African Phrasebook.

Useful South African Phrases

South Africa has 11 different national languages – English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life but only the sixth most spoken language in terms of numbers.

Zulu is normally spoken in the Durban area whilst Xhosa is spoken by the locals in Cape Town. 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. Best advice is to keep to English if the person is a complete stranger.

Here are a few useful words you may encounter in South Africa. You will be a bit of a big deal if you say ‘hello’ in Zulu:

Aikona – Not on your life
Aita (pronounced ‘ai-tah’) – A greeting
Akubekuhle (pronounced ‘aako-beck-hoole’) – Meaning cheers, to cheers a drink or thanks in Zulu
Arvie (pronounced ‘rve’) – Afternoon


Babbelas (pronounced ‘bub-elaas’) – Hangover
Biltong – Dried, seasoned meat, similar to jerky
Bioskoop – Cinema – “We want to go to the bioskoop tonight”
Biscuit – Used as a term of affection – “Claudia, you biscuit!!”
Boer – Afrikaans word for farmer
Bokkie – A small buck, or affectionate name for a female (my bokkie)
Bra – Afrikaans word for male friend – “dude” in English
Bru – Male friend
Braai – A BBQ


Choc – Township slang for a 20 Rand note
Chow – Means eat
Cozzy (pronounced cozzie) – Swimming/bathing costume


Dik bek – Sulking/pouting
Doss – Nap
Dorpie – A town small in size


Eina! (pronounced ‘a-na’) – Ouch!
Eish! (pronounced ‘aysh’) – A phrase of exclamation – “Eish! I am so tired”


Fundi – Expert – ‘umfundisi’, meaning teacher or preacher


Gatvol – Fed up, had enough
Gooi (pronounce ‘g’ as a rolling ‘gggg’ almost like a cat purring) – Chuck or throw something


Howzit – How’s it going? How are you?
Hundreds – Excellent – “I am hundreds”


Indaba – From the Zulu language meaning ‘a matter for discussion’ or widely known in South African English as conference


Laaitie (pronounced as ‘lighty’) – A young person, usually a young male such as a younger brother or son
Laduma! (pronounced ‘la-do-ma’) – It thunders in Zulu – used when a goal is scrored in South African soccer matches
Larney – Fancy/designer
Lekker – Great/tasty


Makarapa – A modified, decorated miners’ helmet used by South African soccer fans


Padkos – Food for the road/journey


Robot – Traffic light
Rondavel – Free-standing round building which usually has a thatched roof


Sangoma – South African traditional healer
Siff – Used in South African English to discribe disgusting, horrible or ugly – “This milkshake is siff!”
Skinner – Gossip
Slap chips – French fries
Slip slops – Flip slop sandals
Spaza shop – Convenience store
Sosatie – A kebab on a stick


Tekkies – Evil spirit
Toyi-Toyi – South African Zulu for protesting and dancing in the street
Tsotsi (pronounced ‘tzotzi’) – A person who does no good, gangster, layabout
Tune – To give a person lip – “Don’t you tune me bra”


Veld – Bush/grassland
Voetsek (pronounced ‘fot-sek’) – Go away/buzz off
Vuvuzela (pronounced ‘voo-voo-ze-la’ ) – Setswana for a stadium horn, used by soccer fans during matches in South Africa


Yebo (pronounced ‘Yeahbaw’) – Yes in Zulu

43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know

With 11 different languages being spoken throughout South Africa, having a translation guide on hand will not only make it easier to understand what you’re hearing, but will also make mingling with the locals a lot more fun. Here are a few useful South African slang words and phrases to help you during your travels.
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!”
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?!”
Babbelas – hangover

This word is derived from the Zulu ‘ibhabhalazi’ and is used to describe a really bad hangover.

Example: “Eish, babbelas my bru!”
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.
Bobotie – a spicy mince dish

This delicious dish originated in Malay cooking and is made with spicy minced meat, baked in the oven with an egg custard topping. It is usually served with yellow rice and raisins.
Bliksem – to hit

This is a derogative term meaning to hit or punch someone.

Example: “I’ll bliksem you!”
Bitter koud — very cold

An Afrikaans phrase meaning ‘bitter cold’, often used to describe the cold weather during winter.

Example: “Oh, my gosh! It’s bitter koud outside!”
Boet – brother

This term is usually used in reference to a male friend or companion.

Example: “Hey my boet, see you at the game tonight!”
Boerewors — spicy South African sausage

Meaning ‘farmer’s sausage’, this term describes a savory sausage that was developed by the Afrikaners approximately 200 years ago. Boerewors is usually ‘braaied’ and eaten on a hot dog roll with tomato sauce and mustard. Make sure you roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing this word.
Bra / Bru – friend

This term is commonly used to call a friend, pal or buddy.
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. Add some salads, rolls and ‘melktert’ for dessert and you are set for a traditional South African braai.
Bunny Chow

This is a traditional South African Indian dish and usually consists of curry served in a hollowed-out half-loaf of unsliced white bread. It’s best when the bread is soft and fresh and the curry is extra spicy.
Chow – to eat / food

Often used when talking about food, this term can be used as a verb, meaning to eat, or when talking about the food itself.

Example: “Let’s chow my bru!” / “This chow is spicy!”
Chommie / China / Cuz – friend

See Bra / Bru
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!”
Droewors – dried sausage

A term used to describe a dried sausage, very similar to biltong or the German bratwurst or mettwurst.
Eina! – ouch!

Usually expressed when someone experiences a sharp pain of some sort.
Eish! – an exclamation
[Ay-sh] or [ee-sh]

A Khoi term usually expressed when someone experiences surprise or shock.
Fundi – expert or teacher

A term derived from the Nguni tribe, used to describe someone who is an expert at something.

Example: “He’s a fundi at that!”
Gatvol – fed up / had enough

Meaning ‘filled to the brim’ and is used to describe someone who is very angry or tired of the same thing happening over and over again.

Example: “I’m gatvol with that nonsense.” / “I’m gatvol that they keep losing all the time.”
Gogga – bug

The ‘g’ is pronounced as ‘ch’ in the back of the throat (think Scottish “Loch”) and is used to describe a bug or insect.

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! Ha! I can’t believe that!”
Hoezit /Howzit – How is it going? How are you?

A common greeting which is often used instead of “hello” and “how are you?” It combines the two phrases into a simple, “Howzit”, thereby saving time.

Example: “Howzit my bru!”

Is it? – Is that so?

A basic conversational word that can be inserted at various points in any conversation, meaning “oh, wow!” or “Is that so?” It can also be used when you don’t really feel like talking and don’t want to be rude but want to seem as if you’re listening.

Example: “Last week we went on a game drive! Sho my bru! We saw loads of antelope!” “Is it, hey!”
Ja, Nee – Yes, No

Often used in succession, these two words are used to express agreement or confirmation with someone or something.

Example: “Ja, Nee, I’m fine thanks.”
Jislaaik – an expression of surprise

This is usually said when trying to express surprise or wonder.

Example: “Jislaaik, you gave me a fright!”
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Jol – party / to have fun

Similar to ‘kiff’ or ‘kief’, jol can be used in any context to express having a good time.

Example: “I’m going to a jol tonight!” / “I’m having a jol!” / “It was such a jol!”
Kiff / Kief – cool

Derived from the Arabic kayf, meaning enjoyment or well-being, kiff or kief is most often used to convey similar feelings of nice, cool, great.

Example: “This chow is kiff my bru!”
Laaitie – a young male

This term is used to describe a male in his teens or early twenties.
Laduma! – he scores!

This term is usually screamed out when a soccer team scores a goal. Extend any of the syllables for full effect.

Example: “Laaaaaaduuuuumaaaa!”
Lekker – great / tasty

An Afrikaans word that has multiple meanings and which can be used in various contexts to describe many things from people to food to inanimate objects. It is used to convey the meaning of great, delicious, nice or fun. Make sure to roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing the word.

Example: “That new movie is lekker!” / “That bunny chow was lekker!” / “I’m lekker, bru!”
Melktert – milk tart

One of South Africa’s most popular desserts consisting of a sweet pastry crust and a creamy milk filling, topped with cinnamon powder. Absolutely delicious!

Related: Find out about all of the resources you’ll want to know about to fund your next trip here and here.
Now Now – immediately / soon

A confusing phrase for non-locals meaning sometime soon – sooner than just now but 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…).
Oke / Ou – guy
[oak] / [oh]

South Africa’s most common word for a man or guy and is similar in meaning to ‘china’, ‘bru’ or ‘boet’.
Oom – older man of authority / Uncle

Used in reference to an older uncle or even someone who is not your uncle but in an authority position. Usually expressed with respect.

Padkos – food for the journey

Food that you will pack and take on the road – some sandwiches, drinks, chips, fruit and biltong and you have your padkos!
Sarmie – sandwich

A slang word for sandwich.

Shongololo – millipede

A term used to describe a large brown millipede. It is derived from the isiZulu word ‘ukushonga’, meaning to roll up.
Shebeen – an unlicensed bar

These are unlicensed bars usually found in low-income suburbs located outside of the major towns and cities, more commonly known as ‘the townships’.
Skebenga / Skelm – a crook / gangster

A Zulu word for gangster.
Slap chips – French fries

An Afrikaans word meaning limp and describing soft, fat French fries. These are usually mixed with tomato sauce and vinegar.
Ubuntu – compassion, kindness, humanity

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

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!

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.