From the Horse’s Mouth – South Africa

This is a Special Edition on South Africa

The Republic of South Africa sits at the southernmost tip of the African continent and is famously known to be the birthplace of humanity. This is the first and most special edition of the series titled From The Horse’s Mouth, as South Africa is our home, here at Relocation Africa’s Head Office.

How are birthdays celebrated?

Birthdays are an exciting occasion in South Africa. Even if you are not keen on celebrating yours, chances are, your friends will surprise you in some way. We celebrate birthdays with our family or friends, at home or at a restaurant, with gifts and cake.

When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?

Men and women generally shake hands, while friends will hug and kiss. The most frequently used greetings are ‘’Molo’’ (Xhosa), ‘’Sawubona’’ (Zulu), ‘’Dumela’’ (Setswana) or ‘’Howzit!’’ which is a slang word that is used and understood by the entire population, all around the country.

What languages are spoken in your country?

South Africa has 11 official languages, namely; English, Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Swati, Setswana, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Venda, and Ndebele.

The most commonly spoken language by South Africans is Zulu (23 percent), followed by Xhosa (16 percent), and Afrikaans (14 percent). English is the fourth most commonly spoken language (9.6%) but is understood in most urban areas and is the dominant language in government and the media.


On a lighter note:

South Africa’s English is as unique and diverse as its people. The shores of the country have witnessed the mixing and integrating of people and cultures for many centuries, and this is reflective in the ways South Africans communicate. South African English borrows freely from the native African languages of the country, from colonial-era Portuguese immigrants and Malay slaves, as well as from Afrikaans, which is similar to Dutch. With this giant amalgamation of languages, South Africans code-switch quite often.


Here are some examples of colloquial English that is unique to South Africa:

  • Bakgat: [buck-ghut] – Well done, cool, awesome.
  • Bakkie: [buck-ee] – A pick-up truck.
  • Born-frees: South Africans who were born into a democratic South Africa – that is, after 1994.
  • Braai: [br-eye] – An outdoor barbecue, where meat such as steak, chicken and boerewors are cooked on a fire, served with pap and bredie.
  • Bru: [brew] – A term of affection, shortened from Afrikaans broer, meaning “brother.’’ An example of this word in use would be, “Hey, my bru, howzit?”
  • Chill bru: Relax, my mate. Take it easy.
  • Eina: [ay-na] – Typically exclaimed when you get hurt or you see someone get hurt.
  • Eish: [aysh] – Used to express surprise, wonder, confusion, frustration or outrage: “Eish! That cut was eina!”
  • Gogo: [goh-goh] – The isiZulu word for Grandmother. Used as a term of endearment and respect for elderly women as well.
  • Gogga/ Goggo: [gho-gha or gho-gho] – Insect, bug. From the Khoikhoi xo-xon.
  • Howzit: A traditional South African greeting that translates roughly as “How are you?”, “How are things?”, or simply “Hello”.
  • Jozi: [jo-zee] – The city of Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, which is also known as Joburg, Joeys, or Egoli (the city of gold).
  • Just now: If a South African tells you they will do something “just now”, they mean they’ll do it in the near future or sometime soon – not immediately.
  • Now-now: When a South African says, “I’ll be there now-now,’’ it means that they will be there shortly, it won’t take long.
  • Kwaai: [k-wh-y] – A term of approval which equates to ‘’great’’ or ‘’fantastic.’’
  • Lekker: [lekk-irr; with a rolling r] – Lekker is a word used to describe anything in a positive way. The word ‘’Lekker’’ can mean nice, good, great, cool, tasty, fun, and so much more.
  • Shup-shup: [sh-up] – This is another word that has multiple meanings. ‘’Shup’’ could mean good, fine, okay, great, or it can also be used as a greeting. You can say ‘’shup’’ in the same way that you say ‘’hello’’ or ‘’goodbye’’ or ‘’howzit!’’ and the person saying it will usually offer you a thumbs up and a friendly smile.
  • Shebeen: A township tavern, illegal under the apartheid regime, often set up in a private house and frequented by black South Africans. The word is originally Gaelic.
  • Takkies: Running shoes or sneakers. “Fat takkies” are extra- wide tyres.
  • Tsotsi: [ts-ot-see] – A gangster, hoodlum or thug. Tsotsi is also the title of South Africa’s first Oscar-winning movie, which we definitely recommend you watch!
  • Voetsek: [foot-sak] – Go away, buzz off.


What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in South Africa?

We drive on the left-hand side of the road. Road infrastructure is mostly good, and drivers tend to generally stick to the rules of the road. However, first-time visitors beware, our taxi-minibuses have a mind of their own and apparently have their own set of road rules too!

Fun note: The South African word for traffic lights is ‘’Robots’’ (do not ask why – we have no idea!)

How important is punctuality?

Don’t be late! In fact, try to arrive to an appointment five minutes early. South Africans are punctual and being late is considered rude (though this may not always ring true with the Capetonians, who have their own ideas on timekeeping).

What types of music are popular? Who are some of your most popular musicians?

Some classic South African musicians include Miriam Makeba, Johnny Clegg, Brenda Fassie, Mafikizolo, and Freshlyground. South Africa is also renowned for its House music, and some of the country’s most famous musicians of this genre include Master KG, DJ Maphorisa, and DJ Black Coffee.

To get a taste of South African music, listen to Miriam Makeba singing ‘Pata Pata’ by clicking here.

  • Listen to Brenda Fassie’s ‘Weekend Special’ by clicking here.
  • Or listen to Freshly Ground’s ‘Do Be Do’ by clicking here.

Does South Africa have any traditional dances?

