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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

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Photos provided by Tapiwa Guzha

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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“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.”

Written by

Writes nonfiction books, articles and spicy tweets. South African based freelance writer and editor with international bylines. My dog thinks I’m awesome.

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