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Class Of 2019: Zaib Toyer On Coloured Excellence And Post-Apartheid Race Discourses

Author: Nicklaus Kruger

The 2016 Rio Olympics were a special time. Wayde van Niekerk broke a world record, the hashtag #ColouredExcellence started trending, and UWC Master’s researcher Zaib Toyer was inspired to complete a thesis examining representations of coloured identity.

(Published - 26 August 2019)

What does “Coloured” really mean in post-apartheid South Africa? Many of us grapple with this question in one form or another - but University of the Western Cape Linguistics Master’s researcher Zaib Toyer delved into that question in a more systematic way, making it the thesis of her Master’s degree.

“There are many different interpretations of the term ‘coloured’, and these responses are often framed by hashtags (the beauty of social media research),” she says. “Some South Africans express pride for the label, some disgust or disappointment (because they feel it holds apartheid vestiges), and others opt for #SouthAfrican to move away from racial labelling altogether.”

Toyer’s thesis, A hashtag analysis of racial discourses within #ColouredExcellence: The case of Wayde van Niekerk, uses the 2016 Rio Olympics as her site of study - the same event where Wayde van Niekerk broke a world-record and the hashtag #ColouredExcellence started trending as a result. 

“My research is about race relations in post-apartheid South Africa,” she explains. “Specifically, looking into representations of the coloured identity, and how it is perceived in a post-apartheid context.”

That’s a touchy topic - but a fascinating one.

“I’m excited by how South Africans are attempting to start a dialogue on race relations post-apartheid, and it’s not framed by ‘bringing up the race card’,” she says. “This is actually an open discussion that occurred on social media, and I think it’s important and a good step in the right direction to South Africa’s vision of democracy and transformation.”

She’s grateful to the Linguistics department for giving her the opportunity - and the tools - to investigate this, and to graduate cum laude.

“I feel proud of my achievements - and of course none of this would have been possible without the tremendous support I’ve received from staff, friends and family,” Zaib shares. “I’d like to acknowledge my parents for their constant support, love and for giving me the opportunities and freedom to spread my wings.”

#ColouredExcellence: Getting By, Growing Up, Giving Back

The 27-year-old, born and bred in Crawford, Cape Town, has always been open to new experiences and keen to learn new things - after matric, she looked at a variety of universities and degrees, including psychology and journalism.

“To be honest, UWC chose me,” Zaib says. “I didn’t specifically see myself at any specific university, or studying Linguistics, but that’s just the path my journey took, and all these years later, I’m still enjoying every minute of the experience. It feels like an amazing dream to be graduating.”

While studying, Zaib has been completing an internship in Communications with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF), and she’s also a contract examiner for City & Guilds, a UK-based company which deals with vocational training.

“I’ve gained a keen interest in how our government operates and how my field of Linguistics/Communications fits into that sphere,” Zaib remarks. “It’s been an amazing experience, with lovely people.”

Zaib is currently involved in a very exciting mentorship programme with Dr Amiena Peck from the Linguistics department, called Amiena Inspired, The team focuses on EQ techniques for students who find it difficult to cope with all the emotions that arise from university life.

“We are a group of about seven people (who like to think of ourselves as emotional intelligence coaches) and we offer various support systems, coaching, and mentorship sessions to other students on campus. We are looking to expand our services and clientele in the near future though; and of course getting paid for it.”

So, where to from here?

 “I’m not a big planner,” Zaib says, “but I have a few goals and dreams, and I’m hoping to make them a reality. For one thing, I’d like to lecture, because the campus environment is possibly the best place to work, ever - it never really feels like work, and I’m always learning something. I would also love to pursue coaching as a career - just helping people, and if I can do that every day for the rest of my life, that would be amazing”.​

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