16 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know

Although South Africa has 11 official languages we would say the 12th should be Slang. Thanks to the variety of languages spoken in South Africa, locals tend to borrow words from each language, resulting in slang words or phrases known as ‘South Africanisms’.

If you’re planning on travelling to South Africa anytime soon you would need to understand a few phrases unique to South Africa, just so you’re not too lost in trying to understand them. . Here are a few phrases to help you along your way

1. Ag man! 

This is the Afrikaans equivalent to “Oh man!” and is often used at the beginning of a sentence to express pity, resignation or irritation.
Example: “Ag, man!” / “Ag, no man!” / “Ag, shame man!”

2. Aikona – not on your life

[eye-koh-na] or [hi-koh-na]
A Zulu term used to express shock or disbelief when talking to friends or family.
Example: “Aikona, why did she do that?!” / “Haikona, when?! How?!”

3. Babbelas – hangover 

This word is derived from the Zulu ‘ibhabhalazi’ and is used to describe a really bad hangover.
Example: “Eish, babbelas my bru!” 

4. Biltong – seasoned strips of dried meat 

Similar to beef jerky (but much tastier!), this is the spicy, cured snack eaten at rugby matches. It is usually made from beef, game and even ostrich.

5. Bliksem – to hit 

This is a derogative term meaning to hit or punch someone.
Example: “I’ll bliksem you!”

6. Braai – a barbecue 

Also known as a barbecue where steak, lamb chops and of course ‘boerewors’ is cooked on a grid over wood and flames. A braai is a popular social event in South Africa and even has its own dedicated public holiday, known as National Braai Day, which coincides with Heritage Day celebrated annually on September 24.

7. Domkop – idiot

Similar to the German “dummkopf” or Dutch “domkop”, this term literally translates to “dumb head” and is a derogatory term used to describe someone who you think is stupid.
Example: “Ag! You domkop! You broke my cell phone!”

8. Eish! – an exclamation

[Ay-sh] or [ee-sh]
Eish is a colloquial exclamation of surprise, disapproval, exasperation or regret derived from Xhosa.
Example: ‘Eish, my cell phone broke’.

9. Hayibo! – wow!

Derived from the Zulu word meaning “definitely not!” This word is usually expressed on its own, at the start or end of a sentence when something seems unbelievable.
Example: “Hayibo! Ha! Ha! I can’t believe that!”

10. Now Now – immediately / soon

A confusing phrase for non-locals meaning sometime soon – sooner than just nowbut quicker than right now.
Example: “We’re going to the beach now now!” (But first we have to pack our swimming gear, stop at gas station and maybe get some snacks…).

11. Voetsek! – Go away!

Usually said with an angry tone when telling someone to go away or get lost. You don’t want to be saying this to a local or worse, if a local says this to you – you’ve really angered them!

12. Yebo – yes

Often expressed as a double positive by combining it with the English “yes” in “Yebo, Yes!” or as an extremely expressive “Yeeebo!” This Zulu word is used regularly in South Africa to show agreement or approval with something or someone.

13. Ubuntu – compassion, kindness, humanity 

An ancient African word used to describe common philosophical feeling of humanity and family, meaning “I am because we are”.

14. Shap

Sharp [shahp]
This is often doubled up for effect (sharp sharp!) and means ‘goodbye’ or that everything is good or when you’re simply agreeing to something

15. Is it?

Is it? [izzit] is an expression frequently used in conversation meaning ‘Is that so?’ or ‘Really?’.

16. Sho’t Left

Sho’t left is derived from everyday South African ‘taxi lingo’. A commuter wanting a ride to a destination close by will say ‘Sho’t left, driver,’ meaning ‘I want to get off just around the corner.’

Have you traveled to South Africa or are you from South Africa? We’d love to know if there’s any phrase you kept hearing and wondering what it meant. Let us know in the comment section.

South Africa’s Languages and Culture

South Africa is the Rainbow Nation, a title that captures the country’s cultural and ethnic diversity. The population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world. Of the 51.7 million South Africans, over 41 million are black, 4.5 million are white, 4.6 million are coloured and about 1.3 million Indian or Asian. About 51.3% are female, and 48.7% male.

The people of South Africa

The black population of South Africa is divided into four major ethnic groups; namely Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi), Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga and Venda. There are numerous subgroups within these, of which the Zulu and Xhosa (two subgroups of the Nguni group) are the largest.

The majority of the white population (about 60%) is of Afrikaans descent, with many of the remaining 40% being of British or European descent. The coloured population have a mixed lineage, which often comprises the indigenous Khoisan genes combined with African slaves that were brought here from all over the continent, and white settlers.

Did you know? 
The first inhabitants of South Africa were the San and the Khoikhoi. The San and Khoi descended from early stone age people and migrated from their birthplace in East Africa to the Cape.

Most of the coloured population lives in the Northern and Western Cape provinces, whilst the majority of the Indian population lives in KwaZulu-Natal. The Afrikaner population is especially concentrated in the Gauteng and Free State provinces and the English population in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

There are eleven official languages in South Africa. These are English (9.6%), Afrikaans (13.5%), Ndebele (2.1%), Sepedi (9.1%), Xhosa (16%), Venda (2.4%), Tswana (8%), Southern Sotho (7.6%), Zulu 22.7%), Swazi or SiSwati (2.5%) and Tsonga (4.5%). Much of the country’s media has been tailored to include as many of these languages as possible. Of course, many other languages from all over the world are spoken here too; including Portuguese, Greek, Italian, French, Chinese, and so on. Parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee has recommended that sign language become the country’s 12th official language. The exact date of when the constitution will be amended to include SASL as an official South African language is yet to be determined, but the long-overdue change is imminent.

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