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International Journal of Intercultural Relations

27 (2003) 209236

From apartheid to afrmative action: the use of


racial markers in past, present and future
articulations of identity among South African
students$
Vije! Franchia,b,*, Tanya M. Swartc
a

Group for the Study of Asymmetrical Relations (G.E.R.A.), Institute of Psychology, University of Lyon 2,
Campus Porte des Alpes, 5 Av. Pierre Mend"es-France, 69676 Bron Cedex, France
b
Laboratoire IPSE, Paris X- Nanterre, France
c
Institute for Social and Health Sciences, P.O. Box 1087 Lenasia, University of South Africa (UNISA),
1820, Johannesburg, South Africa
Received 1 June 2001; received in revised form 3 February 2002; accepted 21 March 2002

Abstract
In light of the recent socio-political transformation in South Africa, the article examines
whether post-apartheid society offers young adults new and different possibilities for
constructing their identity, or whether race still constitutes a central dening feature of their
representations of Self and Other? It draws on ndings from a study that examined the selfarticulated self-conceptions and future identity aspirations and threats of 542 undergraduate
South African students of differing socio-historically constructed cultural and linguistic
backgrounds. Respondents open-ended self-identity responses were content-analyzed and
examined in light of their reported desire to stay in South Africa, and their perceptions of
being able to succeed (both personally and professionally) as compared to other South
Africans. The ndings indicate that while respondents rarely made overt use of racial,
cultural and national markers in their present and future self-articulated self-conceptions,
their future identity aspirations and threats contained indirect references to an apartheid past
and the transition to a non-racial democracy. Moreover, an empirically derived grouping
variablelanguage orientationsummarizing the use of one (monolingual) or more
$
This article is based on an unpublished Masters research report Swart (2001). The authors contributed
equally to the present article. Earlier versions of this article were published by T. Swart and V. Franchi
(2000, 2001) at the XVth Congress of the International Association for Cross-Cultural, Psychology,
Pultusk, Poland, and at the meeting of the Second Biannual Congress of the International Academy of
Intercultural Research, Mississippi, U.S.A., respectively.
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +33-4-7877-3163; cell-phone: +33-6-6223-8072.
E-mail addresses: vije.franchi@wanadoo.fr (V. Franchi), swarttm@unisa.ac.za (T.M. Swart).

0147-1767/03/$ - see front matter r 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/S0147-1767(02)00093-7

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V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

(bilingual or multilingual) of the colonial (English and Afrikaans), vernacular or immigrant


languages across family, social and university life-contexts, was found to reliably distinguish
between the self-reported self-conceptions, desire to stay in South Africa, and perceived
opportunities to succeed of previously advantaged and disadvantaged South Africans. These
ndings are discussed in light of their implications for understanding identity dynamics and
the politics of self-representation in post-apartheid South Africa.
r 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Identity; Self-concept; Racial markers; Language orientation; Post-apartheid South Africa

1. Introduction
South Africas transition from an apartheid past to an indeterminate future
constructed on the vision of non-racial democracy and intercultural harmony
(a rainbow nation) has not only impacted profoundly on social, political, economic
and cultural life on a macro-level, but has also shown various micro-level
reverberations (Stevens & Lockhat, 1997). The negotiation of identity in postapartheid South Africa represents one of these micro-level domains. The new
dispensation attempts to offer identity possibilities predicated on the recognition
and reversal of past inequalities, and the construction of a sentiment of national
unity that integrates previously designated racially constructed differences into a
vision of a meaningful and valued national identity. In this regard, the ratication of
the 1996 Constitution guarantees the liberties of all South Africans, the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission endeavored to recover the testimonies of the victims
and perpetrators of gross violations of human rights, the implementation of
afrmative action measures in public and private sectors aims to redress past
discrimination and promote employment equity, and the adoption of a new language
policy recognizes the ofcial status of the nine indigenous languages of South Africa,
in addition to English and Afrikaans, the two languages endorsed during apartheid
(Finchilescu & Nyawose, 1998). These constitutional changes attest to the
governments political intention to remember and eradicate the oppression of the
past, pro-actively prevent all present forms of discrimination, and recognize
and preserve the cultural diversity and multilingualism of present-day South
African society.
In light of these broader socio-political changes, the question arises as to the ways
in which South African students, who represent one of the countrys major
investments for the future (M^ller, 1996), locate a sense of their present, past
and future identities. What legacy has apartheid left to young adults currently
grappling with the challenges of negotiating an identity that surpasses the narrow
designs of racial categorization? More specically, to what extent are the sociopolitical changes in South Africa and the imperatives of the new democratic
dispensation reected in the identity-articulations of the countrys student
population? Last and not least, do these macro-realities of present-day South Africa

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211

offer young adults new conceptions of personhood, against which to construct


identity, that differ from the racial categorization upon which identity was
premised in the past, or is race still a central dening feature of self- and otheridentity or of self in relation to those designated as other? Can one claim, with
Uchendu (1996), that:
Among a humans unique qualities is the power to transcend the narrow bounds
of an imposed social identity and thus compensate for the shortcomings of ones
utterly helpless dependence on the early cultural environment ? (p. 126)
In attempting to shed light on these questions, the present article examines the
differential use of racial, national and cultural (including ethnic, linguistic,
regional) identity markers in the self-articulated self-concept, future identity
aspirations and future identity threats of undergraduate university students.
Self-articulated self-identity is taken to represent a privileged site of identity
politics in post-apartheid South Africa: The selective use of racial, linguistic,
ethnic, national, religious gender, social class or professional identity markers
reects an individuals struggle to dene the meaning and value of the Self in
articulation with the ideals and projected attributions of the Other (Franchi, 2000).
In line with Harre! (1998), these self-articulated forms of past, present and future
identity are dened as the discursive sites from which the individual perceives,
constructs and acts upon the self and the outside world. In this sense, they reect the
strategic positioning of the self within historically, politically, socially, culturally and
gendered subject locations.
De Vos and Romanucci-Ross (1996) distinguish between three forms of selfidentication and subjective experience of afliation to a group. These are
characterized, respectively, by an orientation towards the past, the present or the
future. Individuals whose identity is constructed on the basis of an orientation
towards the past would tend to privilege self-articulated identities that reect their
identication with a linguistic group of origin (for e.g., I am a Xhosa-speaking
South African).1 This is contrasted with a present orientation, in which the
individual would tend to focus more specically on a current identication with a
country (national identity), a professional body, a social class or a community of
choice (self-articulated identities such as homosexual, etc.) Lastly, individuals for
whom self-identity is predicated upon an orientation towards the future usually
differ from the former in that they reject identication with socio-politically
designated reference groups (cultural, racial, linguistic, class, gender, or
professional), and refuse to self-identify on the basis of currently held roles or
status. These individuals are more likely to identify with a social or revolutionary
movement turned towards the future. The struggle identity of the township youth
studied by Freeman (1993) in the years preceding the end of apartheid, is an example
of this latter orientation.
1

Given the historical construction and conation of cultural, racial and ethnic groups in South
Africa, these signiers are to be treated with extreme circumspection.

