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Jeugdag: Celebrating Youth Day in South Africa

A Stack of Books with an Apple on Top Every child deserves the right and the means to have a proper education and pursue their dreams, but for a long time, the education system in South Africa didn’t allow this. Apartheid caused great inequality in terms of education, meaning that not every South African child was able to receive a good education or attend a decent school.

In this article, you’ll learn a little about the events that led to a better South African education system, some interesting facts about Youth Day in South Africa, and essential vocabulary for talking about this holiday.

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1. What is Youth Day?

A Stack of Books with an Apple on Top Youth Day in South Africa is a holiday set aside to onthou (“remember”) the 1976 Soweto oproering (“uprising”). This uprising was the result of an attempt by the Apartheid regime, through the Bantu Education Act, to make Afrikaans the only language used to teach in schools. This would have made a proper onderwys (“education”) difficult, or even impossible, to attain for many youths in South Africa. There were two key issues with this Act that led to the uprising:

1) Because the South African education sisteem (“system”) would now put greater focus on language, there was little room for critical thinking.

2) This Act also caused for there to be separate black and white schools—a massive breach of equality. The schools for black students were notoriously of poor quality and were very divisive.

The Soweto Uprising consisted of thousands of South Africans, mainly students, who protested the Bantu Education Act. They marched toward the Orlando Stadium in what they intended to be a peaceful protest, though police soon barricaded their path, and the protest ended in violence. The police killed several of the protesters, and many more lost their lives in the weeks that followed.

This uprising eventually led to a series of events that ended Apartheid, thus creating more equality in South Africa. Youth Day both commemorates this tragic event and encourages people to honor today’s youth.

2. When is Youth Day in South Africa?

A Man Remembering Something Important Each year, South Africans celebrate Youth Day on June 16, the date on which the Soweto Uprising took place.

3. How is Youth Day Celebrated in South Africa?

A Group of People Raising Their Arms in Celebration While the South African Youth Day commemorates a tragic event, don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s a completely sad day. On the contrary: In addition to the mourning and the solemn atmosphere, there’s hope and joy over the bevry (“liberation”) that the Soweto Uprising helped set in motion.

The most popular Youth Day celebration in South Africa is attending music festivals. People dance, sing, and spend time with loved ones during these festivals, which are held in celebration of today’s youth.

Some years, there are special Youth Day themes that encourage the population to focus on a specific element of youth. One year, the theme was about creating a “drug-free South Africa” and promoting proper youth development.

On National Youth Day, South Africans often take part in marches or rallies to promote children’s rights or demonstrate against related injustices. In addition, they may visit the gravesites or memorials of those who lost their lives in the Soweto Uprising and learn more about this event in museums or by attending educational events.

4. Hector Pieterson

This may be the most well-known name associated with the Soweto Uprising, and for a good reason. Hector Pieterson was a twelve-year-old boy involved in the uprising, who was tragically shot to death by a police officer. Pieterson became the face of this movement, inspiring South Africans to continue fighting for equal rights and schooling.

In Soweto, there’s a Hector Pieterson memorial and museum, which many South Africans visit on Youth Day.

5. Must-Know Youth Day Vocabulary

Someone Drawing Mechanical Gears on a Blackboard Ready to review some of the vocabulary words from this article? Here’s a list!

  • Onderwyser — “Teacher” [n.]
  • Skool — “School” [n.]
  • Onthou — “Remember” [v.]
  • Oproering — “Uprising” [n.]
  • Fier — “Celebrate” [v.]
  • Herken — “Recognize” [v.]
  • Bevry — “Liberation” [n.]
  • Onderwys — “Education” [n.]
  • Skiet — “Shoot” [v.]
  • Sisteem — “System” [n.]

If you want to hear the pronunciation of each word, be sure to visit our Afrikaans Youth Day vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Youth Day in South Africa is a time of mournful commemoration—and, at the same time, a day of hope. Through resilience and the desire for a better world, South Africans are able to look past the despair of this holiday and see into a brighter future led by today’s youth.

What are your thoughts on this holiday? Do you celebrate a holiday similar to Youth Day in your country?

