SOC 308 Ethnic Stratification and Conflict

Soc 308 week 3 assignment Details

In this assignment, the student is required to select a certain country and then analyze ethnic stratification and conflict in society. The student should focus on both conflict and ethnic stratification while including prejudice and discrimination.

Apart from adding description of the society selected and its ethnic groups, include also similarities and differences of the society ethnic stratification system compared with United States.


Ethnic Stratification and Conflict in South Africa


Institutional Affiliation


Race, class, and ethnicity have been dominant forces in South Africa’s socio-economic and political arena. Ethnic stratification in the country has contributed to decades of prejudice, discrimination, ethnic conflicts, and the struggle for equal rights. In the period between 1948 and the early 1990s, South Africa experienced the highest levels of racial segregation. This was the apartheid era when the country was under white minority rule. The apartheid era was marked by forced racial segregation, whereby the government ensured the separation of people from different ethnic groups. The segregation of society into different ethnic groups allowed the white minority to curtail the fundamental rights and freedoms of other groups, and mainly the blacks

South Africa comprises of four major ethnic groups. Blacks are the majority, accounting for about 80.2 percent of the population (CIA World Factbook, 2017). Whites comprise about 8.4 percent of the population. Despite being not being the largest group numerically, the whites are the dominant ethnic grouping in the country. Colored (mixed race ancestry) and Asians make up about 8.8 percent and 2.5 percent respectively (CIA World Factbook, 2017). South Africa is an appropriate country for the paper because of the large ethnic groupings and the history of racial segregation in the country. It will be interesting to examine how minority groups have been able to gain dominance and exercise control in the country’s social, economic, and political arena.


Ethnic Groups, Stratification, and Conflict in South Africa

South Africa comprises of four major ethnic groups – black Africans, whites, colored, and Asians/Indians. While blacks comprise the largest ethnic group, they are not the dominant group. The whites are the dominant group in the country. The whites are mainly Dutch descendants mixed with White British. The presence of whites in South Africa is the result of Dutch colonization in 1652.

The original inhabitants of South Africa are believed to be the Khoisan people, and other ethnic groups comprising of blacks (Oliver & Oliver, 2017). These were mainly nomadic groups with no claim to the land. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, it was easier for the Dutch to move into and settle in the area. While the Dutch mainly settled in the South, black people groups moved into South Africa from the north. As the groups expanded their territory clashes begun around Fish River. Indians arrived in South Africa in 1684 as slaves for the Dutch colonialists (Oliver & Oliver, 2017). Intermarriages between the Dutch and blacks resulted in the colored subgroup.

Ethnic stratification is rife in South Africa. This is despite the coming to an end of the apartheid rule in 1994. Post-apartheid South Africa shows patterns of glaring social, economic, and political inequalities between people from different ethnic groups (Seekings, 2003). The indigenous tribes in South Africa still experience social inequalities. The black population has the highest number of people living in extreme poverty and who experience social exclusion (Seekings, 2003).

The whites in South Africa continue to enjoy significant privileges compared to other ethnic groups. Prior to the abolishment of apartheid, the whites derived most of their power from racial discrimination. Post-apartheid, the whites continue to dominate, drawing much of their power from class positions. Although the class position has gained prominence as the major source of power for individuals, ethnicity still plays a central role in determining power and class. These factors have contributed to conflicts between the dominant whites and the majority blacks, conflicts that are evident even today.

Examples of Ethnic Problems in South Africa

South Africa is still experiencing major ethnic problems. According to Callebert (2014), racial inequality is still high in post-apartheid South Africa. Various problems continue to plague the nation along ethnic lines. Unemployment remains a major issue, with access to formal jobs being a major challenge for a majority of blacks who form an “underclass” (Callebert, 2014). In a recent study by Wittenberg (2017), the findings revealed high wealth inequalities between ethnic groups, with non-whites being the worst affected by high poverty rates.

Blacks have the highest inequality levels compared to all other racial groups. About 90 percent of wealth and income inequalities in South Africa can be explained by racial disparities. Only about 15 percent of income inequalities can be attributed to between-group inequalities. These inequalities point to the prevailing ethnic problems facing the non-white population in South Africa.

Blacks in the country have the highest poverty rates. Research findings indicate that about 47 percent of black households lived below the poverty line in 2015 (The World Bank, 2018). About 23 percent of households headed by colored people lived below the poverty line. Poverty rates in Asian households were slightly above 1 percent. Whites have the lowest poverty levels with less than 1 percent of the whites living below the poverty line.

According to Naidoo, Stanwix, and Yu, (2014), the differences in earnings among racial groups suggest that racial discrimination is prevalent in society. While the end of the apartheid era meant that blacks could go through similar educational experiences as the whites, the results are not reflected in the job market. Blacks have attained the same educational status as whites, yet they record a disproportionate representation in the job market (Naidoo, Stanwix, & Yu, 2014). This indicates racial discrimination is still prevalent.

Land issues continue to take a prominent stand in South Africa’s political arena. Estimates indicate that whites own about 78 percent of the land, with blacks having control of about 22 percent of the land despite being the majority (Graham, 2017). The high inequality of opportunity in South Africa has led to calls for the government to resolve long-standing land issues.

