Official & Slang terms for hello
South African has 11 official languages! That’s a lot of ways to say hello. However, when it comes to South African greetings, you don’t have much to worry about. That’s because most people speak English.
In general, you’re not going to have a problem communicating with others, but locals do have a few unique ways in which they communicate.
Interactions between locals may also vary depending on who they are talking to. For example, you may hear a Zulu man say “Sawubona” to another Zulu man, but then say “Heita” to a non-Zulu colleague. South African greetings also vary based on locations. For example, more traditional greetings may be used in rural areas, whereas South African slang greetings may feel more appropriate in urban areas.
Here are a few of the most popular South African greetings:
If you’re not sure how to greet someone, simply say Hello. It is perfectly acceptable to every South African.
Heita is an informal greeting. It’s a slang term commonly used by young folks.
Howzit is another informal greeting commonly used by young folks. It translates to hey / hi / how are you?
Howzit is the shortened “how is it?”
“Goeie dag” literally translates as “Good day” in English.
“Goeie dag” is an Afrikaans greeting.
Because Afrikaans is a guttural language, it’s best to offer an audio file of how to say “Goeie dag.”
Aweeh is another slang term commonly used amongst colored people.
Sawubona (singular)/ Sanibonani (Plural)
Pronounced sauw-boh-na for singular; sah-nee-boh-nah-nee for plural.
You will hear it often it provinces like KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Sawubona / Sanibonani comes from the Zulu and Swati languages. Apart from English, Zulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa.
Molo (singular) / Molweni (plural)
Pronounced moh-loh for singular, mol-wheh-nee for plural.
You will mostly hear this in the Eastern Cape province, in informal settlements in Cape Town and other parts of the Western Cape.
Molo / Molweni comes from the Xhosa language, which is the third most widely spoken language in South Africa.
Dumela (singular) / Dumelang (plural)
Pronounced Doo-meh-lah for singular, Doo-meh-lang for plural.
Dumela / Dumelang comes from the Tswana and Sotho languages.
Sotho is commonly spoken in the Free State, Tswana is common in the North West province. You will also find these languages spoken in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Abuxeni comes from the Xitsonga language.
Xitsonga is spoken in Southern Mozambique and South Africa (Limpopo and Mpumalanga).
Ndaa (men) / Aa (women)
In the Venda language, men say “Ndaa” to greet; women say “Aa” to greet.
Venda is spoken in the Limpopo province.
This is another slang South African greeting that you may hear in the cities.
The pronounce this, keep in mind the “h” is silent. You may hear friends greeting each other this way.
How to greet South Africans
- Greet everyone respectfully when you see them—make eye contact.
- The most common South African greetings are a handshake and a smile.
- People may greet with a hug if they are friends or know each other well.
- Don’t rush your greetings. South Africans like to take the time to exchange pleasantries, so feel free to ask how they are.
- It is not uncommon for a black man to wait for a woman to extend her hand first.
- In rural communities, it is respectful and expected to greet everyone you pass by.
- Unless someone has signalled that you can call them by their first name, it is polite to address people by their title and last name.
- As per South African etiquette, older people are often addressed by titles in the local language. For example Tata (Xhosa for father) or Mama (Xhosa for mother). The title changes depending on where you go.
- People from rural villages may use two hands to shake hands or greet (as in this video).