If you’re interested in learning more about South African culture and the Afrikaans language, has several free resources for you, straight from our blog:

  • Celebrating Cultural Heritage Day in South Africa
  • Vryheidsdag: Celebrating Freedom Day in South Africa
  • The Most Commonly Used Nonverbal Gestures in South Africa
  • Life Event Messages: “Happy Birthday” in Afrikaans & More!
  • Afrikaans Etiquette in South Africa: What You Need to Know

  • This only scratches the surface of our offerings, though! Create your free lifetime account today to make the most of your time on, or upgrade to a Premium or Premium PLUS account for exclusive content and lessons.

    We aim to make your learning experience simple and fun, while teaching you everything you need to know about the Afrikaans language.

    We hope to see you around, and Happy Youth Day! Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Afrikaans

    Celebrating Cultural Heritage Day in South Africa

    Cultural Heritage Day in South Africa

    Each year, South Africans celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of their country’s many cultures and peoples. Essentially, the meaning of Heritage Day in South Africa is that of unity and togetherness in spirit as a country; this is especially vital for the country when considering the rough South Africa heritage history of apartheid leading up to this holiday’s creation.

    In this article, you’ll learn some valuable information about Heritage Day in South Africa. In doing so, you should have a greater understanding of South African culture in general, and the significance of diversity therein.

    At, we hope to make every aspect of your learning journey both fun and informative! So let’s get started, and delve into the rich meaning and history of South Africa’s Heritage Day.

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    1. What is Heritage Day?

    On Heritage Day, South Africans celebrate the diversity of their country’s culture, traditions, and beliefs. South Africa is very eclectic in terms of cultures and belief systems, and Heritage Day offers the nation’s people a way to become cognizant about the other cultures within the borders of their nation.

    When did Heritage Day start in South Africa?

    In 1996, then-President Nelson Mandela urged all people living in the country to have a barbecue on Heritage Day to celebrate their traditions with alacrity. South Africa has an extensive history of divisiveness, so having a day when attention is focused on embracing differences in congruity rather than clamoring against those differences is especially important.

    Heritage Day is also about celebrating the many contributions of all people who live in South Africa today.

    2. When is Heritage Day?

    Heritage Day

    Each year South Africa celebrates its Heritage Day on September 24.

    3. How do South Africans Celebrate Heritage Day?

    Food Grilling on BBQ

    South Africans celebrate Heritage Day through a variety of events and activities held throughout the nation. For example, in Hout Bay, the residents celebrate with an army procession and a reenactment of a battle that happened there. However, celebrations can be vast, and there are many other public activities celebrating Heritage Day.

    Another way to celebrate is through wearing South African Heritage Day outfits, which comprise of the different types of dress across the country’s many cultures and peoples. This display of different, unique clothing is a prime example of both pride and belonging of various groups throughout South Africa.

    But is Heritage Day a public holiday in South Africa?

    Yes! On Heritage Day, most people have the day off work and school to fully immerse themselves in the celebrations.

    4. Many Names

    Do you know what other names people have called Heritage Day?

    Before 1995, September 24 was called Shaka Day to commemorate Shaka, the Zulu King. Shaka helped bring together the disparate Zulu clans into a single nation. The Zulu people gather every year at Shaka’s grave to pay homage to him on this date.

    In 2015, there was a media campaign which attempted to rebrand Heritage Day as National Braai Day because of the focus on barbecuing together.

    5. Useful Vocabulary for Heritage Day in South Africa

    Cultural Icon

    Here’s some vocabulary you should know for Heritage Day!

    • Braai — “Barbecue”
    • Erfenis — “Heritage”
    • Pret — “Fun”
    • Kultuur — “Culture”
    • Geloof — “Belief”
    • Tradisie — “Tradition”
    • Diversiteit — “Diversity”
    • Geslagte — “Generations”
    • Gemeenskap — “Community”
    • Identiteit — “Identity”
    • Divisie — “Division”
    • Verenig — “Unite”

    To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, check out our Afrikaans Heritage Day vocabulary list!