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In present-day South Africa, young adults are called upon to negotiate their
denitions of themselves at the intersection of an apartheid legacy of pain,
oppression and segregation, the socio-political transformations of the present, and
the promise of non-racial, intercultural integration, equity and prosperity for
the future. The study posited that the subjects self-articulated self-concept and
future identity aspirations and threats would reect their differing experiences of the
countrys apartheid past- and post-apartheid present, as well as their different visions
and expectations for the future. In the face of the racialization of political, social,
economic and private spheres during decades of South African history, macro- and
micro-level changes were expected to differentially impact upon the self-articulated
identities of historically advantaged and disadvantaged group members. More
specically, we postulated that the relative use of racial, cultural or national
markers in the current self-conceptions and future identity aspirations and threats of
young adults would vary as a function of their socio-linguistic backgrounds and their
desire to stay in South Africa.
In South Africa, apartheid racial categories were to some extent linked
with language use and preferences, a phenomenon which reects not only the
ethno-cultural background of a particular group, but also their relative subjugation
to forms of apartheid oppression such as the forced-removal from their region
or community and the forced-resettlement within the so-called townships built
on the periphery of cities, the mandatory use of Afrikaans as the language
of instruction for people categorized as non-white, and migrant labor from rural
to urban locations. Language orientation2an empirically derived grouping variable
summarizing the respondents language use and preferences across contextswas
statistically found to differentiate between previously disadvantaged and advantaged
groups of South Africans. The use and preference for one (monolingual) or
more (bilingual/multilingual) of the colonial (English and Afrikaans), vernacular
(Inguni, Sotho, Xhosa), or immigrant (e.g., Hebrew, German, French, Portuguese,
Mandarin) languages across family, social and university life-contexts also
reects the mandatory or elected identication of individuals with cultural groups
other than those of their primary socialization, their exposure to intercultural
contact in educational, occupational or interpersonal contexts, and their personal
agency and life-choices. Insofar as it represents the strategic shifting and inscription
of self-identity with regard to differing past- (the racial categorization and
dichotomization of oppression and privilege during apartheid), present- (the
transition to a non-racial democracy and negotiation of memory and reconciliation), and future- (the promise of national unity, non-racial integration, and
ubuntu3) oriented subject locations and socio-political imperatives, this grouping
variable proved useful for the comparative analysis of differing sub-samples
of students in South Africa. Moreover, it seemed less likely to be used as a
2

This grouping variable did not constitute a pre-established category for comparative analyses of
variance; rather, it emerged empirically as a variable that reliably distinguished between groups of
responses on all dependent identity measures.
3
The African philosophy of humanism.

V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

213

politically correct replacement term for the constructed racial categories of


apartheid, than variables such as ethnic-, cultural-, or language- group identities
(Duncan, 2001).
The article also examines the students desire to stay in South Africa, their
perception of having equal opportunities to succeed in the country as compared to
other South Africans, and their perceived chances of getting a job and being happy
in the future. We postulated that the meanings attributed by respondents to current
socio-political restructuring, depending on their historical, social and political
locations of self and other, and subjective appraisals of their comparative historical
and current advantage or disadvantage (both at the individual and group levels),
would be likely to inuence the relative opportunities that these young South
Africans of differing socio-cultural backgrounds predict for their future occupational
and private lives in the country. This was in turn expected to impact upon their
capacity to envisage a place for themselves in the future of this country (as expressed
by their desire to stay in South Africa) and their willingness and commitment to
participate in the transformation process. On the whole, perceived opportunities for
success and happiness were expected to be articulated in the terminology of the
racial categories which was central to the apartheid administration and continues to
be used in the discourses of policy, the media and daily conversation. Moreover, they
were expected to vary according to respondents language orientation across
contexts.

2. Method
2.1. Respondents
The population sampled were undergraduate students attending South African
universities in and around Johannesburg at the end of 1998. A class of 370 secondyear psychology students at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) were
requested to complete the self-report identity measure as part of their second-year
social psychology course requirements. In order to ensure the heterogeneity of the
population sampled, the students were also required to have the identity measure
completed by a second respondent attending a university other than Wits, not
enrolled in psychology at the time, and of different gender and cultural background
than themselves. The age of the respondents was expected to fall within the
parameters of Eriksons (1950, 1963) denition of adolescence or early adulthood, a
psycho-social developmental period in which identity resolution is particularly
pertinent. However, in light of the argument expressed by Freeman (1993), that the
boundaries of adolescence as extending from the onset of puberty to the early
twenties are not appropriate in South Africa, the present study took the concept of
youth to refer to a political categorization comprising politically active young
people who, in line with the ANC Youth League membership criteria, can be aged
up to 35 years.

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2.2. Procedure and instrumentation


The article draws on selected aspects of data collected using a multidimensional
identity questionnaire (Franchi, 1999).4 The variables in this study were dened and
measured in the following ways:
2.2.1. Self-concept
Self-concept is dened as a multidimensional, dynamic organization of schemas or
cognitive generalizations of self, which are rooted in past and present experiences of
the self in socio-cultural interaction (Markus, 1977; Markus, Smith, & Moreland,
1985; Markus & Wurf, 1987). The self-concept organizes and guides the manner in
which the subject represents the self to the self (MEthe object of self-knowledge),
as well as the strategic choice of subject locations from which to re-present the self to
others (Ithe subject of self-knowledge). The self-articulated self-concept was
measured using a single open-ended I amy question of paragraph length. The
responses were content analyzed and coded using empirically derived multiple
response categories (Swart, 2001). Following initial descriptive analyses of data,
those categories used in less than 8% of the cases were either pooled together to form
new categories or combined with larger existing categories (see Table 1 for the nal
list of categories).
2.2.2. Future identity aspirations and threats as a South African
Based on the construct of possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Oyserman,
1993; Oyserman & Markus, 1994), future identity aspirations were dened as
those identity possibilities which an individual identies in him/herself, and in
his/her relational, socio-political, economic and historical context, and which he/she
wants or hopes to become or achieve for the self, in his/her relationships, or in
his/her life in the foreseeable future. Conversely, future identity threats were dened
as those identity possibilities that an individual identies in him/herself or in
his/her environment (socio-political, economic and personal context), and which he/
she wants to avoid becoming, or hopes to change or to avoid in the near future.
Based on existing open-ended measures of possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986;
Oyserman, 1993), respondents were asked to list up to four identity aspirations and
four identity threats, as well as four identity aspirations as a South African and four
identity threats as a South African. The present article only deals with the latter,
which referred to those identity possibilities which respondents identied in
themselves and their relational, socio-political and cultural environments and
which they either hoped to achieve or avoid for the self specically in their capacity
4
The questionnaire was adapted from an instrument designed to tap the processes underpinning identity
negotiation for youth immersed in life-contexts characterized by intercultural contact (Franchi, 1999),
which included open- and closed-ended self-report measures of socio-demographic background; selfarticulated self-concept; cultural identity, and cultural and intercultural identication; future identity
aspirations and threats; and perceived chances for success, employment and happiness.

90 (74.4)
56 (46.3)
80 (66.1)
44 (36.4)
18 (14.9)
34 (28.1)

23 (19.0)

39 (32.2)
29 (24.0)
33 (27.3)
22 (18.2)
41 (33.9)
15 (12.4)

106 (41.4)
174 (68.0)
73 (28.5)
31 (12.1)
66 (25.8)

69 (27.0)

74 (28.9)
66 (25.8)
96 (37.5)
40 (15.6)
64 (25.0)
70 (27.3)

Bilingual Eng., Afrik.,


European,
immigrant n 121

202 (78.9)

English n 256

Monolingual

47 (28.5)

58 (35.2)

55 (33.3)
40 (24.2)

57 (34.5)

47 (28.5)

45 (27.3)

32 (19.4)

32 (19.4)

46 (27.9)

102 (61.8)

39 (23.6)

103 (62.4)

Bilingual Eng., Afrik.,


Zulu, Sotho,
vernacular n 165

132 (24.3)

163 (30.0)

184 (33.8)
102 (18.8)

152 (27.9)

160 (29.4)

137 (25.2)

132 (24.3)

81 (14.9)

163 (30.0)

356 (65.4)

201 (36.9)

395 (72.6)

Total cases
N 542

Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent the percentages of people within a language orientation group who mentioned the self-concept category.

Intrapersonal positive (e.g. artistic;


intelligent; determined; active).
Intrapersonal negative (e.g. absent-minded;
procrastinator; temperamental).
Interpersonal positive (e.g. good listener;
enjoy being around people; get on with others).
Interpersonal negative (e.g. difcult to
approach; violent; easily inuenced (badly)).
Relational subject position (e.g. wife; single;
daughter; boyfriend; oldest child).
Interest/activity/occupation (e.g. reader;
volunteer for the police; love sport, music,
outdoors ).
University-related (e.g. students at Wits;
completing a degree in education; doing a BA in
Law).
Beliefs/values/worldview/politics/class (e.g.
socialist; liberal; feminist; middle-class).
Physical (including age) (e.g. 20 years old;
young; tall; have green eyes and dark hair).
Gender (e.g. male; female; man; woman).
Nationality/birthplace (e.g. South African;
born in South Africa; from Swaziland).
Language/religion/culture/ethnicity (e.g.
Tswana-speaker; Muslim; Xhosa; Jewish).
Racial identity/race-related (e.g. White;
Indian; Coloredfather white and mom black).

