Culture of South Africa
There is no single Culture of South Africa. As South Africa is so ethnically diverse, it is not surprising that there are vast cultural differences as well.
Main Cultural differences
Because of the legacy of Apartheid segregation, many cultural differences correspond closely to the racial groups defined by Apartheid (Blacks, Whites, Coloureds, Asians). This may change as assimilation progresses, although currently (2004) many cultural differences between Apartheid-defined racial groups persist.
The country's black majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished and necessarily simple lives. However blacks are increasingly urbanised and westernised, and usually speak English or Afrikaans as a second language, in addition to their native tongue, which may be one of nine Bantu languages with official status since 1994. These include the Nguni languages, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sindebele, and Swazi, and the Sotho languages, which include Setswana, Sesotho, Sesotho sa Leboa and Venda. Cultural differences between speakers from the two language groups are comparable to those between speakers of German and Italian.
Most are Christian, with membership of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches being strong as is membership of the predominantly black Zion Church , although many still follow traditional beliefs, many often consulting a sangoma. There is a vibrant indigenous culture, with local popular music forms, such as kwaito, while black South African musicians such as the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, and Hugh Masakela are well known internationally.
The white minority lead lifestyles similar in many respects to whites found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia, with sport being immensely popular. The braai (short for braaivleis or barbecue) is another national pastime, epitomised by an old advertising slogan for Chevrolet cars in the 1960s: Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet.
Historical enmity between Afrikaans and English-speaking whites has given way to more amiable banter or rivalry. Afrikaners refer to an English speaker as a soutpiel or 'salt dick', on account of his divided loyalties: one foot in Africa; the other in England; and his genitals in the sea. A less rude and perhaps more common soubriquet was rooinek or 'red neck' referring to the sunburn of the recent immigrant. Similarly English speakers have long made 'Van Der Merwe' jokes about Afrikaners (who they sometimes refer to as "Dutchmen"), and who they regard as stupid and philistine. This historic rivalry between English and Afrikaans speaking whites may be coming to an end due to political considerations in post-apartheid South Africa.
Religious beliefs are also strong, with most Afrikaners adhering to the Dutch Reformed Church. Most English-speaking whites are either Anglican or Roman Catholic. Perhaps 150,000 whites are Jewish, with a similar number being of Portuguese origin. There are some Greeks and Christian Lebanese.
Many whites can be extremely defensive about their country, and about their past attitudes under the apartheid regime, which many supported, although there was a vocal liberal minority.
Coloured (Mixed-Race) people
The mixed-race Coloureds are, culturally speaking, much closer to whites, especially Afrikaans speakers, whose language and religious beliefs they share, than they are with black South Africans, despite suffering considerable discrimination under apartheid. A small minority of Coloureds, known as Cape Malays are Muslim. Well known members of the community include Springbok rugby player Chester Williams and jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim (also known as Dollar Brand).
Asians, (predominantly Indian origin) preserve their own cultural heritage, languages and religious beliefs, being either Hindu or Muslim, and speaking English, with Indian languages like Telugu or Gujarati being spoken less frequently.
Although Indian languages are seldom spoken or understood, English-subtitled Bollywood films and television programmes are popular among South African Indians.
There is a much smaller Chinese community in South Africa, although its numbers have been increased by immigration from Taiwan (athough the Taiwanese were classified as "White", rather than Asian by the Apartheid regime, and are thus are more culturally similar in many ways to whites than they are to other Asians).
International cultural boycott
Many countries imposed cultural boycotts on the apartheid regime, meaning that South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games until 1992, as well as rugby and cricket. When the all-white national rugby team, the Springboks, toured New Zealand in 1981, it provoked public outrage, as did the decision of the British rock group Queen to perform in the Sun City resort in the bantustan of Bophuthatswana. The American singer Paul Simon caused controversy when he recorded his Graceland album with the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, even though all its members were black.
Until the 1990s, the British actors' union, Equity, imposed a boycott on the sale of TV programmes to South Africa, although the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) happily bought US programmes instead.
Famous South Africans
Nelson Mandela is the most famous South African. Other famous recent politicians include F. W. de Klerk and Steve Biko. From earlier in the 20th century we have Jan Smuts who was perhaps South Africa's only international statesman until Mandela. D. F. Malan, Hendrik Verwoerd and J G Strijdom were architects of Apartheid. Perhaps the world's most famous Anglican churchman is Desmond Tutu. Winnie Mandela is loved by some and despised by others but known by all. Helen Suzman was for years the only "one person, one vote" democrat in parliament.