    How AfrikaansPod101 Can Teach You More About South African Culture

    We hope you enjoyed learning about Heritage Day with us! What are your thoughts on unity and diversity throughout South Africa? Does your country have a similar holiday? Let us know in the comments; we always love to hear from you!

    To continue learning about the rich cultures of South Africa and the Afrikaans language, explore We offer an array of fun and effective learning tools for every learner, at every level:

    • Insightful blog posts on a variety of cultural and language-related topics
    • Free vocabulary lists covering a range of topics and themes
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    The Most Commonly Used Nonverbal Gestures in South Africa


    Being understood in any language goes far beyond the spoken word. Everyone communicates with their entire body, not just with what they say. To muddy up communication even more, add cultural differences to the mix (take, for example, gestures in South Africa vs. the United States). This is succinctly explained in a quote from an article by Cynthia Ntuli, a student at the University of South Africa:

    “As human beings, we use language, i.e., verbal and nonverbal signals to communicate and interact with one another and to link us to the world. Much of what we do when we interact with others is based on our cultural values and background. In this interaction we often encounter people who not only use different languages but who also come from cultures and backgrounds different from ours. Because of our differences, misunderstandings may occur in the process of communication and this may have a negative effect on people around us.”

    Women in Suits Talking Around a Water Cooler

    Therefore, it’s important to know typical gestures as they’re used by Afrikaans-speaking people, as well as the rude gestures in South Africa. In Afrikaans language-learning, body gestures and how they’re used could mean the difference between making friends or making enemies! This makes Afrikaans lessons about body language an essential aspect of your learning journey.

    At AfrikaansPod101, we know that communication is a complex process, especially where Afrikaans body language is involved. So, read on for a quick and easy guide on the most commonly-used hand gestures in South Africa, as well as the ones to avoid. Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet – How to Improve Your Afrikaans Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

    1. Hand Gestures in South Africa
    2. Rude Hand Gestures in South Africa
    3. What Makes AfrikaansPod101 Different?

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    1. Hand Gestures in South Africa

    Afrikaans Hand Gestures

    The most important body language in South Africa for you to learn is hand gestures. Most hand gestures used by Afrikaans-speaking South Africans are fairly well-known in most Western cultures. There are only a few such Afrikaans body gestures that are fairly native to the language.

    1- Shaking Your Hand to Show Commiseration with Pain

    Let’s start with a typically South African gesture. This gesture in South Africa is used most commonly to indicate commiseration or empathy with someone when they’re experiencing physical pain or a situation of discomfort.

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    It’s not difficult—simply imagine injuring your finger painfully, like, for instance, getting it pinched in a door. What’s your first response? Universally, we either grasp the sore finger and squeeze it, or we vigorously shake the hand (usually with the palm towards the body and the fingers spread open), as if we’re literally trying to shake off the pain.

    All human bodies are, in fact, designed to instinctively do this to draw more blood to the site of pain and injury. The movement initiates the process of healing, but South Africans commonly use it as an eloquent gesture. Try it now by pretending you hit your finger with a hammer…

    Well, there you have the gesture! It’s custom to shake your hand approximately three times.

    2. When to Use

    Use this gesture if you witness someone injuring themselves. Usually, you would then suck in a breath through your teeth, and say something like: Eina! Is jy okey? meaning “Ouch! Are you OK?” Of course, you can offer help if the injury is serious and you know what to do. Otherwise, your simple empathy is enough.

    This gesture is also used as a non-verbal cue to express commiseration when experiencing (or expecting) an uncomfortable situation. Such as:

    Person 1: Ek skryf vandag eksamen en ek het deurnag gestudeer! Maar my brein voel sif, ek kan niks onthou nie!
    Translation: “I’m writing exams today and I studied through the night! But my brain feels numb, I can’t remember anything!”

    Person 2: *Pulls face in sympathy and uses this shaking gesture.* Eina! Ek hoop jy voel gou beter.
    Translation: “Ouch! I hope you feel better soon.”

    The gesture is common not only among Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, but in all other South African cultures too. Don’t use it to show sympathy for a serious incident or illness, though, such as death, a cancer diagnosis, or the like.

