Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Mai 2004

2.7. Culture, Psychosocial Disorders and Mental Health: an African Perspective
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Erhabor Sunday Idemudia (Bremen / Ibadan, Nigeria)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

The Impact of Colonial Culture in apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia on Identity Development

Kimberly Richards (North Carolina A & T State University, Department of Counseling)
Yegan Pillay (University of Ohio, Office for Institutional Equity)
Oliver Mazodze (Zimbabwe Bindura University of Science Education, Department of Biology)
Alexandra Shungudzo Govere (Stanford University, Department of Physics)


This study investigated how colonial culture impacted on identity formation of seven individuals from the Southern African region. Biographies focused on factors participants believed impacted their identity development. Results indicate 1) participants were forced into a particular racial/cultural identity because of colonialism/apartheid, 2) separation of individuals from each other on racial lines prevented a collective anti-colonial/oppression identity from evolving, 3) participants experienced at some point a sense of limited worthiness and/or of being more worthy than others because of their race, 4) participants' identities included an anti-colonial component, 5) White individuals who did not wish to participate in the colonial system were considered by some Whites as unworthy people and were mistrusted by some non-whites, and 6) participants indicated that they believed identity development was an ongoing process.



Personal identity is constructed through a complex process of the integration of the individual's contextual milieu. Ernstzen (1999), Munzondidya (2002), and Tappen (2003) suggested that one's historical, cultural, and political context impacts on identity development. According to Harrison, Harrison, and Moore (2002) identity development is a "socialization process" (p. 121). Since an individual's context and socialization process may impact on his/her identity development, this warrants the inquiry whether colonization, which is essentially a socialization process and a contextual position, has an impact on the identity of both the colonized and the colonizer?

Fanon (1967) identified that colonizers in Africa imposed a dehumanizing existence on those they oppressed as they undermined the legitimacy of Afrocentricity. Lambley (1981) states that colonialism in Southern Africa was a form of "psychological terrorism" (p. 3). Bulhan (1993) believed that colonialism inhibits healthy psychological development in those who are colonized. Simone (1993) asserts that colonialism made "African life meaningless, or meaningful only as a disaster" (p.117) and provided the colonists with a depraved sense of morality, justice, supremacy, and power.

Manganyi (1973) reports that apartheid has given South African Whites a feeling of superiority, narcissism, and a powerful omnipotence. The Dutch Reformed Church helped to solidify this identity by proclaiming that Afrikaners had a divine calling from God to develop and maintain both a national Afrikaner identity and apartheid, and also to convert heathens to Christianity (Nelson, 2003). Similar to the Dutch Reformed Church, counseling and psychological professional bodies in Southern Africa "maintained and promoted" racism and oppression in the Southern African region (Nicholas, 1993, p.202) and provided the normalization and alleged rationalization of the colonizer/colonized relationship. Given these situations and propositions, what was the impact, if any, of colonialism on the identity development of individuals from Southern Africa?


Design of the Study


The participants of the study were seven individuals from the Southern African region. Seven of the participants lived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and/or apartheid South Africa, and one participant was born seven years after Zimbabwe gained independence from its colonial state (Rhodesia). Three of the participants were multiracial (Coloured), one of the participants was an indigenous Africans (Shona), two participants were White (British and Afrikaner ancestry), and one participant was Asian Indian. Except for one participant who was 16 years old, all of the participants were 37 - 53 years old.

Participants for the study were identified through availability sampling and snowball sampling. An announcement was placed on the African Counseling Network (ACN) listserv requesting participants for the study. Six of the participants were identified in that manner. Two individuals known to one of the participants in the study joined the study. To appreciate the responses in the context of each individual, the participants have been given the following pseudonyms:

Tsitsi (16-year-old Coloured [Acadian, Mi' Kmaq, and Shona] female)
Perry (40-year-old White [Afrikaner] male)
Paul (37-year-old Coloured [Afirikan and Shona] male)
Vijay (45-year-old Asian Indian male)
Beauty (49-year-old Black [Shona] female
Thomas (53-year-old Coloured [ethnic group unknown] male)
Cindy (50 year-old-White [British] female)