Self-concept category

Table 1
Frequencies for self-articulated self-concept categories by language orientation across contexts
V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236
215

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V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

as South Africans. In line with Markus and Oyserman (1989), open-ended responses
were coded according to the central domains to which the contents referred (Swart,
2001).
2.2.3. Desire to stay in South Africa
The desire to live in South Africa in the future was taken to indicate an
identication with the current socio-political transformation, a show of condence in
the political restructuring and implementation of equity measures, and the likelihood
that the person would attempt to align the self with the new dispensations
imperatives of non-racial democracy, integration, and reconciliation. On the other
hand, the desire to emigrate was expected to reect a sense of guilt or nostalgia for
an apartheid past, a lack of hope and condence in the transformation process, and a
fear that the socio-political changes would interfere with economic self-interests and
future prospects.
The desire to stay in South Africa was measured using a three-point scale
(1 Yes; 2 Do not know; 3 No), followed by an open-ended question
regarding respondents reasons for wanting to stay or leave South Africa. The
latter were content analyzed and coded according to empirically derived categories.
New categories were added until the nal list reected all the central concerns to
which their reasons referred, namely: Political; Social; Family; Occupational;
Economic; Religious; Personal; Crime/safety; Geographical features and Patriotism.
2.2.4. Perceived opportunities for success, employment and future happiness
Perceptions of opportunities to succeed as compared to other South Africans were
measured in an attempt to determine the ways in which students of differing
backgrounds, and for whom entry into the employment market is an imminent
reality, react to the socio-political transition from an apartheid past to the new
dispensation and its advocacy of afrmative action. Perceived chances of getting a
job in the future, of being happy, and of having equal opportunities for success as
compared to other South Africans were rated using three-point scales
(1 Not good; 2 Do not know; 3 Good; in the case of the rst two items,
and, 1 No; 2 Do not know; 3 Yes; in the case of the latter). Self-reported
reasons for these perceptions were measured using open-ended prompts. The reasons
given for perceiving the chance of having equal opportunities for success included:
Personal effort; Interests or capabilities; Economic; University; Unequal opportunity; Good previous education; Social comparison; Occupation; Family background;
and Other. On the other hand, the kinds of reasons given for perceiving chances of
getting a job in the future included: Intrapersonal; Interpersonal; Familial;
University; Socio-economic; Racial identity; Gender; Political; Afrmative action;
Religious; Occupation; and Geographical location. Lastly, the types of reasons given
to explain perceived chances of future happiness as compared to other South
Africans included: Intrapersonal; Familial; Spouse or partner; University-related;
Socio-economic; Political; Religious; Philosophical; Occupation-related; Health;
Current circumstances; Cannot tell; Nationality; Crime, violence or stress; and
Hobby or activity.

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217

2.3. Data considerations


The data presented in this article was largely qualitative in nature, as it was
mostly obtained from open-ended descriptive questionnaire items. In line with
the assumptions of a qualitative paradigm, the coding procedure5 was developed
at the rst level of data analysis using an emerging designcategories [were]
identied during the research process (Creswell, 1998, p. 5), and relied on the
respondents understandings and interpretations of the phenomena being studied. At
the same time, because of the sample size, it was possible to conduct rudimentary
quantitative analyses with the data, primarily in the form of descriptive statistics.
Frequencies were examined for all the demographic grouping variables and
the coded content domains of the dependent identity measures. In addition to
this, because of the categorical nature of the data collected, the chi-square test
of association was used to analyze signicant variation between the variables
of interest.

3. Results
3.1. Sample characteristics
A total of 542 undergraduate students completed the (48% male; 52% female)
in and around Johannesburg, 66% of whom attended second-year Psychology classes at the University of the Witwatersrand. The average age of the
respondents was 21.2 SD 3:07; with over a half between 18 and 20, and nearly
a third between 21 and 22. At the time of the study, 472 respondents reported
still living with their families or a guardian, and only 65 lived with their spouse, a
at-mate or alone.
Of the 542 respondents, 188 reported that both their parents were employed fulltime, and 197 that their father was the sole or principal breadwinner. A number of
factors suggest that these respondents are either from white middle- and upper-class
families (if from historically privileged backgrounds) or black emergent middleclass families (if from previously disadvantaged backgrounds). In the South African
context these families are in the minority, and in the case of the former are likely to
have a vested interest in preserving their economic and social privilege, attained
through direct or indirect exploitation, discrimination, and oppression. In the case of
the latter, respondents may have been raised in urban families, of which many were
politicized during the struggle against apartheid, who perceive the opportunity for
socio-economic redress and advancement.
5

Coding decisions were documented thoroughly to adequately dene each content category and ensure
coding consistency. Coding decisions were veried through collaborative discussion with other researchers
and the initial supervisor of the study. In addition, the percent agreement between independent researchers
using the same coding strategy was calculated as an indication of interrater consistency. The percent
agreement using a sub-sample of three of the qualitative items (self-concept, future identity aspirations and
future identity threats) was 93.5%.

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3.1.1. Language orientation


The respondents were divided into the following three sub-samples according to their
language orientation across contexts: (1) monolingual English-speakers n 256; (2)
bilingual or multilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, Hebrew, European and other
immigrant languages n 121; and (3) bilingual or multilingual speakers of English,
Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and other vernacular Southern African languages n
165: Language orientation across contexts is a grouping variable created to synthesize
the respondents self-reported use and preference for one (monolingual) or more
(bilingual/multilingual) of the colonial (English and Afrikaans), vernacular (Zulu,
Sotho, Xhosa, Pedi, etc.), or immigrant (European or other) languages, across their
home, peer and university contexts. This variable was found to account for signicant
variation on all the dependent identity measures and reliably distinguished between
previously advantaged and disadvantaged South Africans. The monolingual Englishspeakers and bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, European and other immigrant
languages are more likely to be associated with a background of racially constructed
privilege in the apartheid years, while the bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans,
Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa and other vernacular Southern African languages are historically
tied to a background of under-privilege and racial oppression.
3.2. Self-articulated identity measures
3.2.1. Self-concept
Of 542 respondents, the large majority dened themselves in terms of positive
intrapersonal (72.6%) and interpersonal (65.4%) characteristics (Table 1).
Analysis of the self-concept categories by language orientation6 showed signicant
variation among the three sub-samples in their use of intrapersonal self-descriptors.
In the case of positive intrapersonal self-descriptors, the monolingual English
speakers used these identity markers signicantly more often than the bilingual
groups: w2 2; N 542 13:97; po0:01: However, the monolingual English-speakers and bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, Hebrew, European and other
immigrant languages used negative intrapersonal self-descriptors signicantly more
often than the bilingual speakers of English or Afrikaans and Zulu, Xhosa, and
other vernacular languages: w2 2; N 542 19:23; po0:01:
With regard to the presence of racial identity markers, the results appear to
conrm Carrims (2000) nding regarding the paucity of racial markers in self6

The analysis of self-concept content domains by participants gender showed signicant variation in
the use of descriptors related to gender: w2 1; N 481 15:66; p > 0:01; interpersonal positive: w2 1; N
481 11:45; p > 0:01; intrapersonal negative: w2 1; N 481 4:79; p > 0:05; nationality or birthplace:
w2 1; N 481 8:51; p > 0:01; racial identity or race-related: w2 1; N 481 4:85; p > 0:05; relational
subject position: w2 1; N 481 4:85; p > 0:05; university: w2 1; N 481 14:61; p > 0:01; and,
language, religion, culture or ethnicity: w2 1; N 481 6:38; p > 0:01: All of these self-concept
categories were used signicantly more often by females than males. (Swart, 2001, p. 82) In the case of
the latter, signicant variation was also found for age, with respondents aged between 21 and 22, and 23
years or older making signicantly less reference to language, religion, culture and ethnicity than those
aged between 18 and 19.