    2- Rubbing Fingers to Indicate Money or Texture

    This is yet another gesture in South Africa that’s so eloquent and universally understood that you don’t have to say anything to make yourself clear. It’s used to mean two things: money and the texture of soft fabric.

    Money Gesture

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    Clench your hand in a loose fist, and then rub your forefinger and thumb together, as shown in the illustration above. Repeat about three times.

    2. When to Use

    Spice up your conversation with this gesture when someone mentions a lot of money or something expensive. Like this:

    Person 1: Kyk daai Alfa 4C!
    Translation: “Look at that Alfa 4C!”

    Person 2: *Uses this rubbing gesture.* Ja, fantastiese karre en lekker duur!
    Translation: “Yes, fantastic cars and very expensive!”


    While using this popular gesture in South Africa, you could comment: Wys my die geld! meaning “Show me the money!”


    Ek soek ‘n bloes in sagte materiaal.
    “I’m looking for a blouse in a soft fabric.”

    3- Holding Thumbs or the Good Luck Gesture

    “Holding thumbs” is a positive, popular gesture in South Africa among the Afrikaans-speaking folk. It can even be called one of the South African gestures of respect.

    The gesture itself means you’re rooting for someone and wishing them good luck. In both Afrikaans and English, hou duimvas, or “holding thumbs,” is a common expression too, and popularly used together with the gesture.

    A Clover

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    Place your thumb flat onto the same hand’s palm. Now curl the rest of the fingers over the thumb, like infants are often seen doing. It’s similar to a fist clench, only the thumb gets placed under the other fingers, not over.

    2. When to Use

    Use this to indicate that you’re supporting someone in thought, and to wish them good luck for an important event. To properly use this gesture, you’d slightly raise your fist and say, for instance: Ek hou duimvas vir ons span! meaning “I’m holding thumbs for our team!”

    In a conversation, you can use it like this, as well:

    Person 1: Ek gaan my bestuurslisensie toets doen vanoggend.
    Translation: “I’m going for my driver’s license test this morning.”

    Person 2: *Slightly raises their fist in this gesture.* Voorspoed! Ek hou vir jou duimvas! Hoop jy slaag maklik.
    Translation: “Fare well! I’m holding thumbs for you! Hope you will pass easily.”

    Another gesture, crossing fingers, is similar but not completely identical in meaning. It’s also commonly used in many Western countries.

    4- Crossing Fingers: A Gesture to Wish for Good Luck

    This gesture in South Africa means the same as in many other countries. It’s based on an old superstition that you’ll be protected and/or gain good luck if you wish for it with your fingers crossed.

    Woman Crossing Fingers

    Crossing fingers has another, more nefarious meaning, also based on superstition. If you cross your fingers while telling a lie, or making a promise you’re not intending to keep, the belief is that you’re sort of asking God for forgiveness. Usually, you’d hold your crossed fingers behind your back.

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    Simply cross the middle finger of one or both hands over the index finger.

    Man Holding Fingers Behind His back

    2. When to Use

    It’s slightly more common among Afrikaans speakers to wish someone else good luck by holding thumbs than by crossing fingers. The Afrikaners also don’t have a specific word or phrase that goes with this gesture. However, you could, for instance, raise your crossed fingers, and say something like: Voorspoed! meaning “Best wishes!”

    If you’re betting or gambling, or if you wish good luck for yourself, simply cross your fingers and slightly raise your hands. Everyone will understand what you mean!

    5- The OK Gesture

    This is another popular gesture in South Africa that’s well-known in most Western countries. The OK gesture means just that—you’re fine and/or the situation is fine. It’s commonly used by divers who are underwater to indicate that everything is OK or safe.

    Woman Showing OK with One Hand

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    Form an O with your thumb and forefinger. Keep the other three fingers lifted.

    2. When to Use

    Any time you wish to indicate that something is great (such as fantastic food, or a magnificent car), or that you’re personally OK, this gesture is good to use.

    You could say something like: Alles reg hier! meaning “Everything OK here!” when you want to indicate that you’re fine.

    Or you could comment Manjifiek! meaning “Magnificent!” if something is particularly to your liking.

