People and Culture in South Africa

Traditional Food


  • 100 000 years ago SA was populated by San hunter-gatherers (Bushmen).
  • The Khoikhoi (Hottentots) migrated down the west coast and were the first indigenous people to encounter Dutch settlers under Jan van Riebeeck.
  • On the east, Bantu tribes from the south of the Limpopo River began to migrate southward.

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Traditional Food

Cape Malay
  • Babotie – minced meat topped with baked egg
  • Sosaties – spicy kebabs
  • Breyani – lamb or chicken with baked rice or lentils
  • Hot curries fish, lamb, chicken, beef, prawn
  • Samoosas – deep fried doughy triangles filled with meat or veges
  • Roti – flat bread
  • Bredie – meat stew
  • Potjiekos – slowly cooked meat and veg stew
  • Boerewors – spiced sausage
  • Biltong – strips of dried meat
  • Koeksisters – sweet plaited dough
  • Braaivleis – BBQ (chops, steak, boerewors, sosaties)
Black Cultures
  • Putu – stiff, dry cornmeal
  • Amazi – sour milk
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  • Chenin blanc/chardonnay/merlot/shiraz – in the Western Cape for 300 years
  • Pinotage – uniquely South African
  • Muscta d’alexandrie – (hanepoort) – sweet dessert wine
South Africans are also prolific beer drinkers.


