n Africanus - The limitations of legalism and identity labels in post-apartheid South Africa - research

Volume 49 Number 2
  • ISSN : 0304-615X



The roots of identity crisis in post-apartheid South Africa are embedded in systemic failures reflected in the design and content of various legal documents, including application forms for registering a birth, school or university entrance, acquiring an identity document, registering a marriage, employment, and a death. A key requirement in the forms is that individuals identify themselves, based on race, gender, and nationality. Consequently, the information collected through these forms reproduces racial divisions and recreates old identities of the apartheid and colonial past—namely Blackness, Whiteness, Nationalism, or Otherness. Many such identities; including gender, created through these legal documents are distorted, and, therefore, misrepresent the actual descriptions of who the individuals are. As a result, individuals are forced to identify themselves, based on laws passed during apartheid. This article explores the identity crisis in South Africa, where identity labelling seems to be particularly highly racialised and ethnicised as a result of the social classification of humans according to race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality, applied in the colonial and apartheid era. By conducting a meta-analysis of application forms for the registration forms for births, deaths, marriages, school and university entrance, as well as acquiring national identity documents, the article argues that the current legalistic identity imaginings in South Africa are anachronistic to the ways in which individuals might otherwise want to self-identify.

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