    6- Peace Sign and Bull’s Horns

    These signs have their origins in old Western superstitions, but in many cultures they mean different things. The gestures are rooted in popular heavy metal and rap culture, and the meaning is usually benevolent, such as wishing peace or warding off evil.

    In South Africa, you’ll usually see the younger generation using these gestures.

    Young Man Making the Peace Sign

    Two Men Showing the Bull's Horn Gestures

    1. What the Gestures Looks Like

    The Peace Sign is a raised fist with the index and middle fingers up. The palm is turned outward and away from the body.

    The Bull’s Horns is also a fist, with the index finger and pinky raised, sometimes with the thumb raised too. The palm is turned towards the body.

    2. When to Use

    Use these gestures in South Africa when you want to extend a benevolent greeting or salutation, mainly to young people.

    7- Tapping a Finger Against Your Head or Crazy/Clever Gesture

    This South African gesture has two meanings: crazy or clever.

    Man Tapping Finger Against Head

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    It’s pretty simple: Using the index finger, simply tap repeatedly against the temple.

    2. When to Use

    You need to be sensitive in your use of this gesture, or you could offend someone. If your gesture refers to someone who’s clearly suffering from mental health issues, you would be offensive to many. However, if you’re witnessing someone clowning around or making jokes, it would be appropriate to use this gesture with a smile while shaking your head. As if you’re saying: “What a crazy clown!”

    Or, you could use this gesture to indicate someone who’s brainy or very clever. To make your meaning clear, you could add a comment, such as: Dis slim van jou! meaning “That’s clever of you!” or Slimkop! meaning “Clever head!”

    So, these gestures are popular and positive ones to use when you’re in the company of Afrikaans-speaking people. There are a few rude ones, though.

    2. Rude Hand Gestures in South Africa

    The following gestures are rude and no-no’s for use in company. Completely avoid using these!

    1- The Fig Sign

    The fig sign is an important thing to note about body language in South African culture. This sign demonstrates the differences between cultures, because it’s considered to have an obscene, rude meaning in South Africa. It represents a common swear word. However, in Brazil, it’s used to ward off the so-called “evil eye,” and in Hindu culture, it has religious connotations.

    Fig Gesture

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    Holding the hand in a clenched fist, push the thumb through the index and middle fingers.

    2- Middle Finger Gesture

    This gesture is universally offensive and considered quite aggressive. Walk away if someone shows you this one, because they’re nonverbally swearing at you!

    Man Hand with Middle Finger in Obscene Gesture

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    As the image demonstrates, the hand is in a clenched fist, with only the middle finger raised. Usually, the hand is raised, too.

    3- The Peace Sign with Palm Towards Body

    This peaceful sign turned towards the body is, in some Afrikaans circles, considered an aggressive one. It means, more or less, the same as the middle finger, and serves as an offensive swear word.

    Man Making Two Peace Signs

    1. What the Gesture Looks Like

    The hand is in a fist, with the index and middle fingers raised, like the Peace Sign. However, the palm is turned inward, and usually, the complete gesture involves shoving both fists upward from the waist. The inference should be clear…!

    What Makes AfrikaansPod101 Different?

    So, these common gestures in South Africa will go a long way to help you communicate with clarity. At AfrikaansPod101, we make that process even easier with our culturally-relevant content, and our practical, fun approach to learning.

    When you enroll, you can expect to receive many benefits, including different membership options. Depending on your personal needs, these will unlock functions such as a personal tutor, available via text nearly 24/7, or access to knowledgeable, energetic hosts who are native Afrikaans speakers.

    Also get access to downloadable apps and many other tools you can use on your Android or IOS phone, tablet, or laptop—everywhere and anywhere! You can practice, for instance, an Afrikaans word a day or these 100 Core Afrikaans Words anywhere you are! Or, on your own time, learn with the help of these Afrikaans vocabulary lists.

    Get a new lesson delivered every day, and easily learn to speak Afrikaans like a native! Using popular gestures in South Africa, you’ll soon be fluent in every way. And with enough practice, you’ll be using them like a native.

    Which is your favorite gesture? Are any of these Afrikaans hand gestures similar to those in your country? Let us know in the comments! Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet – How to Improve Your Afrikaans Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

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