South Africa is a rich language environment with a unique blend of cultural influence. With its fusion of colonial English, American media influences, and tribal dialects, the idiosyncratic terms can fill more space than we can allot. Consequently, many exotic slang words used by specific tribes or derived from other nations have been excluded.

All known offensive or derogatory terms have been omitted. Learning South African words will help you better understand the culture while expanding your global vocabulary.

as true as Bob

adverb, idiom, truthfully, honestly. ‘As true as Bob, I’m going to catch that little thief.’


noun, strips of lean meat, salted and dried; jerky.


noun, traditional farmer’s sausage made with minced beef, lamb, or pork. A boerewors roll is boerewors wrapped in a bun and topped with tomato sauce and onions, akin to a hotdog.


noun, barbecue. ‘I bought an indoor braai for roasting boerewors’ or ‘That was a great braai.’


noun, roasted meat. ‘Braaivleis is getting too expensive. I’ll have to flog my braai.’

café, corner café

noun, convenience store, corner store. ‘Stop off at the café on your way and get some cigarettes.’


noun, friend. ‘Don’t worry, he’s my china.’ Note: China was derived from Cockney, but its use has since died in England.


noun, cupcake or tart. ‘With coconut flour, those Hertzog cookies are amazing.’ Note: American cookies are called biscuits.


noun, a dry, eroded channel or ditch. ‘If there’s a war, these dongas will be used for shelter.’

fixed up

adjective, good or agreed.

A: How about a movie this Saturday?
B: Fixed up, doll.


noun, substantial, akin to ‘heck of a’ (usually used in the phrase hang of a)  ‘That’s a hang of a donga.’

How’s it?

interrogative, How’s it going? ‘How’s it, china?’


noun, a conference between indigenous peoples. ‘The indaba seemed promising, but nothing was settled.’

is it?

interrogative, Is that so? ‘So, you were lying then, is it?’

just now

adverb, sometime soon, shortly, not immediately. ‘Calm down mum, I’ll clean my room just now.’

kef, kif

adjective, slang, cool, great. ‘That was a kif braai.’


adjective, good, cool. ‘Those cookies were lekker. What did you put in them?’


Noun, traffic light. ‘Stop when the robot’s red.’


noun, gossip ‘There’s a lot of skinner about the celebrity’s death.’

slap chip

noun, French fry,  ‘I like slap chips with malt vinegar or hot chili sauce’


noun, shoes for running; sneakers. ‘My new tackies are lekker.’

In addition to these regional terms, South Africa has contributed several words that are used around the world today. These include aardvark, apartheid, Boer, commando, impala, mamba, and trek.