In 2017, ethnic tensions were highest with Zuma’s government threatening to take back land from the whites and allocate it to black South Africans (Graham, 2017). There have been efforts to establish a national land audit that would evaluate land use patterns in the country. The results of these efforts would be the expropriation of land from the whites without compensation and allocation of the same to black South Africans. These actions led to soaring racial tensions between blacks and white South Africans.

Expert Opinion on Ethnic Harmony

Experts contend that South Africa is far from achieving ethnic harmony, mainly due to the inequalities in outcomes and opportunities that exist between ethnic groups. The findings from the World Bank Group (2018) suggest that the country has experienced a dismal change in key inequality measures since the end of the apartheid rule. In fact, there are concerns that the income gap between ethnic groups has worsened over the last two decades. South Africa has among the highest Gini coefficients in Africa, measured as 0.63 in 2015 (The World Bank, 2018).

This figure is an increase since 1994, indicating the growing inequalities in the country. Consumption trends show a stagnation in the country’s bottom percentile from 2011 to 2015. This indicates that there has been no significant change in terms of earnings for the country’s poorest population that is predominantly black. Between the 40th and 75th percentile, there was significant growth, indicating improving fortunes for this group.

South Africa records a high inequality of opportunity. This means that a large segment of the population does not have equal access to basic services that include education, necessary infrastructure, and access to health care. Statistics indicate that South Africa has an inequality of opportunity rate averaging 40 percent (The World Bank, 2018).

Examining this while taking into consideration the constituent factors reveals that the parent’s education is the most important determining factor for the level of opportunity at 38 percent. Race comes second at 34 percent. The Human Opportunity Index (HOI) indicates that various predetermined factors such as ethnicity, place of birth, and gender play a significant role in influencing an individual’s success (The World Bank, 2018). Ordinarily, these factors should not influence an individual’s future success.

Comparison with the United States

There are similarities relating to ethnic groups, stratification, and conflict between South Africa and the United States. In both societies, there are two major ethnic groups involved in the ethnic conflict. Ethnic conflict in both societies mainly involves whites and blacks. Other groups involved are Indians in both countries. In both societies, the source of ethnic conflicts can be traced to colonialism and the slave trade. Although both societies have outlawed racial discrimination, the practice still occurs covertly.

Blacks and Asians/Indians in both countries have suffered the most in terms of racial discrimination and lack of opportunities. As such, blacks and Asians/Indians record high poverty rates in both societies. Blacks have the highest poverty rates in both societies. Social classes – the upper class, middle class, lower class, and the working poor, characterize both societies. The upper class comprises about 1 percent of the population. Lastly, both countries have experienced inter-ethnic conflicts. Racial tension is evident in both countries

A number of differences are evident between South Africa and the United States. With regard to ethnic groups, South Africa’s dominant group is the numerically minority group. On the other hand, the dominant group in the United States also forms the majority group. South Africa has high income and wealth inequality rates compared to the United States with lower inequality rates. For instance, South Africa has a polarization index of 0.37 while that of the United States is 0.22 (The World Bank, 2018). Ethnic conflicts in South Africa touch on the issue of land distribution between black South Africans and the Whites. Ethnic conflicts in the United States mainly involve equal opportunities, with land being a less contentious issue.

Concluding Remarks

Ethnicity continues to be a major determining factor for socioeconomic success in countries experiencing high racial divide. For countries to achieve high economic growth and development there is a need to ensure that socioeconomic success does not depend on ethnicity or place of origin. This will require such nations to invest in developing equal opportunities for all ethnic groups. While it is much easier to develop laws criminalizing racial discrimination, it is very difficult to eliminate racism and ethnicity that often occurs in subtle ways. Courts in the United States have played a crucial role in eliminating racial discrimination especially by arbitrating on issues relating to equal employment opportunities.


Callebert, R. (2014). Transcending dual economies: Reflections on ‘Popular economies in South             Africa’. Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, 84(1), 119-134.             doi:10.1017/S0001972013000636

CIA World Factbook. (2017). Africa: South Africa. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved from   

Graham, S. (2017, March 3). Jacob Zuma calls for confiscation of white land without compensation. The Telegraph. Retrieved from      without-compensation/

Naidoo, K., Stanwix, B., & Yu, D. (2014). Reflecting on racial discrimination in the post- apartheid South African labour market. World Bank Group.

Oliver, E., & Oliver, W. H. (2017). The colonisation of South Africa: A unique case. HTS            Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 73(3), e1-e8. doi:10.4102/hts.v73i3.4498

Seekings, J. (2003). Social stratification and inequality in South Africa at the end of apartheid.     Center for Social Science Research. Retrieved from   

The World Bank. (2018). Overcoming poverty and inequality in South Africa: an assessment of   drivers, constraints and opportunities. The World Bank Group.

Wittenberg, M. (2017). Wages and wage inequality in South Africa 1994–2011: Part 1 – wage             measurement and trends. South African Journal of Economics, 85(2), 279-297.             doi:10.1111/saje.12148