South African immigrant culture is as diverse as the Rainbow Nation itself, and has left an indelible mark on our society, from the road building of the Italians to the wine-making skills of the French. Then there are the immigrants from the rest of the continent who enliven our African soul.

Did you know?

About 300 Jewish volunteers joined the Boer forces during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War of 1899-1902.

South African immigrant culture and beliefs have added much to the Rainbow Nation.

Deserving first mention amongst the immigrants of South Africa, as it was they who first circumnavigated Africa, are the Portuguese. This heralded a steady flow of Portuguese into South Africa from then on.

After the Dutch settled the Cape, the French Huguenots arrived, fleeing religious persecution in the 1680s. They settled mainly round Franschhoek in the Western Cape and their influence on our wine industry has been immense.

Adding to the country's immigrant culture are Germans, many of whom originally settled in the Wartburg area of KwaZulu-Natal and the interior of the Eastern Cape. Other significant immigrant groups from Europe are the Irish and the Greeks, the latter bringing their Mediterranean cuisine to the table.

Amongst the most influential immigrants, though, are the Italians and Jews. Many of the Italians were sent here as prisoners of war and remained, giving us their magnificent building skills and cuisine.

Most of the Jewish immigrants arrived with the discovery of mineral wealth and during the turmoil in Europe in the early 20th century. They have been a potent force in making South Africa an economic powerhouse to be reckoned with.

Chinese were first brought to South Africa as indentured labourers on the gold mines. Since then they have established a small but influential presence in all aspects of our life, creating wonderfully vibrant little enclaves all over the country – most major cities boast a Chinatown or two.

In the Cape, slavery brought many immigrants from Malaysia and elsewhere in the Far East, a cultural group whose culinary and religious heritage has made a distinct mark on the cultural mix of South Africa.

The cultural life of South Africa was also enriched by the arrival of Indian immigrants from 1860 onwards, brought originally to South Africa as indentured labour to work in the sugar cane fields of Kwa-Zulu Natal, with a large number of their descendants still resident in Durban.

Immigrant culture would not be complete without mentioning the influx of people from the rest of the continent, especially since 1994. South Africa's major cities have been enlivened by some of the most colourful cultures on earth, including those from West and East Africa.

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