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The K word is offensive to all but what about the C word?

Mar 23, 2023

Mumtaz Moosa |
23 March 2023 | 14:30 CAT
3 min read


The word “coolie” was first used in the 16th century by European traders across Asia.

In the 17th century, it was used for day labourers in the Indian subcontinent, referring to hard-working males.

During the 19th century, this term gained a whole new meaning as it started to have negative implications and was found to be highly derogatory.  Today, the word carries the same derogatory connotations within South Africa.

In the Apartheid era, the offensive word was used to refer to Indian people in a derogatory manner.  The Zulu Version of “amakhula” is widely used today and is equally offensive.

It has become so common that people use it without realising that it remains classified as a hateful word in the country

The derogatory word and its Zulu counterpart are common in our everyday vocabulary, although it remains a hateful word in our country.  These words are a painful reminder of an apartheid era for many. The “C” word defines our ancestor’s history, one that bore the brunt of colonialism and the expectations of a white master.

While interviewing people online, many were unaware it was a derogatory word and fell in the same category as the “K” word. At the same time, most said they have grown up calling migrants who own the Spaza shops “coolies” or “amakhulu” and never thought of it as it was common in the area and used by Indian people as well.

In South Africa, the terms “coolie or “amakhula” refers to a person who is Indian, and it’s a profoundly offensive and inflammatory expression of contemptuous racism; the term for many is associated with the era of apartheid when it was used as an offensive racial slur, it still ranks as one of the offensive terms within South Africa and could lead to jail time.

We need to be educated on terms that cannot be used and should not be used in a free South Africa, as these terms remind us of the dark past we have been through. We need to ensure that the “C” word does not become desensitised and a norm within our society and social ranks, and this would lead us back to a time that many families would rather forget.

Change starts with being open to having hard conversations and standing up against being called or allowing others to be called derogatory and offensive names.

A memory remains embedded in my mind as I experienced my father being called a “coolie” as they lauded their privilege over them, despite it being a democratic South Africa at the time.



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1 Comment

  1. Walter Mitas




    Editors ContributionRate this definition:0.0 / 0 votes

    It is in brief, an insulting and derogatory term,to call an individual or Any Human Being, either, kleurling or coloured.

    Submitted by rinat on May 3, 2020


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