Africa after Apartheid: South Africa, Race, and Nation in Tanzania

Africa after Apartheid: South Africa, Race, and Nation in Tanzania

Africa after Apartheid: South Africa, Race, and Nation in Tanzania

Africa after Apartheid: South Africa, Race, and Nation in Tanzania


Tracing the expansion of South African business into other areas of Africa in the years after apartheid, Richard A. Schroeder explores why South Africans have not always made themselves welcome guests abroad. By looking at investments in Tanzania, a frontline state in the fight for liberation, Schroeder focuses on the encounter between white South Africans and Tanzanians and the cultural, social, and economic controversies that have emerged as South African firms assume control of local assets. Africa after Apartheid affords a penetrating look at the unexpected results of the expansion of African business opportunities following the demise of apartheid.


During my first trip to northern Tanzania in December 1995, my wife and I were invited to a dinner party at the home of some friends. The day of the party was crystal clear, the majestic peaks of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro emerging from the clouds to provide a spectacular backdrop. We arrived early and sat outside in a small circle of chairs, drinking beer and enjoying the pleasant weather. Meal preparations went on around us, and several neighbors dropped by to exchange greetings. Most of the guests were, like us, white expatriates, but they included at least one mixed European/Tanzanian couple. It was a lazy, laid-back affair.

After an hour or so, a white South African who worked for a safari company based in the nearby city of Arusha dropped in uninvited and joined us for a drink. The subject of the ensuing conversation escapes me now, but I do remember how this man repeatedly and unselfconsciously used the racial slur “kaffir” in reference to Tanzanians. While this term was widely used in South Africa to refer to blacks during the apartheid years, I was shocked to hear it used in Arusha. This was not because this particular individual used it—he fit my stereotype of a racist South African white, so his use of racial slurs was somehow to be expected—but because he seemed to feel so comfortable using it in Tanzania, a country that was one of the staunchest opponents to apartheid. The implication was that in polite, white expatriate gatherings in northern Tanzania, calling locals “kaffirs” was an acceptable form of speech.

Since I was new to the area, I wondered how widespread this practice was. Was I correct in thinking that it was out of place in Tanzania? Were others at the party similarly offended by this man? What would Tanzanians make of this situation? I was aware that this safari operator was one of thousands of white South Africans who relocated to Tanzania and other parts of the continent in pursuit of new business opportunities after the democratic elections that brought Nelson Mandela to power in Pretoria in 1994, but I was unclear whether his behavior was an exception or the rule. The historic post-apartheid encounter between South Africans and the rest of the continent certainly bore watching.

As it turns out, I may have gotten my story about the dinner party wrong: my wife also vividly recalls the conversation I described above, but she places it at the home of another couple entirely; I may have conflated the memories of two different parties in my reconstruction of the event. This disparity might not be worth mentioning, except that it led me, years later, to ask both couples if they could identify the South African in question. While none of the four hosts specifically remembered . . .

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