Data Analysis

The participants' biographies were collected by electronic mail (e-mail). The biographies focused on factors participants believed impacted their identity development. The bographies contained demographic data as well, such as age, ethnicity, and gender. Each biography was read at least three times in order to gather a greater understanding of the data. Coding of the biographies was carried out to identify and sort the data into categories, themes, and ideas (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998; and Monette, Sullivan, & DeJong, 2002). The coding process for this study was complex and employed open, axial, and selective coding. Independent and collective categories were reviewed on several occasions in an attempt to comprehend any meanings that may become apparent to the researchers. Categories with limited data were removed, and the data contained in them was, when possible, incorporated into other categories. The results of the data analysis were sent back by e-mail to the participants for member checking. In addition to member checking, external auditors and triangulation were used to establish the trustworthiness of the study.


Each person in the study has had different life experiences and is a unique person. Though the participants are unique individuals, themes within the data were identified indicating that the participants may have had similar psychological experiences that may have impacted on their identity development. These themes are: 1) individuals were forced into a particular identity because of how the colonizers perceived them racially, culturally, ethnically, and genderwise, 2) separation of individuals on racial lines prevented a larger collective identity of oppressed people or a collective anti-colonial identity from evolving, 3) participants experienced at one time or the other a sense of limited worthiness and/or of being more worthy than others because of their race, 4) participants identities included an anti-colonial component in which at some point they despised and/or, feared, and/or wanted to defeat the oppressors. 5) White individuals who did not wish to participate in the colonial system were considered by other White colonial supporters as unworthy people and were treated with mistrust by some People of Colour, and 6) participants believed that identity development was an ongoing process. Each theme is presented below.

Individuals were forced into a particular identity because of how the colonizers perceived them racially, culturally, ethnically, and genderwise. The participants indicated that they were forced into a particular identity because of either apartheid, that is, the separation of groups of people based on their racial/ethnic group; racism; and/or sexism. Additionally, most of the participants indicated that they did not welcome the identities that were forced on them, because they either did not represent who they were or because it limited their ability to develop who they were. For example, the participants noted:

I keep being told I am Coloured and I do not disagree with that, except that I am also White, Black, and Native Canadian. It is astonishing to see that, though I was born seven years after Zimbabwe's independence, the colonial regime in Zimbabwe somehow still has made me a Coloured person even years after its death. That is how obsessed Rhodesians/Zimbabweans were and are still about colour. I think today I will be a White person and if anyone objects, be they White or Black, I would say they are racist. Colonialism also stole part of my identity because I do not speak Shona, or Mi'Kmaq, or even French, but rather English. Part of me has been stolen by colonizers in both North America and in Africa. (Tsitsi)

Furthermore, the apartheid ideology entrenched the 'Indian' ethnic identity to such an extent that social intercourse with other marginalized groups was severely limited.... True to the aspirations of the architects of apartheid and the influence of being immersed in an 'Indian' enclave because of apartheid, my compartmentalized identity emerged. I was oblivious to any collective identity with regard to my 'Africanness' but culturally, racially and ethnically saw myself as an 'Indian'. (Vijay)

The segregated policies did however give me a sense of identity. I had to go schools, hospitals designated for coloureds only, live in areas segregated for coloureds only and had to accept jobs reserved for coloureds only. These and many issues of racism I soon learnt and was to accept them as natural and god sent, - except I never did. (Thomas)

Many times I was witness to outright disintegration.....of innocent black workers at my father's hands. I did not think a man like my father should be allowed to live.changed my name because I did not want to be associated with him. I hated the image that people would have of me, the identity they would give me simply because I was an Afrikaners. (Perry)

The two white participants in the study relayed (the comments directly above and below) that they carried with them the identity/image of being an oppressor though neither identified with the racist colonial politics. The two females in the study who lived in Rhodesia (One Black and the other White) related not only how their identity was impacted by oppression in general, but also spoke about oppression in Rhodesia related to gender:

I had an identity I did not want. I did not want to be a colonizer, but because I was white, that is what I was and how I was perceived. It was confusing because I was both the oppressor and the oppressed because I took a stand against the racial politics of Rhodesia and South Africa. As a female too, I was considered less than my male counterparts. Women in Rhodesia did not even get the right to vote until the 1950's and adult females did not have complete legal status until after Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. White women in Zimbabwe were an oppressed group of people, but by and large they did not seem to mind or even recognize that they were oppressed. I think that lack of recognition made most Rhodesian white women, both then and now, unable to relate to the struggle of the people they lorded over. (Cindy)

