. "19 An Exploratory Investigation into Racial Disparities in the Health of Older South Africans." Critical Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
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Critical Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life
laborers to work on the sugar plantations or came as “passengers” to trade as merchants. There are 11 official languages, complemented by several other indigenous languages and dialects. The largest organized religion is Christianity; others include Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. In addition, many people hold a “traditionalist” belief system. The rich heritage of South Africa has resulted in enormous cultural and ethnic diversity.
The complexities of race and ethnicity have been debated extensively by social scientists and are now to a large extent accepted as social and cultural constructs rather than biologically based. These debates have highlighted the fluidity of classifications by race or population group. The current population classification in South Africa is largely based on the practice of the national statistics office, Statistics South Africa, in its collection of demographic and other official statistics. The 1996 Census (Statistics South Africa, 1996) incorporated self-reported population groups: Black/African (77 percent), coloured (9 percent), White (11 percent), Asian/ Indian (2.6 percent), and other (0.9 percent). These groupings have evolved from the 1950 Population Registration Act, which racially classified people and formed the basis of Apartheid in conjunction with the Group Areas Act (1950), which defined where people could or could not live and the Bantu Authorities Act (1951), which resulted in forced relocations. This population classification incorporated elements of descent and social standing. While “Black” was defined as “a person who is, or is generally accepted as a member of any aboriginal race or tribe of Africa,” the category of “White” incorporated extensive social criteria and the category of “Coloured” was defined in the negative, as a person who is not a white or black. In a critical evaluation of the South African notions of race, West (1988) described these classifications defined by legislation as a “farrago of imprecision” (West, 1988, p. 103) that were far from being based on physical characteristics and concluded that South Africans cannot be categorized easily into the population groups, races, tribes, or cultures. He reiterated that the classification system “existed to divide and control in terms of access to political rights and economic resources and thereby maintain power and privilege” (West, 1988, p. 110).
The profound economic and social impacts of Apartheid and these population group classifications make it important to investigate the resulting inequalities in terms of health and other social dimensions. The 1996 Census reveals that household expenditures differed markedly by population group (Statistics South Africa, 2000). For example, 79 percent of white male-headed households were in the highest expenditure category, compared to only 5.8 percent of African male-headed households (Figure 19-1). Similar trends were observed for female-headed households. Unemployment levels also follow these racial disparities. It is estimated that in 1999, 25 percent of African men were unemployed and 35 percent of African women, compared with 4