The Best South Africanisms for the Out-of-Towner

Even though we both spoke English, my South Africanisms were flowing out unconsciously and muddying the language pool. It was one of the first times I realised just how much our unique communal language, with its mix of words and phrases from Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other African languages, made up my everyday, my every thought.

South Africa is a multilingual country with eleven official languages and its linguistic diversity has resulted in locals borrowing words and phrases from each language creating a unique lexicon of South African slang.

The team at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in South Africa’s incredibly diverse and vibrant city, Johannesburg, know this feeling well. So to prevent further lost-in-translation conversation stoppers, they have compiled a list of some local lingo and their favourite “South Africanisms”.

Starting with food..

Braai is a widely-used word for a barbecue, where meat is cooked over a fire or coals. On safari you often enjoy an outdoor meal under the Boma, a word originally from Tanzania meaning enclosure. Sitting around before dinner you might enjoy some biltong, a favourite South African snack made from dried and salted beef, ostrich or game (similar to beef jerky).

When dinner is served you could enjoy boerewors – an Afrikaans term for a traditional South African sausage often served at a braai. If you really enjoy your evening you might wake up the next morning with babelaas – local slang for a hangover. But after a few hours in the bos (bush) spotting the big five you will feel lekker (great) again.

Some other helpful words for the bush include: donga – which means ditch and comes from Zulu.

gogga – is a bug and is from Khoisan, meaning creeping things.

shongololo – millipede comes from Zulu and Xhosa, ukushonga, and means to roll up.

When at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in Johannesburg (jozi), your hosts might pack you some padkos (food for a car trip – originally from Afrikaans). En route, you could hear one of our favourite South Africanisms, the word robot, which in the rest of world refers to traffic lights or traffic signals. Heading towards the city, township slang is everywhere.

Some of our favourites are:

Mzanzi – a popular slang word for South Africa.

Eish: a Xhosa word used to express disbelief, regret or exasperation.

Sharp: often doubled up for effect (sharp sharp!) and means ‘goodbye’ or that everything is alright.

Aikona:  a strong refusal/disagreement, meaning “No! – from Zulu

Mampara: a fool

Tokoloshe: a character from African folklore referring to a mischievous hairy dwarf. Now used as a pejorative term for a small man.

Moegoe: a fool, idiot or simpleton

On arrival at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, you can settle into your room, change your takkies (trainers) for slops (flip-flops) and pop down to the bar which is totally different to a shebeen (an unlicensed bar or tavern). When offered an ice cold drink your answer could be yebo the Zulu word for “yes and is commonly used.

When it comes to fauna and flora, in the Khoisan languages there is buchu – a name applied to a range of medicinal plants traditionally used to make muti – a slang word for medicine (from Zulu umuthi).

A person familiar with the diverse fauna and flora of South Africa would be called a fundi which has its origins in Nguni’s umfundisi, meaning teacher or preacher and now used in mainstream South African English.

When embarking on a nature walk, you might choose to take a kierie – a wooden walking stick. The Khoikhoi indigenous people who were nomadic hunter-gatherers in the Cape and Namibia originally used the word kirri.

And most importantly, the abundant spirit of the nation… Get familiar with the word ubuntu – compassion, kindness and humanity.

A Man on a Mission to Interpret the Past

It was their connection to the earth that spoke to me first, how lightly they walked upon it. It was a fascination tinged with a slight nostalgia – a longing for a simpler, better time. But as the years pass, I am discovering that the ways of the Bushmen of southern Africa have as much to teach us about the present and future as they do about the past. They may be the oldest living culture on Earth, with a spirituality that predates all the world’s religions, but their approach to life still remains a source of great wisdom – their nomadic, hunter-gathering way of life, not using more than needed and making the most of all that you have, the importance of community, and working to live not living to work.

Their customs, traditions and beliefs have been well-documented, held onto for long after the different San tribes began to fade, on the rocks of numerous caves across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. One of the best places to view their rock paintings is the Cederberg Mountains of the Cape, and here at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat.

We caught up with Londi Ndzima, the Rock Art Curator at Bushmans Kloof, to find out more about their numerous sites and the stories behind them. Discover more below in our Q&A.

