“It's an empowerment thing”: An ethnography of colour bar conservation in a South African service industry

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4 Scopus citations


This ethnography of a large corporate casino located in the province of Gauteng describes how apartheid era labour practices are reproduced in the post-apartheid workplace. Colour bar conservation results not from weak governmental regulation of the firm's labour practices, but from the precise manner in which worker empowerment is defined by the state and displayed by the firm. During apartheid, South African leisure firms operated casinos in the black homeland states. Free from regulatory oversight, they imported white workers from Europe to perform skilled work, in the process constructing a casino colour bar. With the transition to democratic rule these same firms were granted licenses to run casinos in the cities of the new South Africa, but only on condition that they operate their casinos so as to empower local blacks as workers and managers. Three questions are addressed herein. First, how was empowerment used as a rhetorical tool to justify the legalization of a mass-gambling industry? Second, how do workers and floor managers experience labour inside the new casino industry? Third, how are casino managers able to reproduce a colour bar, even under the watchful eye of provincial and national regulators?.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-56
Number of pages19
JournalSociety in Transition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005


  • casino industry
  • colour bar
  • empowerment
  • ethnography
  • labor process

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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