Yes, there are many, some examples are:

The Zulu Reed Dance – watching thousands of young girls attired in traditional Zulu dress sing, dance and celebrate their culture is a powerful and moving experience.

Volkspele – a South African folk-dance tradition. The dress originated from the formal dress the Voortrekkers wore.

Watch a video below to see some traditional Setswana and Gumboot Dancing by clicking here.

What traditional festivals are celebrated in your country?

Due to our cultural diversity and different regional areas, we have many food, art, craft, music and cultural festivals taking place all over South Africa every year. One of the oldest and most colourful is the Kaapse Klopse (also known as Cape Minstrels) traditionally celebrated in Cape Town on the second of January.

Watch a video to get the experience, and to learn about the history behind the tradition by clicking here.

What are your seasons like?

South Africa is famous for its lovely sunshine. It’s a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm (compared to a world average of about 860mm). While the Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region. In summer temperatures can reach as high as 45° C in some places and in winter as low as -13° C.

What are South Africa’s major industries?

Among the key sectors that contribute to the gross domestic product and keep the economic engine running are the automotive, financial services, communications, mining, agriculture and tourism industries.

How do people spend their free time?

South Africans love food, family, and friends. As such, it’s no surprise that a favourite thing to do amongst all South Africans is socialising around the ‘braai.’ South Africans also love watching or playing sports such as rugby, soccer or cricket, or going to the beach.

Our national teams are the Springboks (rugby), Bafana-Bafana (soccer) and the Proteas (cricket).

South Africa also hosts many international sporting events such as The Comrades and Two Oceans Marathons and the Cape Town Cycle Tour (formerly known as the ‘Cape Argus’).

What do people drink?

Beer, wine and brandy and coke (very popular with all locals).

Traditional beer was brewed from local grains, especially sorghum. Beer was traditionally so prized that it became central to many ceremonies, like betrothals and weddings, in which one family ceremoniously offered beer to the other family.

Umqombothi, from the Xhosa language, is a traditional beer made in the Transkei, from maize (corn), maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water.

Mageu is a traditional South African non-alcoholic drink, popular among many of the Nguni people, made from fermented mealie pap. Home production is still widely practiced, but the drink is also available at many supermarkets.

Rooibos Tea: [roy-borss] Afrikaans for ‘’red bush.’’ This popular South African tea made from the Cyclopia genistoides bush is gaining worldwide popularity for its health benefits.

Amarula is a cream liqueur from South Africa. It is made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree which is also locally called the Elephant tree or the Marriage Tree

What is a popular local dish?

There are too many to name only one – here are some of our traditional foods:

Bobotie: [buh-boor-tee] – A dish of Cape Malay origin, made with minced meat and spices, and topped with an egg sauce.

Boerewors: [boor-uh-vors] – Literally translates to “farmer’s sausage”. A savoury sausage developed by the Boers – today’s Afrikaners – some 200 years ago. Boerewors is South African food at its most traditional.

Biltong: [bill-tong] – This South African favourite is dried and salted meat, similar to beef jerky, although it can be made from ostrich, kudu or any other red meat.

Bunny chow: Delicious and cheap food on the go, bunny chow is a spicey curry served in a hollowed-out half-loaf of bread, generally sold in greasy-spoon cafés.

Droëwors: [droo-uh-vors] – Dried boerewors, similar to biltong.

Koeksister: [kook-sister] A traditional Malay and now also Afrikaner sweet, made from twisted yeast dough, deep fried and dipped in syrup. The word comes from the Dutch koek (“cake”) and sissen, meaning ‘’to sizzle”.

Malva Pudding:  a sweet pudding of Cape Dutch origin. It contains apricot jam and has a spongy caramelized texture. A cream sauce is often poured over it while it is hot, and it is usually served hot with custard and/or ice-cream.

Melktert: which means “milk tart” in Afrikaans, is a South African dessert consisting of a sweet pastry crust containing a creamy filling made from milk, flour, sugar and eggs.

Pap: [pup] – The staple food of South Africa, a porridge made from mealie meal (maize meal) cooked with water and salt to a fairly stiff consistency.

Samoosa: [suh-moo-suh] – A small, spicy, triangular-shaped pie deep-fried in oil. Originally made by the Indian and Malay communities, samoosas – known as samosas in Britain – are popular with all South Africans.

Vetkoek: [fet-cook] – “Fat cake” in Afrikaans, vetkoek is a doughnut-sized bread roll made from deep-fried yeast dough. Mainly served with a savoury mince filling, it is artery-clogging and delicious.

What do you pay for?

(1 USD = approx. ZAR 19.43)

  • In a restaurant a cup of coffee is typically R25.00.
  • A can of Coca Cola is typically R15.00.
  • A meal for 2 people – nothing extravagant – will typically cost R400.00
  • A loaf of bread – R19.00

General Safety?

Unfortunately, due to the extreme divides between poverty and wealth, in addition to rising unemployment figures, crime is very much a fact of life in South Africa. One has to be vigilant and aware at all times and take safety precautions wherever possible.

And in conclusion… Famous South Africans you may know include:

  • Nelson Mandela – Anti-apartheid activist and the country’s first black president.
  • Elon Musk – Business mogul and CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and Twitter.
  • Trevor Noah – Comedian, writer, producer and host of The Daily Show.
  • Charlize Theron – One of the world’s highest paying actresses and producers.
  • Mark Shuttleworth – CEO of Canonical, a computer software company, and the fist South African to travel to space as a space tourist.


To read more exciting blogs, please click on the link below:


Written by Eloise Williams

Edited by Saudika Hendricks

Contributions by Relocation Africa’s Head Office Team