Ag (ach) This is one of the most useful South African words. It can be used to start a reply when you are asked a tricky question, as in: "Ag, I don't know." Or a sense of resignation: "Ag OK.” It can stand alone too as a signal of irritation.
Aita The people of South Africa ’s townships have developed an even faster, more efficient alternative to “howzit”, which is Aita. This also means hello and how are you, but only has four letters as opposed to six, equalling a total saving of two letters per greeting per person.
Babalas (buh-buh-lahs) Your tongue feels like sandpaper, someone is driving a nine-inch nail through the back of your skull and foggy images from the night before are crawling into your memory. What does this mean? You have a babalas (buh-buh-lahs) – a hangover!
Bakkie (bucky) This word can refer to a small truck or pick-up. If a young man takes his "girl" (date) in a bakkie it could be considered as a not so "lekker" form of transport because the seats can't recline.
Boet (boot) This is an Afrikaans word meaning "brother" which is shared by all language groups. Pronounced "boot" but shorter, as in "foot", it can be applied to a brother or any person of the male sex. For instance a father can call his son "boet" and friends can apply the term to each other too. Sometimes the diminutive "boetie" is used. But don't use it on someone you hardly know - it will be thought patronizing and could lead to you getting a "lekker klap".
Braai (brye) After soccer, after rugby, after cricket, our top sport is the “braai” – otherwise known as the barbeque. Its our most favourite thing to do, come rain or shine.
Bunny Chow Hollowed out loaf of bread filled with spicy curry. Cheap, filling, messy and very tasty.
Crash Why appoint a designated driver, when you can “crash” – meaning to spend the night over at someone’s house.
Dop This word has two basic meanings, one good and one bad. First the good: A dop is a drink, a cocktail, a sundowner, a noggin. When invited for a dop, be careful! It could be one sedate drink or a blast, depending on the company.
Now the bad: To dop is to fail. If you "dopped" standard two (Grade 4) more than once, you probably won't be reading this.
Dwaal In the beauty of South Africa you may find yourself in a state of sleepy hypnosis brought on by fresh air or magnificent views – don’t be concerned – you are simply in a dwaal.
Eina (aynah) Widely used by all language groups, this word, derived from the Afrikaans, means "ouch." You can say it in sympathy when you see your friend the day after he got home late to his wife.
Eish (aysh) African slang to express surprise or agreement. For example: Aish, that’s a cool car!
Hey (hay) Often used at the end of a sentence to emphasize the importance of what has just been said, “did you remember to do that hey?” It can also stand alone as a question. Instead of saying "excuse me?" or "pardon me?" when you have not heard something directed at you, you can always say: "Hey?"
Howzit South Africans are always on the go and there is little time available for chit-chat. But we are far too polite to abandon common courtesy altogether, so we have evolved an ingenious timesaver: the standard greeting. We have combined the word “hello” with the phrase “how are you?” into a marvellous mixture: howzit?
Izit? This is another great word to use in conversations. Derived from the two words "is" and "it", it can be used when you have nothing to contribute if someone tells you something at a braai. For instance, if someone would say: "The Russians will succeed in their bid for capitalism once they adopt a work ethic and respect for private ownership." It is quite appropriate to respond by saying: "Izit?"
Janee "Yes No" in English. Politics in South Africa has always been associated with family arguments and in some cases even with physical fights. It is believed that this expression originated with a family member who didn't want to get a klap, so he just every now and then muttered "ja-nee". Use it when you are required to respond, but would rather not choose to agree or disagree.
Jawelnofine This is another conversation fallback. Derived from the four words: "yes", "well", "no" and fine", it roughly means "OK". If your bank manager tells you your account is overdrawn, you can, with confidence, say: "Jawelnofine."
Just Now To make ourselves feel better about not running on time, we have invented the phrase just now, which may mean: in a minute, in an hour, in a day or not at all – no one using this phrase has ever been late!
Kief (key-f) / Shweet / Lekker South Africa has countless words to express something that is good, cool, exciting, pleasant, beautiful: Kief (key-f) / shweet / lekker Sunny weather, sandy beaches, exotic wildlife, beautiful people, delicious food.
Klap (klup) An Afrikaans word meaning smack, whack or spank. If you spend too much time in front of the TV during exam time, you could end up getting a "klap" from your mother. In America , that is called child abuse. In South Africa , it is called promoting education. But to get "lekker geklap" is to get motherlessly drunk.
Lank Lank can be used in place of ‘much’, ‘many’, or ‘lots more’. For example, I have eaten lank food, I like that car lank.
Lekker An Afrikaans word meaning nice, this word is used by all language groups to express approval. If you enjoyed a braai thoroughly, you can say: "Now that was lekk-errrrrrr!" while drawing out the last syllable.
Madiba (muh-dee-bah) South Africa ’s national treasure – Nelson Mandela – our grandfather.
Now now In much of the outside world, this is a comforting phrase: "Now now, it's really not so bad." But in South Africa , this phrase is used in the following manner: "Just wait, I'll be there now now." It means "a little after now".
Padkos (put-kohs) Literally translated “road food”. No South African can embark on a long journey without their padkos usually consisting of potato chips, biltong, and coldrinks.
Pasop From the Afrikaans phrase meaning "Watch Out!", this warning is used and heeded by all language groups. As in: "The boss hasn't had his coffee yet - so you better pasop boet" Sometimes just the word "pasop!" is enough without further explanation. Everyone knows it sets out a line in the sand not to be crossed.
Poppie South African for ‘bimbo’.
Robot South Africa is the technological centre of Africa, to the extent that we have robots at every street corner to direct our traffic. Okay, they are actually traffic lights, we just call them robots, but technically that’s what they are. South Africans are very wise.
Rock up To rock up is to just, sort of arrive (called "gate crash" in other parts of the world). You don't make an appointment or tell anyone you are coming - you just rock up. Friends can do that but you have to be selective about it. For example, you can't just rock up for a job interview.
Rooibos (roy-bos) With good and often not so healthy foods, we need to balance things out a bit, and so we drink Rooibos tea (literally translated into red bush), which is completely herbal, natural and healthy. Many a foreigner has become a Rooibos tea addict.
Saamie This is a sandwich. For generations, school children have traded "saamies" during lunch breaks. In South Africa you don't send your kid to school with liver-polony saamies. They are impossible to trade.
Scale To scale something is to steal it. A person who is "scaly" has a doubtful character, is possibly a scumbag, and should rather be left off the invitation list to your next braai.
Skop, Skiet en Donner Literally "kick, shoot and thunder", this phrase is used by many South African speakers to describe action movies. A Clint Eastwood movie is always a good choice if you're in the mood for a lekker skop, skiet en donner flick.
Tackies These are sneakers or running shoes. The word is also used to describe automobile or truck tires. "Fat tackies" are really wide tires, as in: "You've got lekker fat tackies on your Vôlla, hey?"
Tune grief To be tuned grief is to be aggravated, harassed. For example, if you argue with somebody about a rugby game at a braai and the person had too much dop (is a little "geklap"), he might easily get aggravated and say.: "You're tuning me grief, hey!". To continue the argument after this could be unwise and result in major tuning of grief.
Vloek (flook)

1.When you oversleep, spill coffee down your front, leave your passport at home, miss the turn-off to the airport and still make your flight!!!! That “vloek” – pure dumb luck!

2. “vloek” is also what you do when you race to catch your plane – swear or curse.

Vôlla Originally a Volkswagen Beetle. Now used to express any second hand ‘rat’type car.
Vrot (frot) An expressive word which means "rotten" or "putrid" in Afrikaans, it is used by all language groups to describe anything they really dislike. Most commonly intended to describe fruit or vegetables whose shelf lives have long expired, but a pair of old tackies (sneakers) worn a few years too long can be termed "vrot" by some unfortunate folk which find themselves in the same vicinity as the wearer. Also a rugby player who misses important kicks or tackles can be said to have played a vrot game - opposite to a "lekker" game (but not to his face). A movie was once reviewed with this headline: "Slick Flick, Vrot Plot."

And now we say “see you later”. Later can be in a few minutes, in an hour, tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. But what we don’t want to bid you is “goodbye”, because South Africans hate to say goodbye to friends.

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