Story: Africa and New Zealand

Apart from familial relationships with other former British colonies, New Zealand has had few connections with Africa. The strongest tie, with South Africa – mainly through rugby – was the cause of great tension in the second half of the 20th century due to South Africa’s race laws.

Story by Megan Cook
Main image: Nelson Mandela at Ngāruawāhia, 1995

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New Zealand’s relationship with Africa in the 2000s

In the early 2000s New Zealand did not have strong relationships with countries in Africa. There was not much trade between Africa and New Zealand, and not many New Zealanders visited Africa. New Zealand had only three embassies in the continent, in South Africa, Ethiopia and Egypt. New Zealand interacted with African countries mainly through the United Nations, sport and aid.

Relationships in the 1800s

In the 1800s Britain made many African countries part of its empire, as New Zealand was. Ships often sailed to and from New Zealand via the Cape of Good Hope, allowing people to travel between New Zealand and South Africa. A few New Zealanders went to Africa as missionaries.

South African War

Between 1899 and 1902 New Zealand troops went to South Africa to fight in a war between Britain and the Boer republics. After the war, the British and Boer states joined to become the Union of South Africa. In 1907 New Zealand Prime Minister Joseph Ward was one of the few to object to South Africa allowing only white people to vote, as part of the Act of Union passed by the British Parliament.


New Zealand and South Africa have a long history of playing sport against each other. Because of South Africa’s race laws, New Zealand rugby teams to South Africa excluded Māori players until 1970.

World wars

During the First World War (1914–18) and the Second World War (1939–45) many New Zealand soldiers were based in North Africa.

International organisations

After the Second World War many African countries that had been European colonies became independent. All became members of the United Nations and many joined the Commonwealth. South Africa resigned from the Commonwealth in 1961 and Rhodesia was expelled in 1965.


In 1948 South Africa introduced apartheid – a system of racial segregation. The United Nations made resolutions that South Africa should end race discrimination, and that until it did so other countries should end their relationships with South Africa. New Zealand continued to play rugby against South Africa, which made other countries, and many New Zealanders, angry. Apartheid ended in the early 1990s.

Migration to New Zealand

Most migrants from Africa are white, and mainly from South Africa. Refugees have come to New Zealand from a number of African countries where there have been wars.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Africa and New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 April 2024)

Story by Megan Cook, published 20 June 2012