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219

articulated forms of identity among South African students. Only 132 respondents
made reference to race, 163 to language, religion, culture or ethnicity, and 102 to
nationality or birthplace in their self-articulated self-identities. However, signicant
variation was found among the three sub-samples: The bilingual speakers of English,
Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho and other vernacular Southern African languages and
monolingual English-speakers used racial identity markers signicantly more often
than the bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, Hebrew, European and other
immigrant languages: w2 2; N 542 12:16; po0:05: On the other hand, the
bilingual speakers of English or Afrikaans and Zulu, Sotho and other vernacular
Southern African languages, and of English, Afrikaans, Hebrew, European and
other immigrant languages used cultural, traditional, linguistic or ethnic
identity markers signicantly more often than the monolingual English-speakers:
w2 2; N 542 6:00; po0:05: No signicant intergroup variation was found in the
case of national identity markers.
3.3. Future identity aspirations and threats as a South African
Overall, respondents most often described their future identity aspirations as
South Africans in terms of career or occupational concerns (58.1%), making a
difference, charity work, idealistic change in South Africa (25.7%), intrapersonal
achievements (22.4%), and acquiring material objects or wealth (20.6%) (Table 2).
In the case of their self-reported future identity threats as South Africans (Table 3),
respondents most often referred to a fear of being a victim of crime or discrimination,
racist or negative about South Africa (45.2%), intrapersonal (42.1%) and
interpersonal (25.9%) concerns, and unemployment or bad job prospects (21.5%).
Respondents generally made reference to language, religion, culture, or ethnicity
less often when describing their future identity aspirations and threats in comparison to
their self-articulated self-concepts (5.7% and 5.5%, respectively, versus 30%).
Moreover, no signicant differences were found among monolingual English-speakers,
bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, European or other immigrant languages, and
bilingual speakers of English or Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, and other vernacular
languages, as regards their use of this category in either their future identity aspirations:
w2 2; N 542 2:34; n:s: (4.3%, 5.8% and 7.9%, respectively) or threats: w2 2; N
542 2:82; n:s: (6.3%, 2.5% and 6.7%, respectively) as a South African.7
In spite of the comparatively infrequent use of language, religion, culture, and
ethnicity, and the relative absence of direct references to racial or national
identity markers in self-reported future identities, respondents did articulate their
future-oriented conceptions of self in relation to the realities of an apartheid past, the
transformation and redress of inequalities in the present, and the ideal of national
unity and non-racial democracy in the future. More specically, 25.7% of
respondents described their future identity aspirations in terms of making a
difference, charity work and idealistic change in South Africa, and 17.6% in terms of
7

Swart (2001) found signicant variation in identity aspirations and threats for this content domain
when comparing only South Africans in each of the three language orientation sub-samples N 450:

31 (25.6)
18 (14.9)
24 (19.8)
7 (5.8)
17 (14.0)
18 (14.9)
63 (52.1)
28 (23.1)
20 (16.5)
12 (9.9)
7 (5.8)
14 (11.6)

60 (23.4)
46 (18.0)
34 (13.3)
16 (6.3)
31 (12.1)
55 (21.5)
152 (59.4)
50 (19.5)
68 (26.6)
41 (16.0)
11 (4.3)
53 (20.7)

29 (17.6)

13 (7.9)

7 (4.2)

52 (31.5)

34 (20.6)

101 (61.2)

20 (12.1)

15 (9.1)

16 (9.7)

12 (7.3)

31 (18.8)

30 (18.2)

8 (4.8)

96 (17.6)

31 (5.7)

60 (11.0)

140 (25.7)

112 (20.6)

316 (58.1)

94 (17.3)

64 (11.8)

39 (7.2)

70 (12.9)

95 (17.5)

122 (22.4)

24 (4.4)

Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent the percentages of people within a language orientation group who mentioned the future identity aspiration as a
South African category.

7 (5.8)

Bilingual Eng., Afrik., Bilingual Eng., Afrik., Total cases


European,
Zulu, Sotho,
(N 542)
immigrant n 121 vernacular n 165

9 (3.5)

Eng. n 256

Categories

Health-related (e.g. be well and healthy;


stop smoking).
Intrapersonal (e.g. be happy, be satised
with life; successful).
Interpersonal (e.g. be loved by people around
me; have more close friends; be close to sister).
Marriage/relationship (e.g. be a good
husband; be married or with a serious boyfriend).
Becoming a parent (e.g. having children and
being a good mother; be a mother).
Leisure/travel (e.g. be able to travel; be
traveling the world; be well-traveled).
Graduation/university-related (e.g. graduate;
be an LLB student; getting a degree).
Related to career/occupation (e.g. be a
psychologist; be a university lecturer; have a good job).
Material objects/wealth (e.g. have nancial
independence; have a car, have a house; be wealthy).
Making a difference/charity work/idealistic
change (e.g. help the illiterate; be charitable).
Not a crime victim/safety/ leave SA (e.g. be
safe; be settled down in a safe country).
Language/religion/culture/ethnicity (e.g. be
more culturally involved; grow as a Christian).
Civic/political commitment to SA (e.g.
patriotic; correct past by social awareness; good citizen).

Monolingual

Future identity aspiration as a South African

Table 2
Frequencies for future identity aspirations as a South African by language orientation across contexts

220
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11 (9.1)
46 (38.0)
28 (23.1)
5 (4.1)

4 (3.3)
1 (0.8)

6 (5.0)
25 (20.7)
17 (14.0)
7 (5.8)
52 (43.0)
3 (2.5)
3 (2.5)

123 (48.0)
67 (26.2)
15 (5.9)

11 (4.3)
5 (2.0)

11 (4.3)
50 (19.5)
39 (15.2)
16 (6.3)
139 (54.3)
16 (6.3)
11 (4.3)

Bilingual Eng., Afrik.,


European,
immigrant n 121

14 (5.5)

English n 256

Monolingual

3 (1.8)

11 (6.7)

54 (32.7)

61 (37.0)

30 (18.2)

42 (25.5)

19 (11.5)

3 (1.8)

13 (7.9)

6 (3.6)

46 (27.9)

60 (36.4)

17 (10.3)

Bilingual Eng., Afrik.,


Zulu, Sotho,
vernacular n 165

17 (3.1)

30 (5.5)

246 (45.2)

84 (15.4)

87 (16.0)

117 (21.5)

36 (6.6)

9 (1.7)

28 (5.1)

26 (4.8)

141 (25.9)

229 (42.1)

42 (7.7)

Total cases

Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent the percentages of people within a language orientation group who mentioned the future identity threats as a
South African category.

Health problem/death-related
(e.g. HIV positive; chain smoker; being sick; unhealthy).
Intrapersonal (e.g. not being faithful to
myself; narrow-minded; unhappy; lazy).
Interpersonal (e.g. lonely; hurting others;
cold towards others; hated by people).
No relationship/homosexuality (e.g. being
single; losing girlfriend; not getting
married; homosexual).
Pregnancy/single parent/bad parent (e.g. a
mother before Im married; a terrible parent).
Not travel/no leisure/not being able to move
(e.g. in the same place too long; restricted
in activities through limited events).
Graduation/university-related (e.g. a
university drop-out; failing university).
Unemployment/bad job prospects (e.g. being
unemployed; failing at my career).
Material poverty (e.g. being homeless;
being poor; being destitute).
Delinquency (e.g. drug and alcohol abuser;
being a criminal; being jailed).
Victim of crime/discrimination/racist/
negative about SA (e.g. worried about crime racist).
Language/religion/culture/ethnicity (e.g.
stigma attached to my culture; being too Western).
Civic/political commitment to SA (e.g.
politically active; victim of government corruption).

