Story: Africans

Hot dance rhythms get a lunchtime crowd moving in Christchurch. In suburban Auckland, nimble players liven up a football match. Women swathed in bright cotton catch the eye in Wellington’s Cuba Street.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Congolese musician Sam Manzanza, Wellington, 2003

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One continent, many nations

From Algerian to Zimbabwean, New Zealand’s African-born people form a kaleidoscope of cultures, languages and ethnicities. They represent over 40 countries in Africa, and include Europeans, Asians, Indians and Arabic people, as well as numerous black tribes.

White Africans

Most of New Zealand’s African-born people are white. Some came from Africa’s British colonies in the 1870s, but the majority arrived from South Africa in the 1990s.

Pre-1990s: black Africans

Black people who arrived in colonial times were probably African-Americans. In the 1960s, study programmes brought some black students to New Zealand. But before the 1990s very few blacks arrived, partly because of New Zealand’s restrictive immigration rules.

1991 onwards: refugees

Across Africa, wars and brutal political regimes have driven thousands from their homes. In 1991 New Zealand increased the number of refugees it would accept. Often arriving with few possessions and horrific memories, people came from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Zimbabwe and other countries in crisis.

Starting a new life

Refugees face huge obstacles. They may have endured imprisonment and violence, loss of family members, and detention in camps. They have to learn English and adapt to an alien culture. Many are poorly educated, and even qualified immigrants struggle to find jobs. A Somali woman commented that most of her friends were either unemployed or doing cleaning or supermarket work.


African immigrants live mostly in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. In 2013 the five largest groups by birthplace were Zimbabweans (8,100), Kenyans (1,650), Zambians (1,416), Ethiopians (1,143) and Somalis (1,104).

Through the family reunification scheme, some long-lost relatives continue to arrive and swell these communities. Groups such as the Pan-African clubs offer support, and many religions are followed, including Islam, Catholicism and Coptic Christianity.

Playing soccer, performing African drumming and dance, braiding hair in traditional styles – these and other cultural activities connect Kiwis and Africans, and help the new immigrants put down roots in a strange land.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Africans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2015