10 QUESTIONS WITH LONDI NDZIMA

1. What does nature mean to you?

Peace and quiet; the outdoors for me is the best place to be.

2. Explain your love of rock-art and the stories it has to tell about the people of the Cederberg.

The history of the hunter gatherer/San people is very similar to that of my own people, The Xhosa. Even down to things like using local plants for medicine, the role of ‘community’ and the art of storytelling. Through the rock art, one gets an insight into how they lived, who and what they came into contact with and what was important and significant to them. Through the ongoing research into rock art, there is constantly new information becoming available and I feel really privileged to be able to share these perspectives and insights with visitors.

3. Why is holding onto and preserving the past important to you?

Because there are no written accounts of the lives of the San & Khoi people in the area, we have to rely on what they did leave behind… in this case, these paintings.

4. Explain your passion for storytelling?

My Grandmother used to regale us with stories as children; about our culture, our traditions and ceremonies, such as when a boy kills his first eland which marks his entry into manhood and means that he is eligible for marriage. These stories connected us/ me to our history and our ancestors.  I have loved telling stories about the San and Khoi, through the interpretation of their art.

5. How have you continued to learn so much about the Bushman and their way of life?

Being exposed to the ongoing research through my relationship with Prof John Parkington and others researchers and specialists; as well as by reading reading reading; and talking to people from around the world (many of whom visit Bushmans Kloof). I learn every day and I’m able to bring all this knowledge to our guests.

6. What makes Bushmans Kloof such a special place for people to learn about the rock art?

There are so many amazing sites on the property, over 130, each offering its own unique bit of information and each a small piece in the puzzle of rock art in the Cederberg area. Having a Rock Art Curator on the property certainly enhances visitor experiences.

7 & 8.  What has your role as rock art curator here, and / your knowledge of the Bushman taught you about yourself, love and life?

I have fallen in love with nature, working at Bushmans Kloof.  It’s really strange because when I was young I loved maths (I wanted to be an engineer) and now I love history and medicinal plants. Quite a change… but I love my life exactly as it is now.

9. Where in the world are you the happiest and why?

Taking a walk in the rocks at Bushmans Kloof… the light here is amazing.

10. Words to live by?

–  Mentor – I’d like to leave a legacy of my love for what I do.

–  Happy –  I want people to have fun and be happy when they are around me.

–  Learn – I want to keep learning and sharing.

Please Leave Me Here, The Art and I Are Bonding

I can tell you one thing that I know for sure. If you have a camera, which translates to, if you have a cellphone, you will take at least three photos of this face…

You will do so from the left, the right and the front and you might even, like me, go beyond that, capturing it in the different light from sunrise to set. You might try four different cameras on it… the professional one (Canon for me), the weird one (GoPro), the happy snap one (Sony CyberShot) and the quick pic (the cellphone).

You see, this face, like the face of a you and a me, is more intricate than you first perceive. It deserves attention. It deserves a closer look.

Crafted by artist and sculptor Lionel Smit, it is the Large Malay Girl Fragment resting on the shoulders of the Ellerman House terrace, the Atlantic Ocean stretching out behind her. She is the most-photographed sculpture in the hotel’s garden and sits quietly observing the goings-on.

She holds the secrets of visitors from near and far, their words and actions, and I’m convinced that you can almost see each story breathing more and more life into her as the years pass. You see it especially in those eyes. Perhaps I’m merely looking too closely or enjoying gin o’clock too freely, but the girl has layers.

Lionel Smit’s work features elsewhere on the estate and similar effects can be detected in both his paintings and sculptures. In this specific piece, it almost looks like the layers were added in the same manner in which paint would be layered to a canvas. As he does in this exquisite artwork in Ellerman House’s  Contemporary Art Gallery

I have heard the debate on the subject of photographing art, but I’m a fan. Being a photographer and not an artist, this is slightly subjective. I understand the shame of taking a photo of something like the Mona Lisa and printing it to hang on my wall, of zooming in and missing the frame completely. It’s a bit like downloading music for free.

But I took the photographs for the sake of sharing them with you, as we do, most of us, to show you just why I found it so difficult to pry myself out of the hallways and galleries of this grand Cape Town home on the hill, in the hope that you will take yourself there to see it all up close too.

Here they are below. For more information, read Art at Ellerman House.