Future identity threat categories

Table 3
Frequencies for future identity threats as a South African by language orientation across contexts
V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236
221

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civic and political commitment to South Africa. The concerns captured by these two
categories may reect an optimistic outlook about the countrys future, an
identication with national democratic ideals, and a commitment to change. However,
the relative paucity of these descriptors in respondents self-articulated future identity
aspirations may also suggest a generally low spontaneous endorsement of the new
democratic dispensations political and economic transformation initiatives.
These ndings may in fact reect the demographic status, political views, and
relative under-exposure to discrimination of the population sampled: Of the three
sub-samples, bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other
vernacular Southern African languages (namely, historically disadvantaged group
members) referred to making a difference, charity work, and idealistic change in
South Africa signicantly more often (31.5% as compared to 26.6% and 16.5%,
respectively) than monolingual English-speakers or bilingual speakers of English,
Afrikaans, European or other immigrant languages: w2 2; N 542 8:32; po0:05:8
A large proportion of the respondents were more concerned with achieving career/
occupational and university-related aspirations (58.1% and 17.3%, respectively),
realizing intrapersonal, interpersonal, marriage and relationship goals (22.4%, 17.5%
and 12.9%, respectively), and protecting economic self interests (20.6% aspired
towards material wealth and 11.8% towards leisure and travel), than with processes
of social and political transformation.
In line with the above interpretation, 11% of the respondents described their
future identity aspirations in terms of not being a crime victim, remaining safe, or
leaving South Africa, and 45.2% and 21.5%, respectively, referred to future identity
threats related to being a victim of crime or discrimination, racist, or negative about
South Africa,9 and unemployment or bad job prospects. While the mention of
concerns with physical safety may be understood to reect the relatively high
prevalence of crime in South Africa, discourses about security, being a victim of
violence and leaving South Africa are most often associated with opposition or
resistance to the new democratic dispensation and to current policies of redress (such
as afrmative action).10 Such views may also reect the fears of groups who regard
8

Swart (2001) also reports signicant gender differences for future identity aspirations as a South
African related to civic and political commitment to South Africa: w2 1; N 481 3:91; p > 0:05; and
making a difference in South Africa, charity work and idealistic change: w2 1; N 406 7:97; p > 0:01;
with females making signicantly greater use of both of these content domains.
9
Only 4.1% of the respondents used this category to express a fear of being a victim of discrimination,
while 41.1% used it to refer to being a victim of crime, being racist, being negative about South Africa.
10
Space constraints do not allow for an in-depth discussion on this subject. It seems necessary to
mention, however, that while South Africans who have been politically, socially and economically
oppressed and dispossessed by racial, gender and class asymmetries are exposed to higher levels of
violence than historically advantaged groups, it is more often the latter who express concerns with issues of
safety, violence and leaving South Africa. Moreover, these discourses have increased considerably since
the demise of the apartheid government in 1994, and focus only on a restricted denition of violence in
terms of crime. Insofar as these discourses obscure the fact that levels of violence and insecurity (especially
with regard to state violence, racial persecution, daily humiliation, oppression, and exploitation) were
higher during the apartheid regime for the majority of South Africans, they can be said to discursively
legitimate the apartheid system and operate as a form of resistance to democratic change.

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223

these changes as inevitably implying a loss of political, social and economic privilege,
at both personal and collective levels, and their continued attempts to hold onto this
privilege by focusing on the governments inability to ensure their safety, protect
them from violence, or guarantee their professional and economic prosperity.11
Future identity concerns related to not being a crime victim, safety, or leaving South
Africa, and being a victim of crime or discrimination, racist or negative about South
Africa were more frequently expressed by monolingual English-speaking (16% and
54.3%, respectively) and bilingual English, Afrikaans, European and other
immigrant language-speaking (9.9% and 43%, respectively) students, than by their
bilingual English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other vernacular language-speaking
classmates (4.2% and 32.7%, respectively) w2 2; N 542 14:34; po0:01; and,
w2 2; N 542 19:16; po0:01; respectively). While these views are quite widespread in present-day South Africa, especially among groups who were the most
advantaged by apartheid, it was somewhat disappointing to nd them reected so
prevalently among a sample of students of whom the majority attended a liberal
and integrated academic institution.
The specic socio-economic realities with which young adults from historically
advantaged and disadvantaged groups continue to grapple in post-apartheid South
Africa were also evident in their differential mention of such concerns as
unemployment or bad job prospects (21.5%), material poverty (16%), delinquency
(15.4%), and not graduating (6.6%), when reporting their anticipated future identity
threats. Whilst historically advantaged monolingual English-speakers and bilingual
speakers of English, Afrikaans, European and other immigrant languages made
reference to graduation-related identity aspirations signicantly more often than
bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other vernacular
languages: w2 2; 542 6:76; p > 0:05; the inverse was evident in the case of selfarticulated identity threats; Here, the latter referred to fears of not graduating
signicantly more often than the former two groups: w2 2; 542 9:14; p > 0:01:
Bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other vernacular
languages also made mention of delinquency signicantly more often when dening
their future identity threats than the other two groups: w2 2; 542 88:15; p > 0:01:
These results seem to corroborate Mhones (Mhone, Humber, Gault, &
Mokhobo, 1998) claim that pre-labor discrimination (including the lack of positive
measures to redress inequalities in primary, secondary and tertiary education)
continues to reproduce inequalities in post-apartheid South African society, in spite
of proactive measures to redress discrimination in the internal-labor market (such as
afrmative action). Moreover, it is interesting to note that while discourses opposing
afrmative action tend to exaggerate the difculty that historically privileged groups
have in nding employment in South Africa, the ndings of this study indicate that it
is clearly students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds (namely, bilingual
speakers of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other vernacular languages) who
continue to experience and perceive the highest threat of not nding satisfactory
11

The article dealing with symbolic racism in organizational discourse (in this same issue) develops the
idea that these discourses constitute a new form of racism in post-apartheid South Africa.

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V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

employment (25.5% as opposed to 19.5% and 20.7% in the other two groups).
These ndings point to the social and economic disadvantages to which these young
adults continue to be exposed.
The ndings regarding the self-articulated self-concept and future identity
aspirations and threats of the sample as a whole, and of the language orientation
sub-samples in particular, were analyzed in light of the respondents reported desire
to stay in South Africa, their perceived opportunities for succeeding as compared to
other South Africans and their perceived chances of getting a job and being happy in
the future.
3.4. Desire to stay in South Africa
Of the 540 respondents who answered this question, only 43.7% indicated that they
wished to remain in South Africa in the future, as compared to the 35.2% who
reported not knowing and the 21.1% who indicated their desire to emigrate. As
indicated in Table 4, among those who reported wanting to stay in South Africa
n 236; the reasons most often cited included patriotism (44%), personal
Table 4
Frequencies of responses and reasons given for the desire to stay in South Africa
Desire to stay in South Africa N 540
Yes, want to stay
236 (43.7)
Language orientation sub-samples
Monolingual English n 255
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., European,
other n 121
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., Zulu, Sotho, vernacular
SA n 164

Reasons cited
Political
Economic
Social
Occupational
Familial
Personal
Crime rate/safety/fear
Geographical features
Patriotism/birthplace
Religion
Total

Do not know
190 (35.2)

No, want to leave


114 (21.1)

95 (37.3)
44 (36.4)

94 (36.9)
47 (38.9)

66 (25.9)
30 (24.8)

97 (59.2)

49 (29.9)

18 (11.0)

Want to stay
n 236

Do not know
n 190

Want to leave
n 114

19
17
39
16
47
99
23
28
103
1
392

21
14
16
45
33
92
50
7
31
2
311

24
16
14
28
14
45
58
3
1
2
205

(8.1)
(7.3)
(16.7)
(6.8)
(20.1)
(42.3)
(9.8)
(12.0)
(44.0)
(0.4)
(167.5)

(11.9)
(7.9)
(9.0)
(25.4)
(18.6)
(52.0)
(28.2)
(4.0)
(17.5)
(1.1)
(175.7)

(21.1)
(14.0)
(12.3)
(24.6)
(12.3)
(39.5)
(50.9)
(2.6)
(0.9)
(1.8)
(179.8)

Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent within-group percentages for language orientation subsamples.