I had this identity as a person, as a Shona and as a female implanted in me by the Rhodesians. That is, as black and Shona I was intellectually and psychologically challenged, my culture was without any merit, and I was lazy. If I had been a Ndebele [a sub-tribe of the Zulus], there would have been a bit more respect, because the Zulu people were perhaps given more respect by whites in Southern Africa than other black ethnic groups. The Zulus were considered intelligent, cunning, and warriors, who held the whites at bay despite their lack of 'modem' warfare equipment. Overall the identity the colonizers thrust on me was that I was nothing more than an exotic sex object/fantasy. In my own culture I was considered a sex object as well. I think most men in Zimbabwe see me also as a sex object and servant to men. (Beauty)

The participants' responses indicated that their personal identity was impacted by the European colonizers' perceptions, manipulations, and oppressive actions toward both females and People of Colour. The International Mission Board (2003) and Kibble (2003) both noted the imposition of identities in Southern Africa by the colonizers was used to maintain their [the colonizers] power and control in Southern Africa. This phenomenon was also noted by Naidoo (2002), who stated that the identity of Black South Africans was constructed deliberately and also indirectly by the South African racist colonial regime. Deliberately, in order to control psychologically and physically the indigenous people of South Africa; and indirectly, through the oppression experienced by Black South Africans that led to a Black Consciousness Movement and ultimately the liberation struggle. Price (1991) reported that apartheid policies were an attempt to preserve Afrikaner identity and maintain the political and economic advantage of the white settlers.

Separation of individuals on racial lines prevented a larger collective identity of oppressed people or a collective anti-colonial identity from evolving. Participants reported that, because they were separated from other individuals by physical and legal barriers and because the colonizers granted different degrees of privilege to the people they colonized based on phenotypes, divisions and mistrust were created between "racial" groups that kept them from developing a collective identity as oppressed persons or as Africans. The participants wrote:

It appeared that liberation movements were still strongly delineated on racial lines with the organizational structures in the Western Cape being marshaled naturally by 'Coloured' activists. There were often debates, especially among the leftists, regarding the inclusion of whites in the liberation struggle, especially since the white 'comrades' returned to their white privileged status once they left the clandestine meetings in the townships. There was the acknowledgement of the 'petit bourgeois' embedded in the oppressed classes, and understandably suspicion in the leftists' circles about the role of individuals of 'Indian' heritage because of the general perception of their links with the business class. My heritage to some extent impacted my acceptance into the liberation structures in the Western Cape. An illustration of the efficacy of the divide and conquer strategy used by the British colonists and later the Afrikaner government. (Vijay)

One of the reasons why it was so difficult to shake colonialism was because we were separated from one another and we lived in fear and distrust of one another. Those of us, who opposed colonialism, no matter our colour, found it hard to work together legally, physically and psychologically. (Cindy) has been my experience that blacks in Zimbabwe do not see me as black though I was brought up in an African village, whites do not see me as whites, and some coloureds do not see me as coloured because I was brought up as an African. I know a lot of this has to do with the system of race classification that used to exist in Zimbabwe. The colonizers used the divide and rule method to keep us from organizing against them. (Paul)

The responses indicate that apartheid policies kept individuals from aligning and forming either a collective African identity and/or anti-colonial identity. Baines (1998, ¶ 7) reported the divide and rule policy was an attempt to "consolidate white (Afrikaner) hegemony, co-opt the 'Coloureds' and Indians, and perpetuate differences and divisions amongst the African population." Ernstzen (1999) points out that the separation of groups of people in South Africa and by providing some groups with more, even if marginally so, privilege than other groups, created distrust between various ethnic groups in South Africa.

