The presence of the Chinese is having a transformative effect spiritually in one of South Africa's most storied townships, Soweto.

In a country where religious beliefs span Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, traditional African religions and Judaism, Buddhism is putting down new roots, thanks to these arrivals.

In a crèche in the sprawling Johannesburg township of 1.3 million people, the chanting of Nam myoho renge kyo (an invocation to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra) can be heard on a weekly basis.

Since 2011, this crèche has doubled as a meeting venue for Soweto-based members of Soka Gakkai International: South Africa, an offshoot of Nichiren Buddhism, founded by the 13th-century Japanese monk Nichiren Daishonin. Today there are more than 12 million devotees worldwide, including actor Orlando Bloom and singer Tina Turner. The religion also has a presence in Hong Kong and the mainland, and it is devotees from this region who have founded the Soweto chapter (SGI has been in other parts of South Africa since the 1980s).

Among the Chinese and African members inside the crèche, gazing upon an encased Gohonzon, a sacred scroll, is Angela Yeung. The Johannesburg-based jewellery designer, who moved to South Africa from Hong Kong 25 years ago, believes the group shows how Chinese and South African communities can learn from each other.

The third-generation SGI Buddhist says, "Our cultures are not the same but those who come to SGI try to have peace, open minds and open hearts."

Luthando Ntla, who has been a practising SGI Buddhist for 12 years, says the group has introduced about 100 people in Soweto to Buddhism.

"We are determined to help the youth and to build a community centre [for SGI] in Soweto," he says.

Ntla, the son of a Christian pastor, explains that daily chanting renews him, especially at his lowest points. In his 50s, Ntla raises his two children as SGI Buddhists.

Zanele Maseko, who joined SGI four years ago, says, "I was raised Christian and got interested in Buddhism after reading [Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir] Eat, Pray, Love. When I found SGI, it felt like coming into a family."

She believes perceptions that Buddhism is "imported" or un-African are shifting.