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Coloureds and Indians in South Africa: Two Kinds of Middleman Minorities

Posted: 22 Feb 2011  

Vernon Johnson



There is a broad literature on middleman minorities, beginning in the 1940s to demystify the intermediary economic niche that Jews had occupied in medieval Europe (Becker,1940; Rinder, 1958). In the 1960s scholars began to systematically apply the middleman minority theory to colonial societies (Blaylock, 1967; Hamilton, 1972); and to American society (Bonacich, 1973; Kitano, 1974). South African Indians and Coloureds are also has middleman minorities. In previous research I have argued that there are certain characteristics of the economic and also, cultural location of Coloureds in South Africa that differ from the classical middleman norm. Instead of the classical “ethnic entrepreneur� prominent in the literature, I found Coloured South Africans to be a “semi-privileged proletariat� (Johnson, 2009). A typology contrasting ethnic entrepreneurs to semi-privileged proletarians as different types of middleman minorities was also offered. This paper seeks to demonstrate that the earlier identification of these two types of middlemen was too simplistic. Using the ideal types of ethnic entrepreneur and semi-privileged proletariat heuristically, the paper seeks to move away from essentialist categories and add sophistication to our understanding of minorities in the middle, particularly in the post-settler colonial world. In doing so, it will compare and contrast the experiences of Coloureds and Indians in South Africa.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Vernon, Coloureds and Indians in South Africa: Two Kinds of Middleman Minorities. Western Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting Paper . Available at SSRN:

Vernon Johnson (Contact Author)

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