V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

225

experiences or feelings (42.3%), family (20.1%), social aspects (16.7%), and


geographical features such as the climate and natural beauty of the country (12%).
By comparison, those who reported not knowing n 190 most often cited personal
reasons (52%) for their uncertainty. Factors such as the crime rate and safety
(28.2%), occupational concerns (25.4%), having family in South Africa or elsewhere
(18.6%), feelings of patriotism (17.5%), and concerns about the current political
situation in the country (11.9%), were also seen to weigh in the balance. Participants
who expressed a desire to leave South Africa n 114 most often motivated their
response by referring to the crime rate and lack of safety (50.9%), or to personal
(39.5%), occupational (24.6%), political (21.1%), and economic (14%) concerns.
Signicant
variation
was
found
among
the
three
sub-samples:
w2 4; N 540 26:35; p > 0:01;12 with the bilingual English, Afrikaans, Zulu,
Xhosa, and other vernacular language speakers showing a signicantly higher
investment in staying in South Africa than their monolingual English-speaking and
bilingual English, Afrikaans, European and other immigrant language-speaking
classmates (59.2% versus 37.3% and 36.4%, respectively). The former were also less
invested in leaving South Africa and less likely to express uncertainty in this regard
than the latter two groups (11% versus 25.9% and 24.8%, respectively; 29.9% versus
36.9% and 38.9%, respectively).
3.4.1. Perceived equality of opportunities to succeed as compared to other South
Africans
A slightly lower percentage of respondents evaluated their opportunities for
succeeding as equal (39%) to those of other South Africans than unequal (44%).
Only 17.2% reported not knowing. Of those who rated their opportunities for success
as equal, most motivated their responses by relating success to personal effort (39.4%),
individual capabilities or interests (19.2%), and academic or university opportunities
(23.9%). Conversely, those who perceived their opportunities to be unequal to those of
other South Africans substantiated these claims by making reference to unequal
opportunities among South Africans (30.6%), the lack of good previous education
(17.9%), social comparison (24.0%), and economic factors (20.5%) (Table 5).
Of the three sub-samples, the monolingual English-speakers evaluated their
opportunities for success signicantly more negatively: w2 4; 535 14:59; p > 0:01
than did the bilingual sub-samples of English, Afrikaans and European language
speakers, and English, Afrikaans, Zulu and other vernacular language speakers
(52% versus 37.5% and 36%, respectively).13
12

No signicant differences were found for gender, age or nationality of participants (Swart, 2001).
It is interesting to note that monolingual English-speakers rated their possibilities for success as
compared to their classmates (Swart, 2001) more positively than their chances for success as compared to
other South Africans (68.6% versus 31.5%). The same pattern was observed for bilingual English,
Afrikaans, European and immigrant language-speakers (70.2% versus 46.7%), and English, Afrikaans,
Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, and other vernacular language-speakers (61.3% versus 44.7%). While this variable is
not examined in the present article, the lower ratings of academic success when compared to South
Africans could possibly suggest a negative residual effect of racial categorization during apartheid. This,
however, remains pure conjecture at this stage.
13

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Table 5
Frequencies of responses and reasons given for perceived equality of opportunities to succeed as compared
to other South Africans
Perceived equality of opportunities to succeed N 535
Equal opportunities
208 (39.0)
Language orientation sub-samples
Monolingual English n 254
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., European,
other n 120
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., Zulu, Sotho,
vernacular SA n 161

Reasons cited
Personal effort
Individual capabilities or interests
Social comparison
Occupational comparison
Economic reasons
Good previous education
Academic opportunities/university
All have equal opportunities
Too many distractions
Unequal opportunities
Family background
Interpersonal factors
Fate/luck
Total

Do not know
92 (17.2)

Unequal opportunities
235 (44.0)

80 (31.5)
56 (46.7)

42 (16.5)
19 (15.9)

132 (52.0)
45 (37.5)

72 (44.7)

31 (19.3)

58 (36.0)

Equal opportunities
n 208

Do not know
n 92

Unequal opportunities
n 235

76
37
8
1
7
14
46
28
0
5
2
3
0
227

9
3
22
3
11
1
5
1
0
19
2
7
1
84

14
22
55
4
47
41
23
0
1
70
8
1
1
287

(39.4)
(19.2)
(4.1)
(0.5)
(3.6)
(7.3)
(23.9)
(14.5)
(0.0)
(2.6)
(1.0)
(1.5)
(0.0)
(117.6)

(13.8)
(4.6)
(33.8)
(4.6)
(16.9)
(1.5)
(7.6)
(1.5)
(0.0)
(29.2)
(3.1)
(10.8)
(1.5)
(129.2)

(6.1)
(9.6)
(24.0)
(1.7)
(20.5)
(17.9)
(10.0)
(0.0)
(0.4)
(30.6)
(3.5)
(0.4)
(0.4)
(125.3)

Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent within-group percentages for language orientation subsamples.

3.4.2. Perceived chances of getting a job in the future


Of the 532 participants who responded to this question, 309 (58.1%) rated their
opportunities for getting a job in the future as good, 171 (32.1%) claimed that they
did not know, and a mere 52 (9.8%) estimated their chances as not good. While
differences among the three language orientation sub-samples were not signicant,
monolingual English-speakers rated their chances of getting a job as good much less
frequently than the bilingual groups (37.3% versus 61% and 60%; see Table 6).
As regards the reasons given for getting a job in the future, respondents referred to
intrapersonal attributes (42.0%), having a university education (29.3%), and the
specic occupation chosen (34.1%). Those respondents who expressed uncertainty
about their future job prospects based their perceptions on socio-economic factors
(29.8%), their chosen future occupation (28%), a lack of university education
(16.8%), afrmative action (15.5%), and intrapersonal attributes (14.9%). Similarly,
those who perceived their future job prospects as not good, most often related this to

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227

Table 6
Frequencies of responses and reasons cited for perceived chances of getting a job in the future
Perceived chances of getting a job in the future N 532
Good
309 (58.1)
Language orientation sub-samples
Monolingual English
n 253
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., European,
other n 118
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., Zulu, Sotho,
vernacular SA n 161

Reasons cited
Intrapersonal
Interpersonal
Familial
University education
Socio-economic
Racial identity
Gender
Political
Afrmative action
Religion
Occupation-related
Geographical location
Total

Do not know
171 (32.1)

Not good
52 (9.8)

140 (37.3)

89 (35.2)

24 (9.5)

72 (61.0)

30 (25.4)

16 (13.6)

97 (60.3)

52 (32.3)

12 (7.5)

Good
n 309

Do not know
n 171

Not good
n 52

128
15
4
89
9
7
7
1
9
3
104
1
377

24
6
0
27
48
12
5
11
25
5
45
7
215

6
4
1
11
15
8
4
0
15
0
4
0
63

(42.0)
(4.9)
(1.3)
(29.3)
(3.0)
(2.3)
(2.3)
(0.3)
(3.0)
(1.0)
(34.1)
(0.3)
(123.6)

(14.9)
(3.7)
(0.0)
(16.8)
(29.8)
(7.4)
(3.1)
(6.8)
(15.5)
(3.1)
(28.0)
(4.3)
(133.5)

(11.5)
(7.7)
(1.9)
(21.2)
(28.8)
(15.3)
(7.7)
(0.0)
(28.8)
(0.0)
(7.7)
(0.0)
(130.8)

Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent within-group percentages for language orientation subsamples.

afrmative action (28.8%), socio-economic factors (28.8%), a lack of university


education (21.2%), and racial identity (15.3%).
3.5. Perceived chances for future happiness
Over two-thirds of the sample (74.6%) rated their chances for future happiness as
good, as compared to 21.8% who expressed uncertainty (do not know) and 3.6%
who reported their chances as not good. While no signicant variation was found
among the three language orientation sub-samples, bilingual speakers of English,
Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho, and other vernacular languages rated their chances of future
happiness as good slightly less frequently than the other two groups (68.3% versus
80.2% and 71.4%) (Table 7).
Positive ratings were most often attributed to intrapersonal factors (61%), and less
often to philosophical outlook (16.9%), family (13.2%), the respondents current
circumstances (11.4%), occupational choice (11.2%), and a partner or spouse

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Table 7
Frequencies of responses and reasons cited for perceived chances of future happiness
Perceived chances of future happiness N 532
Good
397 (74.6)
Language orientation sub-samples
Monolingual English n 253
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., European,
other n 118
Bilingual Eng., Afrik., Zulu, Sotho,
vernacular SA n 161

Reasons cited
Intrapersonal
Familial
Spouse or partner
University-related
Socio-economic
Political
Religion
Philosophical
Occupation
Health
Current circumstances
Unable to explain
Nationality
Crime/violence/stress
Total

Do not know
116 (21.8)

Not good
19 (3.6)

140 (80.2)
72 (71.4)

43 (17.1)
29 (24.4)

7 (2.8)
5 (4.2)

97 (68.3)

44 (27.3)

7 (4.4)

Good
n 397

Do not know
n 116

Not good
n 19

235
51
41
25
5
2
29
65
43
3
44
7
2
4
556

18
10
9
2
4
2
4
14
16
2
22
36
1
5
145

5
2
3
0
0
1
0
2
2
0
4
0
1
3
23

(61.0)
(13.2)
(10.6)
(6.5)
(1.3)
(0.5)
(7.5)
(16.9)
(11.2)
(0.8)
(11.4)
(1.8)
(0.5)
(1.1)
(144.5)

(16.7)
(9.3)
(8.3)
(1.9)
(3.7)
(1.9)
(3.7)
(13.0)
(14.8)
(1.9)
(20.4)
(33.3)
(0.9)
(4.6)
(134.3)

(26.3)
(10.5)
(15.8)
(0.0)
(0.0)
(5.3)
(0.0)
(10.5)
(10.5)
(0.0)
(21.1)
(0.0)
(5.3)
(15.8)
(121.1)

Note: Values enclosed in parentheses represent within-group percentages for language orientation subsamples.

