Honorary whites was a political term that was used by the apartheid regime of South Africa to grant some of the rights and privileges of whites to those who would otherwise have been treated as non-whites under the Population Registration Act. It was enacted by the then ruling National Party (NP).[citation needed]

This designation was made on a case by case basis as its underlying intent was utilized to select individuals within the context of various circumstances such as competitive sporting events and diplomatic exchanges. The term was also applied towards certain racial groups, most notably, East Asians who were ascribed as honorary whites. Such examples included the Japanese, Koreans (although this status was rejected by the South Korean state), Hong Kongers and Taiwanese who were granted "honorary white" status, and later the local Chinese community of South Africa and individually designated figures of various other races were added as well.

Designation of East Asians


Chinese South Africans

Main article: Chinese South Africans

Chinese South Africans (simplified Chinese: 华裔南非人; traditional Chinese: 華裔南非人) are Overseas Chinese who reside in South Africa, including those whose ancestors came to South Africa in the early 20th century until Chinese immigration was banned under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1904.[1]

As with other non-White South Africans, the Chinese suffered from discrimination during apartheid, and were often classified as Coloureds, but sometimes as Asians, a category that was generally reserved for Indian South Africans.[2] Under the apartheid-era Population Registration Act, 1950, Chinese South Africans were deemed "Asiatic", then "Coloured", where they were forcefully removed from areas declared "Whites only" areas by the government under the Group Areas Act in 1950 and governed as "Coloured".

The new designation of "Honorary whites" granted in the 1960s to the Japanese seemed grossly unfair to South Africa's small Chinese community (roughly 7,000 at that time), who, it seemed, would enjoy none of the new benefits given to the Japanese. As Time quoted one of Cape Town's leading Chinese businessmen, "If anything, we are whiter in appearance than our fellow Japanese friends." Another indignantly demanded: "Does this mean that the Japanese, now that they are "considered" white, cannot associate with us without running afoul of the Immorality Act?"[3]

Furthermore, with the inclusion of other East Asians from Taiwan and Hong Kong as honorary whites complicated matters on how the local Chinese were treated, and apartheid regulation on Chinese varied from department to department and province to province as locals could not distinguish East Asians apart from each other, due to similar genetic traits and physical appearance. This caused confusion and discontent among the local Chinese community as they had less rights compared to Chinese from Taiwan and Hong Kong despite no differences in physical appearance. This uncertainty fueled the emigration of the Chinese South Africans to other countries like other "Coloureds" under the Apartheid regime, as it showed that such a status is much more geopolitical rather than racial.[3]

In 1984, the Group Areas Act was amended to allow Chinese South Africans to live in areas the government had declared white areas and use the facilities within them.[4] Chinese South Africans were required to apply for a permit from the government in order to move into a white area. Restrictions still apply where a Chinese family that wanted to move into a white suburb had to ask the permission of their neighbors – 10 houses to the front, 10 to the back and 10 on each side of the house they intended to call home.[5][6]

Hong Kongers

Main article: Hong Kong–South Africa relations

Despite the apartheid regime's strained relationship with the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, which was then still a British colony, maintained trade relationships with South Africa. In order to lure investment in South Africa, Hong Kongers were offered honorary whites status by the government to accommodate for their living and investment purposes.[7][8][9]


Main article: Japanese people in South Africa

The designation was ascribed to the entire Japanese populace (who also once were ascribed as Honorary Aryans by Nazi Germany) in the 1960s. At the time, Japan was going through a post-war economic miracle, and this designation assisted a trade pact formed between South Africa and Japan in the early 1960s, when Tokyo's Yawata Iron & Steel Co. offered to purchase 5 million tonnes of South African pig iron, worth more than $250 million, over a 10-year period.[3]

With such a huge deal in the works, then Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd determined that it would be tactless and disadvantageous to trade arrangements to subject the Japanese people to the same restrictions as other ethnic groups because trade delegations from Japan would regularly visit South Africa for business and trade.[3]

Afterward, Pretoria's Group Areas Board publicly announced that all Japanese people would be considered white. Johannesburg's city officials even decided that, "in view of the trade agreements", the municipal swimming pools would be open to all Japanese guests.[3]

The designation gave the Japanese almost all of the same rights and privileges as whites (except for the right to vote; they were also exempt from conscription). Until the early 1970s, opposition party politicians and the press questioned why Japanese were granted special privileges, citing hypocrisy and inconsistencies with apartheid.[10]