Well known South African sports stars include Gary Player, Jody Schekter, Kevin Curren , Zola Budd and Ernie Els.
While South Africa was isolated by the cultural boycott in the 1980s, there are now many well-known South African performing artists, and writers. They include playwrights such as Athol Fugard, and satirist Pieter Dirk Uys, actors like Anthony Sher, Hollywood stars like Charlize Theron, and Arnold Vosloo .
In music, the groups African Jazz Pioneers and Ladysmith Black Mambazo have found popularity worldwide. Another well known artist of South African origin is Dave Matthews lead singer of the Dave Matthews Band. Miriam Makeba a singer who first found fame in the culturally questionable musical Ipi Tombi , Dudu Pukwana a gifted jazz musician, and Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand), being on the wrong side of the colour bar, had to leave South Africa to fully exploit their talents - their music was not played on South African radio.
Writers like Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee have also found international acclaim, both being winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Sport - the national passion
However, sport is the main national passion, although it has traditionally been divided on ethnic lines. The most popular sport among black South Africans is soccer, with the national team being nicknamed Bafana Bafana (meaning 'The Boys'). Soccer tended to be less segregated than white-dominated sports, like Rugby or Cricket.
Many whites play rugby, which is especially popular among Afrikaners, who dominate the national side, the Springboks, and also cricket, traditionally popular among English-speaking whites.
After being tainted by associations with apartheid, the Springboks (or 'Boks') have sought to become part of the 'New South Africa', with President Nelson Mandela wearing the Springbok jersey, once only worn by whites, at the final of the World Cup in 1995, although allegations of racism remain.
The braai or barbecue is widely popular, especially with whites, and includes meat, especially boerewors or spicy sausages, and mielies (maize), often as a porridge, or millet, a staple food of black South Africans. Pastries such like koeksisters and desserts like melktert are also universally popular. Vegetarianism has traditionally been treated with incomprehension and scorn by South Africans, especially whites, but is now more widely accepted. Indian food like curry is also popular, especially in Durban with its large Indian population, but may be considered mild or bland by Indian or even British standards. A local Durban speciality is the 'bunny' or 'bunny chow', which consists of a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with (usually meat) curry. Cape Malay dishes, which have their origins in Southeast Asia include bobotie made from curried lamb, fruit and bread, served with rice, and sosatie, barbecued meat. The Portuguese community has also made its mark, with spicy 'peri-peri' chicken being a favourite, and the South African restaurant chain Nando's now has restaurants in the UK and Australia.
TV and films
Television, which for political reasons was not introduced in South Africa until 1976, is also popular. Traditionally, US programmes have dominated TV schedules. Programmes like The Bold and the Beautiful have been popular with South Africans of all races, but locally produced soap operas or 'soapies' now draw a captive audience. Unfortunately, much of it does not travel well overseas. For example, the soap opera Egoli - Place of Gold was bilingual in English and Afrikaans, with actors switching between languages, to the incomprehension of viewers in the rest of Africa. The SABC drama series Shaka Zulu, based on the true story of the Zulu warrior King Shaka, was shown around the world in the 1980s, but had to be marketed by a US distributor.
Ironically, while many foreign films have been produced about South Africa (usually involving race relations), few local productions are known outside South Africa itself. One exception was the film The Gods Must Be Crazy in 1980, set in the Kalahari. This is about how life in a traditional community of Khoikhoi (also known as Bushmen) is changed when a Coke bottle, thrown out of an aeroplane, suddenly lands from the sky. The late Jamie Uys, who wrote and directed The Gods Must Be Crazy, also had success overseas in the 1970s with his films Funny People and Funny People II, similar to the TV series Candid Camera in the US. Leon Schuster's You Must Be Joking! films are in the same genre, and hugely popular among South Africans.
In 2003, the New South African TV channel (NSAT) announced plans to broadcast on Sky Television in the UK, thereby reaching the large (predominantly white) expatriate community, showing a mix of South African entertainment, films, sport and news coverage.
- Music of South Africa
- List of South African poets
- Cinema of South Africa
- List of writers from South Africa
- List of South African television channels
- List of South African television series