(10.6%). Uncertainty in this domain (do not know), where respondents did not feel
unable to explain (33.3%), was attributed to current circumstances (20.4%),
intrapersonal factors (16.7%), the respondents chosen future occupation (14.8%),
or his or her philosophical outlook (13.0%). Where respondents rated their chances
for future happiness as negative, they most often related this to intrapersonal factors
(26.3%), and current circumstances (21.1%).

4. Discussion
Before examining the implications of the ndings presented in this article, a
number of the limitations of the study need to be pointed out. Firstly, the use of a
synthetic grouping variable (language orientation across contexts) to generate subsamples for comparison obscures the fact that each of these sub-samples subsumes a

V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

229

number of smaller sub-groupings, which may have differed along the target identity
variables. Furthermore, while the use of language orientation as a dimension along
which to compare sub-samples in the study attempts to provide an alternative to rewriting constructed racial differences among groups, the sub-samples generated in
this way may be mistaken for politically correct replacement categories for the
racial categories of apartheid. The use of this grouping variable also renders
comparison of the results with other studies more difcult.
Secondly, sampling among university student populations restricts the generalization of the ndings to tertiary populations, as this population is a minority
grouping in South Africa and may show more broad-minded or politically liberal
attitudes, and higher levels of tertiary education than could be considered
representative of the South African population (Sennet & Foster, 1996).
Lastly, the use of primarily quantitative analyses in the present study does not
permit an in-depth examination of some of the discourses that emerged in relation to
race, culture and nationality. More specically, the focus on the frequency of the
occurrence of racial, cultural, ethnic, linguistic and national identity markers
in self-articulated self-concept and future-oriented identity measures may have
obscured the ways in which discourses on race continue to underscore and organize
self-narratives and perceptions of self in relation to other and the sociopolitical
collective. Bearing in mind these constraints and the complex nature of issues related
to racial, cultural and national identity in South African society, this discussion
seeks to highlight a number of tentative interpretations for the primary ndings that
emerge from the study.
A general paucity of direct references to racial, cultural and national identity
markers was noted in respondents self-articulated self-conceptions. This can be
interpreted in a number of different ways. From a more idealistic perspective, the
relative absence of racial identity markers may indicate that the respondents are
attempting to dene their identity beyond the narrow connes of racial
categorization, in ways that were perhaps neither permitted nor perceived as
possible during apartheid. This may reect their desire to align themselves with the
ethos of the new democratic South Africa, which embodies a future-orientated
progression towards a unied national identity, whilst simultaneously recognizing
individual differences. In the case of young adults, this progression may be facilitated
by the fact that they are at a developmental age where identity processes and life
choices are experienced as particularly important. Post-apartheid society and the
transformations it entails may also present these youth with new identity challenges
and concerns (such as re-membering and recognizing the past, redressing the socioeconomic inequalities of the present, working through the trauma and guilt that
underpin subjective, interpersonal, and intergroup processes), which may be asserted
as more prominent for self-representation, self-orientation and self-presentation;
with race no longer fullling a salient or central function in this regard.
However, it may be more realistic to assume that the legacy of decades of racial
oppression is unlikely to have dissipated in the short period of time since South
Africa has become a nascent democracy. While based on a constructive sentiment
and the imperative for national unity and reconciliation, an ethos of non-racialism

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V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

may be seen to elide or deal inadequately with the remnants and memories of
apartheid. The absence of racial self-descriptors in self-articulated forms of identity
amongst South Africa students may in fact represent what Carrim (2000) refers to as
a silencing of race. According to Carrim (2000), this results from the fear of losing
privilege, the fear of continuing with the (racist) ways of the past or the fear of
civil war. For those who continue to benet from racially constructed privileges,
the silencing of racial identity is seen to fulll the strategic function of selfpresenting as aligned with the new dispensations ethos of non-racialism and the
ideals of national unity and reconciliation, at a time when the focus on racial
identity would serve to expose and denounce the illegitimacy of this privilege.
Otherwise stated, the attempts to deracialize identity representations amongst
historically advantaged South African students may well be related to their fear of
losing the socio-economic status which continues to afford them greater opportunity
relative to the historically disadvantaged majority.
The ndings also suggest that making overt references to race is no longer
considered to be acceptable when self-reporting identity amongst South African
students. This tends to be corroborated by the nding that, while racial markers
were infrequently used, implicit references to an apartheid history and its
implications for the present and the future were consistently made across selfconcept and future identity representations (e.g. civic/political commitment to South
Africa; making a difference/charity work/idealistic change; the fear of being a victim
of crime/the desire to leave South Africa; the fear of becoming a racist or of being a
victim of discrimination), the motivations for wanting to leave the country (e.g.
crime rate, insecurity, fear, politics), the reasons cited for perceived opportunities to
succeed, get a job, and achieve future happiness in the New South Africa (e.g.
afrmative action and lack of future employment prospects). Referring to these
concerns in self-articulated self-identity attests to the difculties that present-day
youth experience in coming to terms with South Africas history of racial
oppression, and the legacy of personal and collective trauma, in the face of the
present move towards non-racial, democratic nationhood. The relative salience of
indirect references to apartheid oppression/privilege and post-apartheid transformation in the self-conceptions of historically privileged and oppressed language
orientation sub-samples, seems to suggest that students in post-apartheid South
Africa are likely to be grappling with a process of negotiating the multiple and
conicting personal and social meanings and the value of past, present and future
racially constructed and de-constructed locations of self and other.
Writers such as Beggs (cited in Ackerman & Botha, 1998) have viewed students as
a relatively homogenous group as regards present or potential social status or class.
However, in the present study, students constructed self-identities clearly reect the
socio-historical divide in their respective backgrounds, when examined by their
language orientations across life contexts. For example, bilingual English, Afrikaans,
Zulu, Xhosa and other vernacular language speakers made more frequent mention
of identity threats related to delinquency and graduation than the other two groups.
The members of this sub-sample are more likely than the other two groups to share
an historical background of racial discrimination under apartheid, with all that this

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231

entails in terms of pre-labor market discrimination (Mhone et al., 1998) and


psychological trauma. Respondents in this group, all of whom would be dened as
black according to black consciousness (BC) criteria, used racial and cultural
identity markers the most often when dening their self-concept. Moreover, their
concurrent use of racial and cultural markers appears to suggest an orientation
both towards the past (which may reect a positive identication with black
identity gained from the BC movement, or the internalization of apartheids racial
categorization), and towards the present (in terms of the discourse of recognizing
cultural differences in present-day South Africa and the focus on afrmative action
practices). Respondents in this group also made reference to language/religion/
culture/ethnicity when self-dening their future identity aspirations as South
Africans, suggesting an attempt to align themselves with the recognition of
culture(s) in the new democratic dispensation.
From a different perspective, the more frequent use of cultural and racial
identity markers amongst historically oppressed South Africans appears to conrm
Duncans (2001) nding that there was a greater acceptance of the existence of
racial differences, and a greater emphasis on (cultural) differences between black
groups amongst blacks in the post-1994 period than during the apartheid regime.
The more frequent use of ethnic or cultural markers suggests that cultural
identity may be made salient when an individual identies with more than one
reference group and is faced with negotiating identity at the interface of their
respective identity ideals and competing expectations and attributions (Franchi,
1999). Moreover, in the context of South Africas transition from apartheid to
democracy, some respondents may use cultural or ethnic markers to articulate
racially constructed difference, without reverting to apartheid terminology.
Alternatively, the use of cultural markers may represent a contestation of the
homogenizing practice of racial categorization both in the past and in the present.
These two possibilities could be seen to stem from the potential for culture or
ethnicity both to exclude and to articulate belongingness (Adam, 1995).
Bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other vernacular
languages showed the highest levels of commitment to staying in South Africa,
dened their future identity aspirations in terms of making a difference in South
Africa more often, and perceived relatively greater equality of opportunities to
succeed in the New South Africa, in comparison to their classmates. These results
seem to suggest a greater willingness on their part to embrace the ideals and changes
introduced by the new democratic dispensation, and a perception of present-day
South Africa as offering opportunities that were reserved for a racially dened
minority during the apartheid era. Other researchers have also observed low levels of
political alienation among black South Africans, a high degree of satisfaction with
the way democracy works in South Africa (Bornman, 2001), and a comparatively
high level of acceptance of changes in South Africa (Smith & Stones, 1999).
However, the self-reported future identity fears (related to delinquency and not
graduating) of students in this group, highlight the historical disadvantage that
continues to undermine their access to economic and social resources. According to
Markus and Nurius (1986), balance between positive identity aspirations and

