Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law

(2000) JLP 45: 137-164


Statutory Instruments for the Maintenance of Ethnic Minority Interests in a Multicultural Community:

The Case of the Afrikaners in South Africa


Anthony R. Turton




The overall purpose of this paper is to present an analysis of the various ways in which the minority Afrikaner ethnic group in South Africa employed statutory instruments both before and after the 1994 elections in order to mobilize and maintain their ethnic identity in a multi-cultural community.


The presence of ethnic minorities within several multi-cultural unitary states is an international phenomenon of growing importance and stature. Observed at face value, the mere presence of ethnic minorities in a multi-cultural unitary state need not necessarily pose a threat to the constitutional order, stability and territorial integrity of such a state. However a cursory glance at historic case studies such as Nigeria, Morocco, Pakistan, Chechnya and Sri Lanka illustrates graphically that the non-accommodation of ethnic minority interests and aspirations (especially the quest for ethnic self-determination) could give rise to a myriad of problems in a multicultural state. The situation is often confounded when, as in the case of South Africa, ethnic aspirations converge with racial boundaries. If not sufficiently attended to, problems of this nature could eventually threaten the very existence of the state in question.


Over the past few decades a multitude of solutions to this dilemma have been drafted by politicians and academics alike. In this regard the options presently available range from the more extreme (such as partition and secession) to the more accommodative (such as consociative democratic models, constitutionally guaranteed individual rights, and power sharing). In the case of South Africa an attempt was made to solve the ethnic accommodation issue by means of a policy of racial and ethnic segregation, or, as it was better known throughout the world, Apartheid.


The former South African government’s Apartheid policy encompassed several dimensions, which ranged from the mundane (‘petty apartheid’) to the grandiose (‘grand apartheid’). In the absence of international recognition, the necessary legitimacy for most, if not all Apartheid measures was provided by an extensive statutory foundation which amongst others included the constitution, parliamentary laws, municipal bylaws and departmental directives. The Afrikaner was able to induce and uphold such statutory instruments for the maintenance of their ethnic interests primarily because of their positions of political, economic and military dominance vis-à-vis other ethnic and racial groups in South Africa.


This favored position of the Afrikaner has however all but disappeared with the onset of South Africa’s transformation to a full democracy since the early 1990s. The new democratic dispensation, which culminated in the acceptance of a representative constitution during 1996, confronted ‘ethnic’ Afrikaners with a challenge – whether to find solace in constitutionally guaranteed individual rights, or to search for another solution in the vaguely defined concept of a geographic ethnic state called the Volkstaat.


This paper looks at the definition of an Afrikaner. It also analyses methods of ethnic mobilization. Specific attention is given to the role of threat perceptions as driving forces for this mobilization.