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A kaffir (Arabic kāfir; also Caffer, caffre, kaffer, Kaffre, kafir, kaphar, kaphir, kafari) refers, in Islamic contexts, to a non-Muslim, explicitly to a "unbeliever" (disbeliever", non-believer, denier, pagan) or an "infidel" (not of the "one true faith").


In Africa, especially Rhodesia and South Africa, a kaffer (from the Dutch, although borrowed from Portuguese cafre) refers to a black in general, notably to a (Southern African) Bantu, or, as of the 16th century (attested since 1516, in: Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa), to a barbarian member of the Nguni people of southern Africa, especially a Xhosa. Also for an inhabitant of British Kaffraria, a former British colony in South Africa. This word was widely used in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

The term 'kaffir' (sometimes spelled 'caffre') was derived from the Arabic word meaning 'unbeliever' or 'infidel' and applied as a general term to non-Muslims. When asked by the newly arrived Portuguese in the 16th century, the Islamic Arab/Swahili people in the coastal east African cities replied, perhaps dismissively, that the negroid African people in the interior were 'Kaffirs'. Kaffirs became a general term used by the Portuguese to refer to all Bantu-speaking Africans of eastern and southern Africa. This usage was picked up by the Dutch as they supplanted the Portuguese in the 17th century and brought to South Africa with the founding of Cape Town in 1652. The nearest Bantu-speaking people, the southern Nguni-the Xhosa especially (see Xhosa)-were about 600-700 miles eastwards in the eastern part of the modem Cape Province and Transkei. By the end of the 18th century, contacts and conflict began to increase in the eastern Cape Colony between the westward migrating Xhosa and the eastward migrating white Trekboers. 'Kaffir' in the 19th century acquired a more specific meaning and referred especially to the Xhosa proper to distinguish them from other southern Nguni groups such as the Thembu, Mfengu and Mpondo. It was not meant as an insult and was capitalized; many Xhosa used the term in this way in referring to themselves. It was with this meaning referring to the Xhosa that it was used in such terms as Kaffir Wars, Kaffirland and British Kaffraria. However, especially among the Trekboers, the term had always been used in a generalized way to refer to Bantu-speaking Africans; as racism grew, so did the pejorative connotations of the term. By the end of the 19th century, the term had similar connotations and uses as the term "nigger" had. [...] Thus, it eventually disappeared from official and polite use.[2]

Classification as derogatory

Since the 2nd half of the 20th century, the term has been regarded as "derogatory", reinforced by politically correct, woke sources in the early 21st century.


  1. View of a Cafre, in: Description de l'Univers by Alain Manesson Mallet, Paris, 1683 (under "*Africa*")
  2. Kaffirs, in: "Historical Dictionary of the British Empire"