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V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

negative identity threats for a same domain (e.g. the desire to graduate and the fear
of not graduating) serve the function of motivating the individual to achieve identity
ideals and avoid feared identities in that particular domain.
Monolingual English-speakers also made frequent use of overt racial self-concept
markers, and showed a similar orientation towards the past. These ndings
corroborate those reported in the Markdata omnibus survey, regarding increased
racial identication amongst English-speaking white respondents and black
respondents (cited in Bornman, 1999). As mentioned earlier in this article, the
majority of the respondents in this sub-sample are likely to have been categorized as
white under apartheid. The use of racial markers can be taken to indicate an
orientation towards identifying either with an apartheid past or with a future outside
of South Africa. Either way, the data is consistent with Smith and Stones (1999)
nding that white English-speakers were excessively pro-white.
Sennet and Foster (1996) point out that white English-speaking South Africans
have historically shown a more diffuse sense of collective identity and have been
characterized by internationalism and close links to the mainstream of western
culture, a relatively weaker commitment to South Africa and prolic international
travel. Similar trends were found in the present study, with monolingual Englishspeakers perceiving less equality of opportunities to succeed as compared to other
South Africans, often expressing a desire to leave the country, and making relatively
greater use of intrapersonal markers across their self-concept and future identity
representations. These respondents also made signicantly more mention of crime,
safety, leaving South Africa, and being racist or negative about South Africa in their
future identity aspirations and threats than bilingual speakers of English, Afrikaans,
Zulu, Sotho and other vernacular Southern African languages. While bilingual
speakers of English, Afrikaans, European and other immigrant languages made use
of racial markers signicantly less often, they nonetheless made frequent use of
intrapersonal markers in their self-articulated self-concepts and future identities, and
reported a similar desire to leave South Africa. The latter may be seen to reect their
perceived or imagined cultural ties with an ancestral immigrant group of origin,
their family or cultural links with the international community, or their inability to
anchor their future lives in the current South African context.
These ndings may be seen to indicate the difculty that members of these two
groups experience in envisaging a place for themselves in the New South Africa, and
a related tendency to emphasize negative aspects of the transition process and to
aspire towards emigrating. On the other hand, discourses related to the lack of
opportunity for future employment, happiness or security may also function to deny
the implications of racial oppression in the past, and legitimate socio-economic
inequalities in the present. The reasons given for wanting to leave suggest an
unwillingness to forgo a position of privilege relative to the majority of South
Africans, and a resistance towards aligning the self with the imperatives of the new
democratic dispensation. The unwillingness or inability to locate the self in relation
to the New South Africa may also heighten identication with a colonial country of
origin or an apartheid past, idealized through processes of nostalgic and evasive
remembering.

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233

While some students appeared to be disillusioned with perceived future


opportunities to succeed, nd satisfactory employment and be happy, the reasons
cited for this seem to suggest that their disillusionment had more to do with group
membership and a fear of losing the social status and economic privileges of the past,
than with current realities. The reasons given for perceiving opportunities to succeed
as compared to other South Africans also suggest that these students may be
grappling with a process of negotiating the tension between a liberal democratic
ethos of individualism (evidenced through the mention of reasons such as personal
effort, capabilities, interests, and intrapersonal factors), and collective concerns
related to a socio-political legacy of apartheid (socio-economic constraints, crime,
unemployment, and racial identity), and current imperatives to recognize and
redress past injustices (by instituting policies of afrmative action), foster
reconciliation among historically constructed racial groups, and achieve national
unity.
Overall the results of the present study suggest that overt racial, cultural and
national markers are not the most central dening features of identity amongst the
South African students sampled. In this sense, present-day South Africa does appear
to offer youth a variety of identity possibilities which include, but are not restricted
to, racial, cultural and national representations of self and other. However,
whether the self-description categories available to young people in South Africa
merely constitute new ways of re-writing or disguising the racial discourses of the
past, or whether these identity options offer new ways of conceptualizing the self and
the other, remains a question for further study. Nevertheless, the use of both direct
and indirect references to racial, cultural and national issues reect South Africas
past and present historical context, and highlight many of the challenges facing
students as they seek to dene themselves in current-day South Africa. Moreover,
the variation in the use of these markers by language orientation is sufcient to
contrast different sub-groups location of themselves in regard to past-, present- and
future-orientated understandings of the self and the other.
The patterns of differential use of racial, cultural and national identity markers,
as a function of language orientation across contexts, appear to suggest that these
markers have less to do with a substantive core of identity, or a source of
authenticity which is central to self-denition, and more to do with the particular
way in which the members of each sub-group locate the self in relation to their
differential experiences of past, present, and future understandings of identity. They
testify to the ways in which identity representations are embedded within the
understandings of the self that are rendered possible by the broader social-political
context of the past, present and future. The construction of a location from which to
speak and be identied by the other reects an individuals authorship over his/her
orientation of self in the face of the subjective and collective implications of past
experiences of apartheid, present understandings and the endorsement of social
transformation, and the capacity to imagine a meaningful and valued location for
self in a future South Africa of non-racial integration.
For young South Africans straddling the remnants of an historically entrenched
divide, their particular self-articulated self-conceptions in many ways interrupt,

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V. Franchi, T.M. Swart / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 27 (2003) 209236

contest and question the homogenizing practice of racial categorization that


characterized South Africas past and that continues to divide the intercultural
social during the post-apartheid transition to an ideal of national unity and equality.
They bear witness not only to the displaced and disjunctive present of desecrated,
transplanted and enfranchised communities, but also to the absurdity of viewing
racially constructed communities and ethnic identities as unchanged by historical
process and intercultural interaction.
The ndings presented in this research are provisional and the interpretations
suggestive for future study. As discussed above the particular transitions of the
period in which the data was collected may have contributed to the optimism of
some sub-groups and the pessimism of others. Efforts to monitor self-articulations
over time might enable us as researchers to develop a better understanding of the
complex dynamics investigated in this study as well as contribute to rening research
strategies that enable us to access process as well as outcome. Such work has the
potential to contribute to policy formulation and social interventions that might
enhance South African youths possibilities to not only develop the identities, but
also create the nation to which they aspire.

Acknowledgements
This research was carried out with the support of a research grant provided by the
French Institute of South Africa (IFAS). The ideas and opinions expressed in this
article are those of the authors and do not reect the views of this organization. The
authors contributed equally to the present article. Earlier versions of the paper were
presented by T. Swart and V. Franchi (2000) (Swart & Franchi, 2000) at the XVth
Congress of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology, Pultusk,
Poland, and in V. Franchi (Chair) (2001, April), (Swart & Franchi, 2001) The
current status of race and ethnicity in post-apartheid South Africa. Symposium
conducted at the meeting of the Second Biannual Congress of the International
Academy of Intercultural Research, Mississippi, USA. The authors would like to
acknowledge Dan Landis, Michael Metcalf and the Croft Institute for International
Studies for facilitating and supporting this endeavour. The authors would like to
extend special thanks to Norman Duncan, Gabriel Horenczyk, and Garth Stevens
for their highly valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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