Main article: Koreans in South Africa

Unlike Japan and Taiwan (ROC), South Korea was unwilling and uninterested in accepting honorary white status and eventually outright refused to establish diplomatic relations with South Africa over apartheid.[11] Although South Africa offered honorary white status to South Korean citizens when the two countries negotiated diplomatic relations in 1961, South Korea severed ties with South Africa in 1978 in protest of apartheid, and full diplomatic relations between the two countries were not re-established until 1992, when apartheid was abolished.[12]


Main article: Chinese South Africans § Immigration from Taiwan

See also: South African Airways Flight 295

The Apartheid regime enjoyed warm relationship with the Republic of China (ROC), informally Taiwan, as South Africa continued to recognize the Republic of China over the People's Republic of China (PRC) under the One China Policy. South Africa's National Party (NP) also supported Taiwan's Chinese Nationalists in their claimants to Mainland China and the South China Sea.[citation needed]

The inclusion of the Taiwanese was an important decision for relations between South Africa and Taiwan, as both countries were becoming increasingly isolated from the international community and treated as pariah states; especially after the Republic of China lost its seat that represented "China" at the United Nations (UN) to the People's Republic of China with Resolution 2578.[4] In 1980, Premier Sun Yun-suan made an official visit to the country.[13]

Granting Honorary White status to the Taiwanese further warmed relations and allowed immigration of Chinese into South Africa since the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1904. Generous incentives and subsidies were offered to the Taiwanese to settle and invest in South Africa, and Taiwan had become South Africa's fifth largest trading partner by 1979, especially in regards to weapons exports which the country desperately needed due to sanctions while fighting the South African Border War.[14]


The "honorary white" status was given to other special visitors belonging to other races, including:

See also


  1. ^ Ho, Ufrieda (19 June 2008). "Chinese locals are black". Busrep.co.za. Archived from the original on 22 June 2008.
  2. ^ "S Africa Chinese 'become black'". BBC News. 18 June 2008. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e South Africa: Honorary Whites, TIME, 19 January 1962
  4. ^ a b "In South Africa, Chinese is the New Black". The Wall Street Journal. 19 June 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  5. ^ Gerardy, Justine (21 June 2008). "Chinese have trod murky path as 'non-people'". IOL News. Retrieved 2 January 2016. they had to get permission right down to the neighbours
  6. ^ Ho, Ufrieda (24 April 2015). "Alan Ho's death stirs hope out of tragedy". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  7. ^ Far Eastern Economic Review, 1964, page 518
  8. ^ Sanctions and Honorary Whites: Diplomatic Policies and Economic Realities in Relations Between Japan and South Africa, Masako Osada, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, page 94
  9. ^ A Matter of Honour: Being Chinese in South Africa, Yoon Jung Park, Lexington Books, 2008 page 159
  10. ^ Afro-Hispanic Review: White, Honorary White, or Non-White: Apartheid Era Constructions of Chinese, Dr. Yoon Jung Park (Univ of Johannesburg), Spring 2008
  11. ^ In Search of a Better Life: A History of Korean Migration to Cape Town Archived 22 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Kim Mino, University of Cape Town, page 7
  12. ^ "South Korea–South Africa Relations". The Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Republic of South Africa. 6 April 2015. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  13. ^ "Premier Sun visits four African countries". Taiwan Review. Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan). 5 January 1980. Archived from the original on 30 December 2011.
  14. ^ A Matter of Honour: Being Chinese in South Africa, Yoon Jung Park, Lexington Books, 2008 page 159
  15. ^ Braithwaite, Edward Ricardo (1975). "Honorary white": a visit to South Africa. Bodley Head. ISBN 978-0-370-10357-0.
  16. ^ "'Yagga' Rowe Tackles Apartheid". CaribbeanCricket.com. Retrieved 9 October 2017.
  17. ^ Reid, Neil (9 May 2010). "Bee Gee: I never felt I was an honorary white". Sunday News. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  18. ^ Brown, Michael (18 April 2010). "Rugby: Once was hatred". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  19. ^ "Remembering Arthur Ashe" Society of North American Sports Historians
  20. ^ "The World". The New York Times. 20 June 1971. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 13 January 2024.
  21. ^ "Remembering Sarah Rector, Creek Freedwoman", The African-Native American Genealogy Blog