Participants experienced at one time or the other a sense of limited worthiness and/or of being more worthy than others because of their race. In both South Africa and Zimbabwe the colonizers set up a system of privilege based on race (Bassett, 2000; Richards & Govere, 2003). This system of privilege may have created a sense of feeling more and/or less worthy than other individuals in the system. Some of the participants wrote about how they viewed their personal worthiness:

It was during this period that the doctrine, that I was better than the indigenous African, became with a deftness subtly etched into my psyche, yet simultaneously reinforcing that I was unworthy of the white culture... The subliminal message was that I had to be appreciative of being a 'Coolie' because I was better than the 'Kaffir' and the 'Hottentot' but will never be worthy of 'Europeans'. (Vijay)

Though as a white person I did not really perceive myself as better than a person from some other race, it was sometimes hard not to fall into that trap of thinking whites are somehow superior to non-whites. In Rhodesia everything around me, including the entire state propaganda machine, told me that I was superior. Sometimes I would find myself thinking, for example, if a white person was serving me, I would have better/faster service, but when recognizing this I would try to counteract that by thinking 'not all white's give great service either'. I wish I never had such thoughts, but I try to counteract them when they do occur. (Cindy)

While in Cape Town we boarded a double-decker bus. My brother and my mother got in first and sat down and then my sister and I, having been fooling around, ran after them and sat behind them. The conductor, having noticed my mother reprimanding my sister, realized that we were a family,shouted 'Apartheid'. My brother and my mum promptly got up and told us to follow them upstairs which was reserved for non whites only. Despite the fact that I preferred it upstairs on the bus I was perplexed by this action and asked my mother what this word (apartheid) was and why we had to move. My mother persisted in telling me to be quiet. It was not until we were off the bus and in our own space did my mother explain what the problem was about. At twelve years old I realized there was a difference between the races, I was to some less worthy than others. (Thomas)

As a female you always want to be attractive, because in part that is how females are defined I think in all societies. Though I know this is wrong, because of it, I and I think most females want to be perceived as attractive. However, colonialism took away my beauty. My breast and buttocks are too large, my hair too curly and nappy, my skin too dark, and my nose too broad. I was uglified, being an ugly person was part of my identity. I still have to work at that and I do still find myself doubting my looks/self because I am African, in essence my merit as a human being. (Beauty)

The responses are not surprising Fanon (1967), Memmi (1967), and Solarin (2003) believe that that colonialism in Africa resulted in an "internalized oppression" (self loathing, lack of self-worth, and low self-esteem) of the oppressed. This concept of internalized racism though has the potential to pathologize oppressed people, in that they [oppressed people] may be viewed by some individuals as 'marked', incomplete, or somehow psychologically damaged. However, the writings of the participants indicate that though they may have because of colonialism experienced unrealistic ideals about their self-worth, unrealistic in that they perceived themselves as less than or superior to others based on their racial/phenotype, that such ideas are not static and that a positive sense of self-esteem can emerge. The data indicates that human beings are resilient. Tappan (2003) also identified this resilience in that that he wrote internalized oppression is not an "immutable psychological" position of the individual (p. 23).

Participants' identities included an anti-colonial component, in which at some point they despised and/or feared, and/or wanted to challenge/defeat the oppressors. Though individuals in this study experienced at one time or another fear and a sense of limited worthiness and/or supremacy because of their 'colour', they were able to identify and overcome the erroneous assumptions of apartheid philosophy and also resist the racist colonial system at some level.

I started to challenge, at least intra-psychically, the deeply ingrained belief of white supremacy and black inferiority and the ambiguous role of those in the interstice. I was psychologically and to some extent intellectually ready to be recruited into the liberation struggle during this period. But the increased activities of the oppressive apartheid machinery in the 70's such as the disappearance of activists and detention without trial delayed my entrée. Moreover, the coaxing of parents not to be involved was influential. My activities were restricted to readings about Tolstoy, Marx, Lenin and others. My move to the Cape Province in the 1980's removed some of the constraint of parental strictures....The United Democratic Front (UDF) and later the Mass Democratic Movement were liberation movements that I found subscribed to my ideological and philosophical position. It appeared that liberation movements were still strongly delineated on racial lines with the organizational structures in the Western Cape being marshaled naturally by 'Coloured' activists.... I returned to the Natal region in 1984 to support the Natal Indian Congress in the boycott, the tri-cameral referendum and the subsequent tri-cameral elections. (Vijay)

In high school I met a lifelong friend, [name withheld], and we came together against though left South Africa. We settled in America, but I still wrote on the problem.of intellectualizing apartheid, I'd write about it, concerning the ways it had effected me, effected the righteous, effected everyone.became like a poet seeking truth through writing. I heard about Steven Biko and the mysterious happenings during the confinement of 'trouble makers', couldn't stomach it. I decided to return to South Africa and fight against apartheid. However, the Afrikaners summarily dealt with me and from fearran away from South Africa. (Perry)

