Ice cream storyteller Tapiwa Guzha describes himself as a child of the continent. Raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, he moved to Mzansi at the tender age of eighteen to study. Guhza specialised in molecular biology and studied all the way to PhD level at the University of Cape Town.
He eventually went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Stellenbosch before he ventured into the ice cream business.
Guzha’s voyage into ice cream making was inspired by an episode of the popular cooking show MasterChef. Contestants were using liquid nitrogen or dry ice to make ice cream.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s something I’m familiar with’. It’s something I see in the lab environment quite a lot, so I decided to take some of it home and use it to make myself a batch of ice cream.”
Ice cream with a message
Tapi Tapi, Guzha’s ice cream business, is based in Observatory in Cape Town. On the business website, the company is described as “an educational initiative that is focused on sharing food and food culture from the African continent with other Africans and our visitors alike”.
Guzha develops all his ice creams around African-centred flavours and uses these as a starting point for stories and insights into the diversity of African cultures.
What he enjoys most about food is its ability to connect people, to change perspectives and to empower and celebrate people and their diverse backgrounds. “What keeps me passionately motivated is the purpose of the work.”
The purpose is healing. “It’s about ‘how do we rehabilitate and reconcile what has happened on this continent with what we want to happen on this continent?’ and [about] who we are as a people. So that purpose is what actually keeps me motivated.”
A little idea with big effect
Using ice cream as a vehicle for storytelling was not Guzha’s initial aim. After he started making ice cream using the dry ice, he went about crafting conventional flavours but adding his own twists. He was simply making ice cream because he liked it. But a chance visit to a restaurant in Salt River sparked an idea that changed his vision.
“I happened to be in a restaurant in Salt River where I saw some snacks from home and I was like, Oh, I wonder what would happen if I put some of these home flavours into ice cream? What kind of flavours can I create?’ And that’s when things really kicked off.”
Some of the flavours offered by Tapi Tapi are Mweya, which is Zimbabwean and includes rooibos and imphepho smoke; Thiakry (degue), which is millet couscous and sour milk and hails from West Africa; and Mowa, a flavour found across the continent, made up of amaranth greens and yellow plum. Guzha finds that ice cream gives him the freedom to be creative.
“[My] current vision is looking at how ice cream is a nice neutral backdrop to showcase flavour, without any of the difficulties and stigmas around how things look and especially the unfamiliar. So, if it looks just like ice cream, it is ice cream. It’s a nice way of convincing someone to try something new, try something different.”
Storytelling through many mediums
Under the Tapi Tapi banner, Guzha also makes art and records a podcast. He says that all of these mediums are tied to the work he is doing with his ice cream creations. “It’s about telling African stories through the ice cream, and then through calligraphy, and talking about human creation stories on the continent. What’s really important is showcasing African stories correctly, and the nature of how I do that is either through my own voice, or through my visual medium, or through the things that I cook.”
Through food and other mediums, Guzha also found a way to tell unheard stories from the African continent. “We know so much about European mythology, Asian mythology – their stories and history – without really hearing our own selves reflected in our formal education and informal education. So, I’ll try to resurrect some of that work for myself. I grew up hearing stories from my grandparents and I’m trying to continue that tradition of storytelling in however many ways that I can.”
Like almost everyone in the hospitality and hospitality-adjacent industries, Guzha experienced the Covid-19 pandemic’s negative effects on business. He found the pandemic era to be particularly challenging, but he learnt some lessons about diversifying his offering.
“The reality is that people have less money to spend and my kind of product is far less urgent for most people, so ice cream is a luxury. And on top of that, a premium brand of ice cream is an even more significant luxury.
“It has definitely taught me about expanding my range and trying to operate in a way that looks at offering multiple things as opposed to just one thing. I do have a few new products in reaction to lockdown and its difficulties, but on the other side I only opened in February last year, so lockdown hasn’t been an unknown concept to me.”
From online store to brick-and-mortar café
Tapi Tapi has been in existence since 2018, before Guzha opened the café in Observatory. “Before I opened up the café, I had started doing online sales of the product. So, [I was working] to get an interest going, to get people familiar with what I’m trying to do, and to get a sense of the market and of how people would engage with this kind of work.”
Guzha hopes to expand his business soon, especially in terms of space. “Currently I share a space with a few other businesses. The next step for my business would be to get my own place, where I can realise my vision with a lot more clarity and less interference from other parties. I also want to expand beyond the ice cream.
“The ice cream is a small part of it, and I’ll keep that working on its own. But ultimately, I want to be able to get into creating cookware, creating textile prints and just enrobing the country, and hopefully the continent, in a story of African-ness that’s not an exception, but a normality.”
Get Stories of Change: Inspirational stories from the people that feed Mzansi.