South Africa’s Tapi Tapi Ice Cream is a Vegan Revelation and Revolution
Tapiwa Guzha is on a mission to rehabilitate local flavors and present a delicious alternative to our current food systems
When Tapiwa Guzha started making delicious, artisanal vegan ice cream using local flavors, it was to satisfy more than a sweet craving. The 33-year-old’s plant-based ice cream is delivered by motorbike to happy customers every weekend in Stellies & Cape Town. The business — Tapi Tapi — is part of his dream to shape a new kind of future, using food as a catalyst for change in South Africa and beyond.
I have always been fascinated by revolutions. As a child of South African freedom fighters, I spent most of my childhood in exile. Today’s revolutions are increasingly complex, subtle, and global. Those working to revolutionize our food systems often work in roundabout, intimate ways that don’t always look revolutionary at first glance — engaging all at once with culture, capitalism, memory, hope, and their visions for a better future. Tapiwa Guzha is one of those revolutionaries, in his own quiet but resolute way.
“Tapi Tapi is focused on rehabilitating the self-esteem of people from the continent about our food practices, as well as our culture and beliefs. I use food because it’s universal, people need to eat. So it’s a nice tool to to get people to listen.”
Guzha laughs loudly and often, and smells vaguely edible. I later learn he makes his own soaps. He has a PhD in molecular biology, but describes himself as a generalist with interests ranging from graphic design, to rope bondage, to making his delicious vegan frozen desserts.
Tapi Tapi derives its name from the chiShona word for “yum yum.” Guzha was deliberate with his intentions when he founded the project. “Tapi Tapi is an educational platform that is focused on educating people about food and food culture from the continent. In part, Tapi Tapi is focused on rehabilitating the self-esteem of people from the continent about our food practices, as well as our culture and beliefs. I use food because it’s universal, people need to eat. So it’s a nice tool to to get people to listen.”
Guzha had a light bulb moment while watching one of the cooking shows he loved to binge. On that particular episode a contestant made ice cream in only forty minutes using dry ice. Realizing that the university lab he worked out of discarded large amounts of dry ice daily he asked if he could use it and the first seed of Tapi Tapi was planted.
Initially the flavors were more generic, like vanilla and milk tart. As Guzha experimented, he started trying flavors that satisfied his nostalgia for food from his childhood. Monkey orange fruit (Strychnos spinosa, a sweet-sour fruit native to Africa) became a favorite, often served in the hollow shell of the fruit. After some trial and error, his offering expanded to include baobab pods (known as mawuyu in chiShona), loquats, ground nuts, and blackjack leaf. Another flavor is rondo, an edible clay eaten by pregnant women all over Africa.
All of these are churned by hand with no machinery involved. As the flavor profiles expand, Guzha is also experimenting again. He has re-imagined the ice cream sandwich — stuffing umqombothi (a traditional beer fermented from corn and sorghum malt) ice cream inside gwinya (a light, deep-fried, savory pastry).
“There is a perception that if you want to be vegan you need money. You’re a vegan, so it’s like, ‘oh you on that white people shit.’ Living on a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to have money.”
Guzha spent his formative childhood years being raised by his grandmother, who instilled in him a love of cooking. They lived in the city, but she grew vegetables in their garden and cooked with homegrown flavors. He recalls being teased for bringing leftovers to school while his classmates had ham and cheese sandwiches. They considered his lunches “peasant food.” Guzha’s efforts to normalize African cuisine and native flavors stem from the collective shame he feels many Africans have from similar encounters. In the same breath, he tells me he is aware that we can’t ever entirely escape the shame that colonialism has left on our collective psyche when it comes to food.
As a person living in Cape Town, where the legacy of apartheid is still firmly intact, Guzha is honest about how veganism could be viewed as problematic. “There is a perception that if you want to be vegan you need money. You’re a vegan, so it’s like, ‘oh you on that white people shit.’” But, he counters “Living on a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to have money.”
He does feel that when veganism is treated as a fad diet and exploited by capitalism, there are negative ramifications. “Trends gentrify a lot of the food that we eat.” Guzha continued, “Suddenly you have words like ‘superfood’ being thrown around, and that then destabilizes how [a specific ingredient] is valued. Suddenly, we lose access — if we are growing something, we are growing it for sale instead of consumption.”
“I have reservations around what the [vegan] movement is,” he concluded. “I hate labels, because your understanding of a label and my understanding of the same label don’t carry the same meaning and weight.”
He spends his weekends on his motorbike, delivering tubs of his original flavors. As Tapi Tapi has gained popularity, he has attracted a lot of interest from potential business partners. He has turned down every single one so far. His vision for Tapi Tapi was never to be in every supermarket in the country, so money is not an incentive. “I can live on very little and be happy. It keeps me from taking money when I don’t necessarily agree with the source. I’ve decided I want to grow without having to report to too many other people.”
What Guzha is passionate about is collaborating with other creatives. Previous joint ventures have included an outdoor yoga session with dessert afterwards, a silent “bondage and ice cream experience,” and a poetry event where Toni Stuart composed verses to match the flavors. All these events were motivated by the need to create spaces that did not exist before.
“I want to have a place that is a lived example of how you can live with minimal or little connection to capitalism. If you present people with alternatives they can notice what options they have.”
Moving forward, Guzha has a specific picture of what an ideal future for Tapi Tapi and himself would look like. “I’m not one for permanence, I’m just focusing on the next ten years. When it comes to Tapi Tapi, I have mixed feelings about the name now, because it’s very specific to food.” He wants to go beyond just making delicious ice cream, envisioning a communal space where people can visit or stay to do residencies to reconnect to the idea of being an African. A place where he lives and grows his own plants, to offer an idea of what a different life could look like.
“It should be clear by now that I’m very anti-capitalism,” he chuckles. “I think people default to it because they don’t know differently or they are really attached to it for reasons they’re not really clear about. I want to have a place that is a lived example of how you can live with minimal or little connection to capitalism. If you present people with alternatives they can notice what options they have.”