Though I believe I am a beautiful, wondrous, and worthwhile human being, some other people don't, and from time to time I unfortunately experience their don't. I feel bad for people who condemn me, classify me, or want to Whitetize, Indianize, or Blackize me, because they are not people who are comfortable with themselves or the universe. The "fight" is not over until I am allowed to be who I want to be, so though colonialism has ended in Southern Africa, there is still a fight to be won there and in North America, and I will carry on where others, now tired from a life of fighting, have left off (Tsitsi)

...I have always felt the strains of racism. My early education and my further reading and my racial mixture have all given me the necessary strength and dignity to overcome the various odious situations I have had to encounter... One of the unpleasant legacies of racism in southern Africa is the racist images and vocabulary, which is still prevalent in vast tracks of our community, both within southern Africa and outside in different parts of the world.... To date I have campaigned strenuously against the evils of oppression in any form - black or white. (Thomas)

Despite the potential destruction of the human psyche during colonialism in Southern Africa, it appears that individuals may be able to overcome psychological trauma and fight their oppressors, though fear, familial and societal restrictions may impact on when and how one chooses to fight. These findings imply that the nature of people is such that individuals have an innate sense of worthiness, altruism, and hope. This sense of worthiness, altruism, and hope may have precipitated a sense of unity (Dieschoi, 1996; and Naido, 2002) and courage that anti-colonialists were able to use in order to stand together to overcome the system of oppression.

White individuals who did not wish to participate in the colonial system were considered by other White colonial supporters as unworthy people and were treated with mistrust by some non-Whites despite activist activities. The participants reported that individuals in Zimbabwe or South Africa of European descent who spoke out against the racist colonial system were ostracized and/or de-legitimized by those trying to maintain a culture of White supremacy and by some individuals who were participating in the liberation struggle.

At school a friend and I were against apartheid.were at loggerheads with other students. Other whites didn't like us because we spoke out against our Afrikaner 'brothers.' (Perry)

I know how much other whites in Rhodesia hated me because I broke all the 'racial' rules, went against the Smith regime, and was defiling the white race. I was not sure if Rhodesians despised me or Blacks more. On numerous occasions I was psychologically terrorized and I had also been physically attacked by white Rhodesians. On the other hand, many blacks did not see me as a legitimate person, though I could understand that; but I felt that few people, no matter their race, accepted me as a legitimate person and I was stuck in no man's land. I felt like I was not perceived by either my people or other people as a person with integrity or worthiness. To tell the truth I was terrified, because no one seemed to see me as belonging anywhere, so I was out on a limb with no protection from anyplace in the midst of the political/social/racial chaos. I still from time to time see myself as a person with little worth. (Cindy)

There were often debates especially among the leftists regarding the inclusion of whites into the liberation struggle, especially since the white 'comrades' returned to their white privileged status once they left the clandestine meetings in the townships. (Vijay)

I am friendly with a white (Boer) family from South. Africa. They had been opposed to the apartheid government, so they came to Zimbabwe in the 1980's because they were harassed by other Boers in South Africa. The father expressed his dismay and confusion that because of that he expected to be ostracized by other whites, and, despite his anti-apartheid efforts, he was ostracized by non-whites as well. He felt he had no support/protection in his anti-apartheid efforts so he decided to bring his family to Zimbabwe in hopes of improving their lives. I noticed that, because they socialize with blacks and coloureds, they are viewed as contemptible by some whites, blacks, and coloureds. (Paul)

The data indicated that Whites who went against the system suffered discrimination and punishment from other whites, but also that they may have been distrusted and their worthiness as members of the liberation struggle may have been questioned by People of Colour. This is not surprising to hear, as the brutality of the colonizers to People of Colour in Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa was unthinkable. Whites were though involved in the liberation struggles in both Rhodesia and apartheid Southern Africa. The South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (1998) relayed information of White activism and the punishment of White activists. Stevens (2000) pointed out that White Southern Africans who went against the status quo were considered traitors to their race. Kimmerle (2003) reports that white South Africans who opposed apartheid were ostracized by other white South Africans and at the same time their efforts were "more or less forgotten" (1).

