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South Africa has 11 official languages: English, Afrikaans (similar to Dutch), Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda and Swati. Most people in the urban areas understand and can speak basic English so, if your English is OK, it is not totally essential to learn any of these languages to get by as a tourist. However, its always appreciated when some local phrases are used but if you are not sure which language the person speaks then stick to English.
For instance 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.
Slang and similar
Even English-speaking South Africans have words that are only used in South Africa: A traffic light is known locally as a "robot" and a barbecue is called by the Afrikaans word "braai". If something is really nice the Afrikaans word "lekker" is used, usually pronounced as "lekka". A common greeting is "Howzit?" and if something is going to be done fairly soon, it'll be done "now now" while "just now" is a little later on.
Another word often used in South Africa is "shame" which can mean anything from "oh cute' - usually said "ag shame", to "you poor thing" to "I feel sorry for you".
An elevator is called a "lift" and "sms" are used instead of a "text"
An ethnic word being used by many and really great to say is "eish", it means lots of things usually when you would like to say "oh no...." or "goodness me" or something to that effect. "eish but the traffic is bad today"!
A flash light is known as a torch, your best friend is refferred to as your brah, or broe,( pronounced brew ).A good meal is known as a "lekka chow."
AG: An exclamation of irritation
BILTONG: Dried meat
BOEREWORS: The traditional sausage
BOTTLE STORE: A retail outlet selling liquor
BUNDU: Wild remote country
BUSHVELD: Lowveld, usually Mpumalanga or northern Province
CAPE DOCTOR: A South East wind - Cape Region
CAPE DUTCH: Architecture of the early Western cape
EGOLI: A common name for Johannesburg
GOGGA: An insect
HAMBA KAHLE: Farewell or goodbye
HOEZIT: A greeting
JOZI: Another common name for Johannesburg
KAAPSTAD: A common name for Cape Town
KOPPIE: A small hill
MEALIE: corn on the cob
Msansi/Mzanzi- A common name for South Africa
MUTI: African medicine
ROOIBOS: A herbal tea
SAFARI: A bush tour
SAMOOSA: A triangular Indian curried delicacy
SANGOMA: A witchdoctor
SAWUBONA: Hello-a universal South African greeting
SIS: An exclamation of disgust
SPOOR: The track or footprint of man or animal
STOEP: The verandah of a house
TOYI TOYI: Picketing, Protest, A protest dance
TSOTSI: A criminal gang member
VELD: South African countryside