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Useful Vocabulary in South Africa

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.”

  1. AG: An exclamation of irritation
  2. BILTONG: Dried meat
  3. BOTTLE STORE: A retail outlet selling liquor
  4. BUNDU: Wild remote country
  5. BUSHVELD: Lowveld, usually Mpumalanga or northern Province
  6. BOER: Farmer
  7. BOEREWORS: The traditional sausage
  8. CAPE DOCTOR: A South East wind – Cape Region
  9. CAPE DUTCH: Architecture of the early Western cape
  10. EGOLI: A common name for Johannessburg
  11. SAWUBONA: Hello-a universal South African greeting
  12. SIS: An exclamation of disgust
  13. UNDI: Expert
  14. HAMBA KAHLE: Farewell or goodbye
  15. HOEZIT: A greeting
  16. GOGGA: An insect
  17. KOPPIE: A small hill
  18. LEKKER: Pleasant
  19. TSOTSI: A criminal gang member
  20. VELD: South African countryside
  21. SAMOOSA: A triangular Indian curried delicacy
  22. MEALIE: corn on the cob
  23. MUTI: African medicine
  24. SAFARI: A bush tour
  25. SANGOMA: A witchdoctor
  26. SPOOR: The track or footprint of man or animal
  27. ROOIBOS: A herbal tea
  28. STOEP: The verandah of a house
  29. TOY! TOY!: Picketing, Protest



  1. Yes – Ja  ( pronounced  Yah)
  2. No – Nee   (pronounced  kneer)
  3. Goodbye – (Totsiens  pronounced  totseens)
  4. Thank you -( Dankie  pronounced dunkey)
  5. Please – (Asseblief   pronounced asserbleef)

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