This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of the bilateral relationship between SA and Japan. But Africa has for centuries been trading with the East. There is archaeological evidence — Ming ceramic shards — that indicates Great Zimbabwe was a centre for trading with a network linking to Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania and extending to China. The first colonisers in SA built their settlements with the craftsmanship of slaves and artisans drawn from the countries of the Indian Ocean. The style of kists, riempie chairs and ceramics found in gabled houses in the Cape colony was drawn from India, China and Japan. The first Japanese immigrants came to SA during apartheid, when Japan was SA’s major trading partner. In the 1960s, under then prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, Japanese people living in SA were given the title of honorary whites to ensure trading was kept sweet. Japanese immigrants had no voting rights but were exempt from military conscription. The East was for centuries hermeti...

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