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Customs of South Africa


The Republic of South Africa is a country located at the southern tip of Africa, with a 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) coastlineon the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. To the north lie Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe; to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland; while Lesotho is an independent country wholly surrounded by South African territory.

South Africa is known for a diversity in cultures and languages. Eleven official languages are recognised in the constitution. Two of these languages are of European origin: Afrikaans, a language which originated mainly from Dutch that is spoken by the majority of white and Coloured South Africans, and South African English. Though English has a large role in public and commercial life, it is nevertheless only the fifth most-spoken home language.
South Africa is ethnically diverse. About 79.5% of the South African population is of black African ancestry,  divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. South Africa also contains the largest European, Indian, and racially mixed communities in Africa. About a quarter of the population is unemployed and lives on less than US $1.25 a day.


The South African diet is diverse. The general diet includes beef, mutton, a variety of curries, green vegetables, pumpkins, and staples such as potatoes and rice. Wine, tea, coffee, beer, and soft drinks are the common beverages. Many South Africans, particularly in rural areas, eat mealie meal or pap, which is maize meal porridge, sometimes cooked with vegetables and meat. The evening meal is usually the main one. The braaivleis, or barbecue, is a popular weekend event and usually features boerewors (beef and pork sausage). Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and are often sold by farmers from roadside stalls. Biltong is dried, spiced meat and a popular snack, especially among the Afrikaaners.


Because of the country’s ethnic diversity, many different greetings are used in South Africa. English-speakers use “Hello” and “Good morning” phrases that are understood by most South Africans. Afrikaans-speakers say Goeie more (“Good Morning”). The Zulu and Swazi greet each other with Sakubona, which literally means “I see you” but is used also as “hello,” or Kunjani (“How are you?”). An acceptable answer to “Sakubona” is Yebo (“Yes”). Usual responses to “Kunjani” are Sikhona or Sisaphila. The Xhosa greeting, Molo, and the Sotho and Tswana Dumela have similar meanings.

All South Africans shake hands when they greet. Many people in rural areas use both hands. Sometimes black friends greet with an intricate triple handshake that involves interlocking the smallest fingers, clasping fists, and interlocking fingers again. In all groups, close friends and relatives may hug.

It is generally impolite to use first names with strangers or older people.

Titles are used for adults unless one has developed a closer relationship. It is respectful to call an older African man “Father,” which is Tata in Isixhosa, Ntate in Sesotho, or Baba in Isizulu. An older black woman is called “Mother,” which is Mama in Isixhosa and Isizulu and Mme in Sesotho. Therefore, an older African Xhosa man can be addressed as “Tata,” and an older Zulu woman can be addressed as “Mama.”

ImageWhen possible, visits are arranged in advance, but unannounced visits among good friends or relatives are common. Among most people, dinner guests are not expected to bring a gift, but it is accepted when offered. Customs and etiquette in the home vary from group to group.


South Africa’s rugby and cricket teams are among the world’s best. Rugby is most popular among Afrikaners and cricket among English speakers. A wide variety of other sports—including soccer, squash, field hockey, boxing, swimming, sailing, tennis, lawn bowling, and golf—are also enjoyed. Horse and car racing draw crowds. South Africans appreciate their many beaches and recreational facilities, including swimming pools, parks, libraries, and cinemas. Television is popular among those with access to a set. Dancing, music, attending festivals, and enjoying cultural events are popular activities throughout the year. African men in urban areas often socialize with friends over drinks at shebeens (informal bars).

Holidays and Celebrations

National holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January); Human Rights Day (21 March); Easter (Good Friday through Easter Monday, which is also known as Family Day); Freedom Day (27 April); Workers’ Day (1 May); Youth Day (16 June); National Women’s Day (9 August); Heritage Day (24 August); Day of Reconciliation (16 December); Christmas (25 December); and Day of Goodwill (26 December). A Zulu festival featuring dancing and colorful costumes lasts for most of the month of July. South Africans celebrate a warm Christmas, which is occasion for a summer vacation.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas