entire South African population.

Know about African social hierarchy