Participants indicated identity development was an ongoing process. With the exception of the 16-year-old Coloured participant, the participants indicated that their identities have shifted over time. The 16-year-old indicates that her identity can shift, based on her own personal whim, and she asserted her right to define her own racial identity.

In my case there is a disconnection between my physical form, which is responded to by myself and others in a particular way, and my cultural and ethnic identity. I vacillate between the different states, sometimes taking on the 'Indian' identity and at times focusing on the influence of the African culture on my identity development. At this stage of the conundrum I am content to see myself as an African of Indian descent or perhaps with the hyphenated racial identity of Asian-African. Who knows how this may change during this finite existence. (Vijay)

I still feel disconnected.seems the white man came to the country, did a few things, screwed up a few others, and now they should leave or be satisfied with becoming black a comment on what happens with humanity. Color or nationality is always changing, interacting. There is no one race that is necessarily superior to another. Some are favored over others, but the sense of national pride is momentary. next civilization will come along, and you will need to assume new social, identity, economic (etc.) parameters. (Perry)

I think my identity is still forming and that identity can change over time. I have gone from being simply a Shona to becoming a citizen of Zimbabwe; from being a female who is dependent and even victimized by males to being an independent female. I think I am developing the identity of a person who is now humanized, not my old dehumanized self. (Beauty)

I have gone from being black, to being coloured, and now I see myself not as a colour, but as a human being who has had certain experiences because of his colour. (Paul)

What I find is that people keep trying to give me an identity instead of allowing me to have the personal identity I have constructed for myself. I have been made by others as Black, Hispanic, Asian Indian, and when I flatiron my hair people classify as Native American. However, if I want I will be White, or Black, or, Mi'Kmaq, or all three at the same time! I do not care what the law says about one quarter this or a drop of that. I am who I want to be when I want to be it. I am a ballerina and a traditional dancer and no one questions that or says I can only be a ballerina or only a traditional dancer. I am a high school student and a university student, but no one questions that either, so why do so many try to classify me or think I should identify racially as this or that? I am one of the lucky ones because I can have multiple identities. In fact I like being able to belong to so many worlds. My biggest identity crisis revolves around not what colour I am, but trying figure out what career I want when I grow up. Should I focus on dance, math, journalism, or astrophysics? (Tsitsi)



The personal identity of individuals in colonial South Africa and Zimbabwe may in part be defined by the oppressive racist states in two major ways, that is, 1) the development of identity through manipulation, such as the separation of individuals based on racial phenotypes into their separate areas and providing various degrees of privilege to each racial group, and 2) the development of identity as a reaction to such racist policies. The data analysis for this study indicates that colonial culture in Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa did impact on the identity formation of individuals from the Southern African region who participated in this study. Colonialism dehumanized both the oppressed and the oppressor and may have impacted negatively on the psychological development of both the oppressed and the oppressors. Despite, however, how internalized and externalized colonial identities may be, the individuals in this study were able to 'overcome,' that is, they were able to establish their own identity and find a sense of self-worth, psychological strength, and were/are able to oppose what was immoral, brutal, and unjust. The individual in the study who was born after the independence of Zimbabwe indicates that she, too, is impacted by colonialism. Her identity, though, is less fixed than other participants in the study, although she indicates that other Zimbabweans still try to classify her using the Rhodesian terminology of race classification. In several different ways, the data indicates that personal identity is dynamic.


Triangulation, member checking, and external auditing were used to establish the trustworthiness of the study. In regard to triangulation, the findings in this study are triangulated with other sources of information throughout the results section. Member checking was used to ask for the participants' views of the findings in order to identify any misinterpretation by the researchers and to clear up potential misunderstandings about the findings. The findings of the study were audited by individuals who were outside of the study and were unaware the study was taking place. They were contacted by e-mail after the completion of the study. The external auditors are experts through their own professional works in the same or similar areas, and, with one exception, the external auditors also experienced life in colonial Zimbabwe or South Africa.

Limitations of the Study

Though the study may have a degree of trustworthiness, there are factors that must be considered in relation to the limitations of the study. One of these factors is generalizability; there were only seven participants in the study. Though external auditors and triangulation may help provide some generalizability to the study, there were still only seven participants. The use of convenience and snowball sampling may limit generalizability as well in that the participants of the study may have similar perspectives/experiences since they were collegial with the researchers.

