The culture of South Africa

What is South African Culture?

The first thing that you will notice about South Africans is that they are very welcoming. You can liken it to the warmth of their climate which features vibrant sunshine that enables them to take dips in the oceans ever so often.


Language-wise, the country recognizes eleven languages as the official dialects which one can use in communication. However, most citizens learn English as their second, third or fourth language, making it easy for them to interact with other people.

Their culture is quite diverse, and you can think of it as a collection of cultures. They include but are not limited to the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Ndebele, Swazi, Sotho, Pedi, Venda, and Tsonga. 

Though these are the central communities in the region, there are significant populations of Asian, European and Mixed African communities. They speak Afrikaans as well as English.


The cuisine in the country is a mix of African, Indian, European and Malay influences and as such, it is quite interesting. One of the most popular methods of cooking is braai. If you’ve not heard of this technique, you can think of it as barbeque. The cooks use open wood fires which are seen to be more authentic than modern means of cooking. The fascinating thing about braai is that it is a communal event and it brings people together. In these occasions, people make merry and catch up as the meat cooks, and it is more of a social experience than it is a meal. During these events, it is not uncommon for people to indulge in some wine, beer or their Amarula Cream Liqueur.

Some of the meals you are likely to come across in the country are pap, chakalaka, koeksisters, and melktert.

Social Customs

South Africa was under British influence for a considerable time and thanks to this, some of the customs you may come across are English. One of these examples would be the afternoon tea to which many people have taken.

However, most of the customs are entirely African such as the bringing of gifts to friends, not leaving food on the plate and indulging in meat often. Vegetarians are sure to get an odd look or two once they do not touch the flesh on display. One of the customs that brings people together is their weddings which are quite interesting, owing to the many traditions in play.


During the weddings, the couple takes time to embrace their traditions through the use of symbols. These symbols come in handy during trying times in their marriage, and they can then look back to the day of their wedding for strength.

There is wheat which stands for productivity, when it comes to fertility and material acquisitions, with the key one being land. The wine symbolizes the merging of two families in blood. Pepper represents the heated arguments that the couple is likely to have in the course of their marriage. Salt reminds a couple of healing and that they should preserve their union. Water is a symbol of purity, and it works to dissolve any bitterness between the two. Bitter herbs come in handy to remind the couple that with time, they will experience growing pains.

wedding banner

The pot and spoon represent the healthy food that they will partake to raise a strong family while the shield stands as a sign of the pride and honour that will come to them. The spear protects the couple’s marriage while honey reminds the two of the love that they share. The broom is there to symbolize a clean life, and the Holy Book is to signify that God has power over the union.

In addition to these symbols, there is a tiered wedding cake to represent fertility as well as children, the lighting of the fire and the carrying of the bride over the threshold. As a guest at the wedding, be sure to show up with a gift for the couple. Given that there have been many strides into the modern way of life, something from the shop will do. Or you could make a statement by getting something more thoughtful, say a swartpotjie? Then you will have made a mark on the event.

Here’s to the preservation of this diverse culture!