What Is a Dominant Minority?

Andy Josiah

A dominant minority usually refers to a group of people that wields massive social, political, economic or cultural power in a country or area even though it constitutes a small portion of the population. This term is most commonly used for racial divisions or groups within countries. A dominant minority, however, can apply to any situation that adheres to its definition. For instance, the dominant minority might be restricted to only political power or crucial decision making much greater than its numbers, a concept known as minoritarianism.

The Republic of South Africa was ruled by a dominant minority until 1994.
The Republic of South Africa was ruled by a dominant minority until 1994.

A well-known example of a dominant minority is the South African whites. This group accounts for only about 9 percent of the population in the Republic of South Africa, with Afrikaners—descendants of mostly Dutch, German and French settlers that began to arrive in southern Africa in the mid-17th century—comprising about four-fifths of it. On the other hand, black Africans constitute about 80 percent of the South African population. The white South Africans, however, are the dominant minority due to the vestiges of an informal social system.

Rwanda is home to a dominant minority, the Tutsi.
Rwanda is home to a dominant minority, the Tutsi.

When South Africa was under British influence and sovereignty—first as a union, then as a self-governing dominion from 1910—blacks were forbidden to participate in the country’s affairs as equals with whites. In 1948, during the parliamentary elections, racial segregation became legal in the country due to white fears of political aspirations from blacks. The system was called apartheid, and for more than 50 years, blacks would suffer the indignities of second-class citizenship characterized by separate-but-unequal public services and violent intimidation whenever they presented resistance. After decades of internal unrest, as well as trade embargoes against South Africa, apartheid ended in 1994 when multi-racial democratic elections were held. White South Africans as a group, however, still hold considerable economic power.

The Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi, based in central and eastern Africa, is an example of a dominant minority within groups of people sharing the same continental link. Numerically they are outnumbered five times over by the Hutu, which is the largest ethnic group in the region. The Tutsi, however, particularly in the Republic of Rwanda, were generally wealthier, had higher school graduation rates and possessed considerable political influence. Some people theorized that such status could be traced to the Belgian colonizers, who favored the Tutsi because they believed that they were racially superior to the Hutu. This would be a source of the resentment that would erupt between the Tutsi and the Hutu in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which resulted in the deaths of almost a million people.

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