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South Africans and their Subcultures

26 September 2014


"Culture is the sum of all forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved” – Andre Malraux

Heritage Day has come and gone, but that won’t stop us at House of York from embracing our heritage and all that South Africa is about. As many of you will know, Heritage Day is celebrated to honour the vast cultures in our country – and there are tons of them.

A rainbow nation we are indeed; with English, Afrikaners, Xhosas, Zulus and even South African Indians – there are just too many to name, but it’s evident that we live in a very culture-rich country.

These aren’t the cultures we’re talking about in this article though. All South African cultures consist of subcultures; and there are hundreds of them. We chose 5 to show you and explore, from the award-winning Smarteez to the infamous Zef style, let’s take a look at some interesting South African subcultures in depth.


Step into Soweto in Johannesburg and you’ll probably come across a very interesting youth subculture called Izikhothane. Izikhothane is the Zulu word meaning "to boast” – and that’s exactly what this unique subculture is all about.

A group of the youth living in Soweto adopt this subculture, where they proudly don expensive designer name brand clothing that goes way beyond their own financial status. They also walk around showing people the money they have while sipping on highly priced alcohol brands, such as Hennesey.

But that’s not all there is to this culture. After spending so much money on looking good and like a million bucks, they need to show it off and show other people just how wealthy they are. Izikhothanes take part in a somewhat bizarre ritual where they go to other neighbourhoods and burn their own expensive (sometimes brand-new) clothing, just to get a status in the community.

Kom Ons Braai

Perhaps the most well-known South African subculture of all is braaing. It’s so popular, that most of the country recognises Heritage Day as National Braai Day and they all organise big gatherings where they can stand around the fire and cook meat.

The subculture of braaing started out mostly between the white Afrikaners. From there is spread throughout all cultures and now is more of a social phenomenon. We even have our own reality TV show based on it called The Ultimate Braaimaster– which is much like Masterchef, except on the braai.

A South African braai is unique and fun because it can last for hours and all different types of meat are cooked on it at the same time. For the truly South African experience, try out some red meat and boerewors on the fire.


When it comes to describing the Smarteez, eccentric and "out there” are understatements. Like Izikhothane, they also hail from Soweto and use fashion as a means to express this subculture.

The Smarteez are a small youth group of fashion designers who dress in bright and mismatching colours and patterns to make their statement. Their belief is that they’re born to be free and so they will express that by wearing what they want and drawing attention to themselves in the meantime.

Their style may be a bit too vibrant for some, but it makes the Smarteez instantly recognisable when wondering around Soweto – and they even won an award for the most stylish subculture in Johannesburg!


Zef is a more well-known subculture thanks to it becoming a household name after popular rap group, Die Antwoord, exploding onto the scene. They were followed by Jack Parow and together they are the epitome of what Zef is about – turning it around from a derogatory term to a style.

The term originates from the Ford Zephyr, which was predominately driven by this group of South Africans. Rather than it being an offensive term these days, it’s now based more on what you wear, what you drink and what you drive.

The Zef subculture refers mostly to the white, lower middle class people in South Africa and has been around for a lot longer than Die Antwoord. To put it simply, we could say that Zef is similar to what Guidos are in USA. People described as Zef are the ones wearing crocs, a crop top (including men) and showing off a mullet cut to perfection – just think of David Spade in Joe Dirt. He was rather zef in that.

There are so many more subcultures in this diverse country of ours. In the spirit of Heritage Day, let us know on our Facebook page if you have more to add to our list.

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