Community Life, Politics, and Culture

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/South Africans/Clifford J. Jansen

The South African government’s “group areas act” enforced residential segregation, so that there was little contact between the racial groups in South Africa except in the economic area and social interaction was banned. In Canada, the different racial groups had little in common, and for many years regarded each other with suspicion. The South African government was known to have agents in several countries, and one was never certain if the person one was meeting was in the employ of the government. Since all non-Whites were discouraged from emigrating, and Blacks were specifically banned from doing so, there was always a nagging suspicion that non-White South Africans abroad might be government collaborators. This was not a situation that encouraged the immigrant community to develop communal organizations except within their immediate circle of associates.

A variety of special-interest organizations have existed. Among the earliest was the South African Jewish Association of Canada (SAJAC), established in the mid1970s, which established its own synagogue in Toronto. Another organization, the Forum Club, was created after the Soweto uprising of 1976 and devoted itself to raising funds for the African National Congress’s school for the children of “exiles” in Tanzania. Similarly, the Bishop Tutu Fund supported the families of political prisoners and, more recently, has raised money for food programs in South African schools.

Eventually, an umbrella organization was established, the Canadian Council of Africans (CANCOSA). It consists of twenty-four special-interest groups, including political groups such as the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress; business groups such as the Canada-South Africa Chamber of Business, the South African Business Association, and the South African Wine Society; and cultural groups such as the Nirvana Cultural Society and the South African Canadian Cultural Association. The principal event organized by CANCOSA is the annual Freedom Day, celebrated every April 27th in Toronto in honour of South Africas first democratic elections in 1994.

There has been little participation of South Africans in Canadian politics. For non-White immigrants arriving in Canada before 1994, voting in an election at any level would be a first-time experience. If any South Africans have run for office, it is at the local level and on an individual basis. The community is still too small and too divided for any person or group to sway the South African vote in Canada.

There is one cultural aspect of South African life that all groups share – the continued enjoyment of typically South African foods, and also South African wines, now that the Canadian ban on their import has been lifted. Some stores cater exclusively to a South African clientele. South African dishes include boerewors (farmer’s sausage), a variety of curries, samoosas (pastry triangles filled with meat or vegetables), bredies (Malay stews), meat or fish frikkedels (rissoles), bobotie (baked curried minced meat), and konfyt (fruit preserves).