Origins of derogatory “coloured” label in South Africa

After centuries of land dispossession, enforced criminality by colonial laws and genocide, the Khoe and San people were called many names by European settlers. Of particular interest is the name Hottentot.

Hottentot is one of the predecessors of the derogatory name “coloured”.

Hottentot means “gibberish” in Old German. Gibberish means “makes no sense”.

The name Hottentot reflected the contempt European settlers had for indigenous Khoe languages.

But using this name became a form of social control for European settlers over the indigenous Khoe and San.

By denying the Khoe and San their names and eventually their languages, the settlers were able to destroy the ancient hunter-gatherer and pastoral cultures.

That was the colonial plan.

In the settler newspaper “Christian Express” of 1882 (2 July), the author writes:

“The appellation Hottentot is now ‘en vogue’. It is useless therefore to extirpate it for the custom of more than two centuries has sanctioned its use”.

An appellation is a name. The writer is suggesting that the name “Hottentot” has become a “fashion”.

But we have to remember it was not the Khoe San who made a fashion out of calling themselves “Hottentot” for “more than two centuries”.

It was the European settlers who forced this name on them to destroy their culture and make servants of them.

The writer acknowledges that the Khoe called themselves KhoeKhoe, meaning, “Men of Men” or “Men of Excellence“.

Still, coloniality was always about the destruction and marginalisation of indigenous cultures to advance settler prosperity.

Names are important for identity and determining a People’s future.

The neo-apartheid economy of today benefits by naming the descendants of the Khoe and San “coloureds”.

This is why lots of money and propaganda are being put into spreading “coloured”-colonial identity among the descendants of the Khoe and San.