The Limitations of Legalism and Identity Labels in Post-apartheid South Africa Africa


  • Gloria Sauti University of South Africa



colonialism, post-colonialism, South African, apartheid, race, racial divisions, identity labels


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.

Author Biography

Gloria Sauti, University of South Africa

Gloria Sauti is currently a lecturer at the University of South Africa.  Previously, she was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Archie Mafeje Research Institute at the University of South Africa.  During the same period, she was Inter-Disciplinary Post-Doctoral Research Coordinator for the College of Graduate Studies. She worked as Educator and later as Supervisor for the Department of Education’s ABET in South Africa while pursuing her doctoral studies, at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS). Before that, she worked at the department of Student Affairs at the University of Stellenbosch for two years while pursuing her Master’s degree at WITS.  She holds postgraduate qualifications in International Relations, Law and Social Anthropology. She has peer reviewed various articles as well as doctoral proposals, including conference proposals for the World Bank. She has authored several papers (some which will be published in 2018).



How to Cite

Sauti, Gloria. 2020. “The Limitations of Legalism and Identity Labels in Post-Apartheid South Africa Africa”. Africanus: Journal of Development Studies 49 (2):17 pages.



Received 2019-06-12
Accepted 2019-11-04
Published 2020-02-18