South Africa has eleven official languages: English, Afrikaans (similar to Dutch), Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa,, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Swati and Venda. Most people in the cities can understand and speak basic English so, if you can speak English then it is not totally essential to learn any of these languages. However, its always appreciated when some local phrases are used but if you are not sure which language the person speaks then speaking English is the best idea.
For instance Xhosa is spoken by the locals in Cape Town whilst Zulu is normally spoken in the Durban area. Also bear in mind that Afrikaans was regarded as the language of the old oppressive Nationalist Government pre 1994 and therefore even trying to say a few words to the locals in this language may be regarded as offensive.The best way is to avoid speaking the language and stick to English if the person is a complete stranger.
Hamba Kahle – go well, good bye; see you ( Kahle is pronounced kashle)
Sawubona – Hello
Ukudla – food
Isiphuzo – drink
thenga – buy
thank – bonga
Slang and similar
Even English-speaking South Africans have words that are only used in South Africa: A traffic light is known locally as a “robot” and a barbecue is called by the Afrikaans word “braai”. If something is really nice the Afrikaans word “lekker” is used, usually pronounced as “lekka”. A common greeting is “Howzit?” and if something is going to be done fairly soon, it’ll be done “now now” while “just now” is a little later on.
Another word often used in South Africa is “shame” which can mean anything from “oh cute’ – usually said “ag shame”, to “you poor thing” to “I feel sorry for you”.
An elevator is called a “lift” and “sms” are used instead of a “text”
An ethnic word being used by many and really great to say is “eish”, it means lots of things usually when you would like to say “oh no….” or “goodness me” or something to that effect. “eish but the traffic is bad today”!
A flash light is known as a torch, your best friend is refferred to as your brah, or broe,( pronounced brew ).A good meal is known as a “lekka chow.”