Italian South Africans

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Italian South Africans
Italo-sudafricani (Italian)
Total population
77,400 (0.1-2% of South Africa’s population)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Johannesburg, Umkomaas, Edenvale, Cape Town other main city centres.
Predominantly Roman Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Italians, Italian Algerians, Italian Angolans, Italian Egyptians, Italian Eritreans, Italian Ethiopians, Italian Libyans, Italian Moroccans, Italian Mozambicans, Italian Somalis, Italian Tunisians, Italian Zimbabweans, Italian Americans, Italian Canadians, Italian British, Italian Australians

Italian South Africans (Italian: italo-sudafricani) are South African-born citizens who are fully or partially of Italian descent, whose ancestors were Italians who emigrated to South Africa during the Italian diaspora, or Italian-born people in South Africa. They are primarily descended from Italians who emigrated to South Africa during the late 19th century and early 20th century.


Apart from a few Catholic missionaries, Italian emigration to South Africa was very limited until the end of the 19th century. Some Italian traders, such as Theresa Viglione,[2] were present in small numbers alongside the Boers, when they made their Great Trek towards the Transvaal and Natal, but only in the early 20th century did the Italians form a small community of about 5,000 people, concentrated in the major cities of the Union of South Africa.

In 1900, there were 200 Italians in the Cape Colony and before 1910 about 1,200 in the Transvaal which was hugely reduced after the support given by Camillo Ricchiardi's Italian Volunteer Legion to the Boer insurgents. Many were miners (gold prospectors), traders and builders. However, already in 1915, there were almost 4,000 Italians in all of South Africa, and among them many were professionals such as engineers, doctors and lawyers.[3] Italian immigrants mainly found employment as stonemasons, bricklayers, craftsmen, carpenters, metal workers and railway workers.[4]

During Fascism there was almost no Italian emigration to South Africa, and at the outbreak of World War II about 800 Italian South Africans were interned for security reasons.[5]

With World War II and Italy's entry into the war against England, it was the beginning of a difficult period for the Italian community in South Africa: in fact, the government of General Smuts allied itself with the British and interned around 800 Italians, with Germans and Afrikaners, in various concentration camps. During the first half of 1941, the first prisoners of war also arrived, the number of which reached 90,000. The huge field that hosted them, Zonderwater (which means "without water"), a real prison-city, still exists and every year, in the month of November, the official ceremony of commemoration of the deceased takes place to honor the over 400 prisoners buried there. At the end of the conflict, from May 1945, the surviving compatriots began to be repatriated but 800 chose to stay and another 20,000 returned.[6]

Italian Club in Boksburg, in South Africa

At the end of the 1940s, many thousands of Italian ex-internees, who had established working relationships with South Africans during their imprisonment, decided to emigrate to South Africa. This was the case of the father of Italian South African runner Marcello Fiasconaro, an Italian pilot shot down during a bombing in Kenya and interned in Zonderwater. Numerous families of Istrian-Dalmatian exiles reached South Africa.[7]

In the 1950s, the South African government began to favor the immigration of Italians, who settled mainly in the Cape Province. Subsequently, with the beginning of Apartheid, a selected flow of Italians was promoted, also with the aim of increasing the white population in South Africa.

In the early 1970s, there were over 40,000 Italians in South Africa, scattered throughout the provinces but concentrated in the main cities. Some of these Italians had taken refuge in South Africa, escaping the decolonization of Rhodesia and other African states.

In the 1990s, a period of crisis began for Italian South Africans and many returned to Europe; however, the majority successfully integrated into the multiracial society of contemporary South Africa.

The Italian community consists of over 77,400 people (0.1–2% of South Africa's population),[1] half of whom have Italian citizenship. Those of Venetian origin number about 5,000, mainly residing in Johannesburg,[8] while the most numerous Italian regional communities are the southern ones. The official Italian registry records 28,059 Italians residing in South Africa in 2007, excluding South Africans with dual citizenship.[9]

Italian press and institutions in South Africa[edit]

The Italian-language press in South Africa essentially consists of three publications:

  • La Gazzetta del Sudafrica ("The Gazette of South Africa"), daily newspaper (Cape Town, since 2006), publisher Ciro Migliore.
  • Insieme ("Together"), bimonthly (Durban, since 1989), publisher Comites Kwazulu Natal and Consulate of Italy in Durban.
  • La Voce ("The Voice"), weekly (Johannesburg, since 1975), publisher Pier Luigi Porciani (owned by AIISA).

The most important Italian associations and institutions in South Africa are:

  • The Associazione Assistenziale Italiana ("Italian Welfare Association") of Johannesburg, the Unitas (Unione Italiana Assistenza, "Italian Assistance Union") of Durban and the Fondo Assistenza Italiana ("Italian Assistance Fund") of Cape Town.
  • The Circolo Ricreativo Anziani Italiani ("Italian Elderly Recreational Club") of Johannesburg and the Circolo Anziani ("Elderly Club") of Cape Town.
  • The Johannesburg Italian Ladies Society of Italian-South African women.
  • Casa Serena ("peaceful home"), a rest home for the elderly, wanted and built with direct funding from Italians from South Africa and partially supported by the Italian and South African governments.
  • The Scuola italiana del Capo ("Cape Italian School") in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.[10]
  • The Dante Alighieri Society, present in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pietermaritzburg which spreads the Italian culture and language in South Africa.
  • The Circolo Culturale Italo Sudafricano ("Italian South African Cultural Circle") and other Italian social clubs in: Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Benoni, Nigel, Vereeniging, Umkomaas, Ladysmith, Port Elizabeth and East London.

Notable Italian South Africans[edit]



Radio & TV[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Italiani nel Mondo: diaspora italiana in cifre" [Italians in the World: Italian diaspora in figures] (PDF) (in Italian). Migranti Torino. 30 April 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 February 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  2. ^ "ITALIAN P.O.W. IN SOUTH AFRICA". Archived from the original on 17 October 2004. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  3. ^ Sani, Gabrielle (1992). History of the Italians in South Africa, 1489-1989. Zonderwater Block. pp. 61–63.
  4. ^ "L'emigrazione italiana in Sudafrica 1870-1913. Alcune Note" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  5. ^ "POW camps in South Africa". Archived from the original on 22 January 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  6. ^ "Breve Storia degli Italiani in Sudafrica" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 23 March 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  7. ^ "L'esodo giuliano-dalmata e quegli italiani in fuga che nacquero due volte" (in Italian). 5 February 2019. Retrieved 24 January 2023.
  8. ^ "Veneti in Sudafrica" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  9. ^ "Numero iscritti per Ripartizione geografica" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 26 March 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  10. ^ "Scuola italiana del Capo" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  11. ^ "Volksblad Forum Woensdag 24 Oktober 2001 Bl. 7: Amor Vittone has a passion for life". Archived from the original on 16 January 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2016.


  • Sani, Gabrielle (1992). History of the Italians in South Africa, 1489-1989. Zonderwater Block.

External links[edit]