Another issue to take into account is who participated in the study. The participants would be considered elite in terms of their education, professional experiences, and background. That is, all of the participants in this study were able to become educated at the university level, which was unusual for individuals coming from the colonial regimes in South Africa. For People of Colour in Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, this was almost impossible. Even many Whites in colonial Africa themselves had limited education, particularly white females. This was because job opportunities abounded for Whites in both Rhodesia and Southern Africa, so Whites did not require university level studies to obtain many positions or to have a viable career. Likewise, White female education was considered of lesser importance than White male education (Richards & Govere, 2003).

In this study all of the participants had experienced oppression to one extent or the other during and/or after the liberation of Southern Africa and all of the participants to one degree or the other fought against the colonel regimes. Because of this, the participants had particular social and political experiences. The perceptions of somewhat privileged yet oppressed participants may be different than the perceptions of oppressed individuals with limited privilege. Individuals with limited or no privilege may have psychologically responded differently than those who managed to find a degree of privilege, such as being able to become educated. This privilege, though limited, may have helped eased the physical and psychological burden of being an oppressed person. The privilege, no matter its meagerness, may have helped provide a sense of hope for a better future. Hence, privilege may have provided the participants with the psychological ability to work towards overcoming their experience with oppression.

Culture may also present another potential limitation of the study. For example, in the Shona culture there is a cultural norm of pleasing and being cheerful. This is known as the 'Hawthorn Effect' and could occur with any participant, but the effect may be more likely to occur in cultures where there is a norm to please others. Triangulation and the use of external auditors, though, did provide feedback indicating that the Hawthorn Effect may be of limited concern in this study.

Suggestions for Future Research

Though many theoretical studies exist on the subject of the psychology of oppressed people in Southern Africa, there are limited research studies in this area. This is alarming because as time goes by much information on the psychological impact of colonialism on the people of Southern Africa may go missing. This would be unfortunate, because understanding the psychology of the oppressed and the oppressor and of groups of oppressed people and oppressors may help liberate those who are/were oppressed, and may provide the knowledge needed to transform oppressive societies. This information may help mental health specialists develop relevant theories and techniques of counseling for working with individuals who come from oppressed backgrounds not only in Southern Africa, but in other areas of the world as well. For example, such research could provide not only insight into the psychology of people from oppressive political/racial/social environments, but also help survivors of, for example, domestic violence, when an individual is also at the mercy of a single oppressor.

The findings of this study provide some direction for future research as it relates to the impact of colonialism on the psychology of individuals who were/are impacted by racist colonial regimes in Southern Africa. More studies need to be done that address the psychological experiences of enforced and regulated identities on individuals in Southern Africa. How also do these psychological experiences compare with individuals from less or similarly oppressive societies? Another area to explore is why in Southern Africa did some individuals psychologically succumb to the oppression while others do not? How do such factors as privilege, hope, faith, anger, play into the psychological experiences of oppressed people? What are the experiences of individuals born recently, after the liberation of their country/people from oppression regimes? How do their psychological experiences compare with those who were born pre-liberation? What are the experiences of White, Black, Coloured, and Asian persons in Southern Africa who were either involved or uninvolved in the liberation struggles of Southern Africa, and how do knowing about these experiences help in the transformation processes to new non-oppressive societies? Why do these psychological experiences motivate leaders after liberations to move a society away from all forms of oppression, as in South Africa, or motivate individuals to create similarly oppressive environments, as is currently the case in Zimbabwe? Do world expectations and manipulation, be they political, economic, or social, play into the recovery or decline of current or past oppressed societies?

© Kimberly Richards (North Carolina A & T State University, Department of Counseling)
Yegan Pillay (University of Ohio, Office for Institutional Equity)
Oliver Mazodze (Zimbabwe Bindura University of Science Education, Department of Biology)
Alexandra Shungudzo Govere (Stanford University, Department of Physics)


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2.7. Culture, Psychosocial Disorders and Mental Health: an African Perspective

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For quotation purposes:
Kimberly Richards North Carolina) et al: The Impact of Colonial Culture in apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia on Identity Development: An African Perspectives. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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