To my ears South African slang is strange. Combining slang words coming from all eleven national languages – particularly Afrikaans, English and Zulu – I sometimes found it difficult to keep up with locals conversation, though most people were happy to take the time to translate.
So before you leave for your trip to South Africa, and wonder why the people keep saying “shame“, wonder what you signed up to when you get invited to a “braai” and explained what “sharp-sharp” means before you think a local is going to try stab you with scissors… accidentally of course, I wanted to share this quick crash course with you explaining some of the most popular South African slang I heard!
One of the most common phrases you’ll hear in South Africa. Howzit is a common greeting meaning “hello” and/or “how’s it going?”
- Eg. “Howzit my China?” (How’s it going my friend?)
You’ll hear this word everywhere! Lekker means something that is very ‘tasty,’ ‘nice,’ or ‘fun.’ Lekker can also be used to express approval.
- Eg. “The food is lekker” (tasty/delicious) /”What a lekker jol” (what a great party)
South Africans LOVE to braai almost as much as Australians. That’s right, a braai is a BBQ!
- Eg. “Lets have a braai” (lets have a BBQ)
Simply used in please of “really??” in language.
- Eg. “Jan broke up with Shelly.” “Izzit??”
Don’t worry, South Africa doesn’t have Star Wars-style robots walking the streets. Instead, a robot is a traffic light!
- Eg. “We need to turn right at the next robot.”
Used in place of the word ‘cold sore’.
- Eg. “I have a fever blister.”
“My China” is the cockney rhyming slang for “China plate” (meaning “my mate”). In South Africa, My China means a friend/mate.
- Eg. “Howzit my china?”
Not so much a slang but you’ll frequently get asked if you have tried this spicy, seasoned, dried raw meat, made from beef, venison, kudu, ostrich or any other red meat. Similar to American “jerky”.
I was a little confused by this one when I first began talking to a local who said it three or four times in a sentence. Confused, I had to ask him what he meant by it.
South Africans use the word “shame” to sympathise with a person’s misfortune or an objects cuteness. Confusing much?!
- Eg. “I fell down the stairs today and now I’ve missed my flight.” “Shame.” (sympathise)
- Eg. “Ag shame, look at that baby!” (cuteness)
One word you need to know before heading to South Africa is ‘dop’, meaning ‘drink’. Trust me, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to have a dop – from the Cape Winelands to a local shebeen, you’ll always find someone up for a dop.
- Eg. “Lets go have a dop in the shebeen.”
Want to explain to your South African friends that you accidental went to a nudist beach and saw naked people? Used the phrase “Kaal-gat”, meaning naked or bare bummed!
- Eg. “He was kaal-gat!”
Heard frequently, particularly amongst the black community, ‘sharp-sharp’ can be used as a greeting, farewell, as an agreement or just to express enthusiasm. Can also be said just as “sharp“.
- Eg. “I’ll see you later.” “Sharp-sharp!”
Just now/Now now
If you’re in a rush you don’t want to hear these words. This phrases means “very soon”, “eventually” or even “never” and it could happen in 10 minutes, tomorrow or maybe they won’t do it at all.
- Eg. “I’ll do it just now”/”I’ll do it now now” (I’ll do it very soon/eventually)
Pronounced ‘Sah-wu-bo-nah’. A Zulu greeting meaning “I see you”. Used in the same way as “good morning/good afternoon/good night”.
Now it’s over to you: