43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know

A Traveler's Guide to South African Slang

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.

43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know

Ag man! 

[Ach-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

[bub-ba-las]

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

[buh-boor-tee]

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

[boor-uh-vors]

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

[brr-rye]

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

[dom-kop]

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

[droo-ah-vors]

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

Eina! – ouch!

[Ay-na]

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

[foon-di]

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

[ghut-foll]

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

[ch-o-cha]

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!

[Hai-bo]

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! 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?

[iz-zit]

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

[yis-liike]

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

[jo-rl]

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

[kif]/[k-eef]

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

[light-e]

This term is used to describe a male in his teens or early twenties.

Laduma! – he scores!

[laa-doo-maa]

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

[lack-err]

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

[oo-um]

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

[putt-koss]

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

Sarmie – sandwich

[saam-ie]

A slang word for sandwich.

43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know

Shongololo – millipede

[sh-ong-o-loh-loh]

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

[sha-been]

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

[skuh-beng-guh]

A Zulu word for gangster.

Slap chips – French fries

[slup-chips]

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

Ubuntu – compassion, kindness, humanity

[oo-boon-too]

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

Voetsek! – Go away!

[foot-sak]

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

[yeh-boh]

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.

Have you traveled to South Africa? What were your impressions? We’d love to know if there’s any important information you recommend adding to this list. Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.



About Shalinee Naidoo

Shalinee NaidooShalinee Naidoo is an environmental microbiologist, artist, writer and traveler from Durban, South Africa. She currently holds a Master of Science in Environmental Microbiology but has chosen a life on the road – teaching English and Science to young students whilst documenting her traveling escapades on her blog: Life, Love & Travel.

8 thoughts on “43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know

  1. Avatar
    Michael
    September 11, 2019
    Reply

    Been to South Africa once before, and it was really a great one…Was amazed at the many things i learned and new people i met.

  2. Avatar
    September 2, 2018
    Reply

    Am not from south africa, but i visited SA for a business trip when i heard some guys saying ”Bru” i really like that slang when i understands it means brother.

  3. Avatar
    Graxxor Vidhelssen
    April 28, 2018
    Reply

    Lived in Zim until the country went kaput in the late 80’s. Recognise most of the phrases in this list. They were common in Zim as well.

    I remember calling my mates a Bliksem from time to time… and being called one when we did something stupid.

    Never saw them written down so didn’t even think of how they were spelt… Always thought it was footseck or something… LOL

    Good times, ja.

  4. Avatar
    December 9, 2017
    Reply

    Voetsek!! Bru, I hate it when people try to compare beef jerky and biltong, like bru its not the same thing my china

  5. Avatar
    Kaylyn
    October 31, 2017
    Reply

    I’m from South Africa and have heard every one of these sayings/words but “voetsek” is a term you use when you’re really mad at someone and is often offensive to people you don’t know very well, for an example if you used that in front of your teacher you’d get in huge trouble because it’s in the same category as swear words. Also “bliksem” can be used as a term for someone, for example: “He’s a bloody bliksem!” Meaning he’s naughty or causes trouble a lot. Otherwise everything was very accurate!

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