“Eish! It seems we have a problem,” said the immigrations officer to the unfortunate Kenyan lady as the officer explained why she could not be allowed back into South Africa. Like me, the Kenyan had used her perfectly legitimate event visa to reenter the country after having gone to Victoria Falls and now, we found ourselves being detained in a room while awaiting our fate at the hands of the officers who were treating our passports and us as if we were illegals trying to sneak in with false documents. Eventually I was able to get a new visa but the Kenyan (I didn’t ask her name) was not permitted to step foot outside the airport’s inner area.
Besides showing how asinine and illogical bureaucracy can sometimes swoop down on you unsuspectingly during even the most innocuous of times, I wanted to highlight the slang that’s widely used here in English, many of which are originally from other local languages, just another fascinating aspect of this diverse nation.
Eish, as used above, is just like when we say “Shoot” or “sh!t” when something problematic or unfortunate happens.
“Howzit!” is always heard when being greeted in South Africa. It means basically what it sounds like, which is, “how’re you?” or “how’s it going?” I also got this in Zambia a few times, though whether it’s because they’re accustomed to a lot of South African visitors or they themselves use it commonly, I don’t know.
“When the World Cup’s in your backyard, it’s ayoba time!”
boomed the hyperactive guy in the many MTN (local cell phone service giant) ads that
played throughout the World Cup. Ayoba, depending on who you ask, means “cool” or
is just a word to express joy.
“Ayoba one more time!”
“Mzansi.” Pronounced like “sanzi,” this is used to refer to the country or the country’s people as a whole. It’s basically slang for South which means South Africa in this case.
“Sharp.” It might sound like sho or sure especially when said twice as some people do, but it’s a common phrase uttered when people greet each other or just want to say thanks.
“Izzit?” As with howzit, this is kind of obvious to figure out. It’s not a question but rather a way to confirm that you’ve heard something. Kind of like saying “alright,” or “is that so.”
Braai was Afrikaner for barbeque. Now it’s the nation’s word for bbq. So when you hear people saying they’re having a braai or they’re going to braii some meat, you don’t need to wonder.
As with North Americans, people here braai outside, mostly with charcoal grills though I experienced the most primitive and supposedly the best way- by fire using wood.
Unlike Taiwan, you often see a lot of bakkies on the road. No, I didn’t mean to say baddies nor are they a special kind of vehicle, it’s just the local word, first used by Afrikaners I believe, for pickup truck. And just like Trinidad, sometimes people ride in the back though not as public transport but more often workers being taken somewhere.
You also see a lot of kombis on the road, many of which sport some creative designs or phrases invoking God or some wise sayings. Kombis are basically minibus taxis and are the most common type of public transportation here, though it’s mainly used by blacks. They’re said to be a bit unsafe to take, mostly because of road safety reasons like overloading and speeding. Of course for foreigners and whites, it’s also not suggested to take them because of security reasons. That said, they’re convenient, cheap and are probably alright to take if you know where you’re going and are careful with your stuff.
“Yebo!” Originally Zulu for yes, now it’s used by many different South Africans.
“To go there, just drive straight until you reach the first robot and turn.” Robots are amazingly common here but this isn’t Japan so it’s not what you think. For some strange reason, people call traffic lights robots and it’s not even a slang.
Finally, if you think all these funny words and terms (what I listed here is only a small selection as these are the ones I’ve heard and found most common) probably constitute a language in themselves, then consider South Africa has 10 other official languages besides English. As a result, as the Robben Island guide said to us, you’ve got 11 different versions of English in this country (people who speak each of these 11 languages speak English with a different accent). Then you’ve got white native-English speakers, as opposed to Afrikaners, who sound English and some who sound Australian.