9 South African obsessions

Updated Sunday, 8 January 2017

Every group of people exhibits a particular set of idiosyncracies, or fascination with certain things, that differentiate them from others.

The Americans do compulsive snacking, high school yearbooks, constant emotional unburdening (usually in the form of a laborious novel) and law suits.

The British do tea, DIY, the weather, gardening, societal class, Mind the Gap and queues.

South Africans are preoccupied with the following – 9 South African obsessions


South Africa’s equivalent to the barbecue. Only worse. We’re so obsessed with staring at boerewors (farm sausage) or chipolatas on a grid over a flame, whilst sipping beer, that we have a National Braai Day dedicated to the event.

We sit glued to the Ultimate Braai Master on television, and the minute the sun is out, we head for the stoep. Built in braais are a serious status symbol, as is a Weber. You’ve got to be South African to understand…


Car guards

These, mostly informal, guards for your car are the country’s answer to employment for a large sector of society (mainly foreign African immigrants). They wear anything from a reflective vest to a uniform and assign themselves, or are assigned in the case of some shopping centres, to watching over a group of cars.

They act as a hinderance to any possible theft, and provide peace of mind for car owners. There are no rules around the exchange of ‘security’ for money. Paid anything between two and ten Rand for their effort, there are as many instances where one does not need a car guard as there are where their presence barely qualifies as a deterrent. But they are here to stay.

Cell phones

Despite the huge disparity between rich and poor in South Africa, everyone has a cell phone (mobile phones in other parts of the world). Our youth tap out countless SMS messages (cheaper than voice calls) whilst more than 75% among low-income groups who are 15 years or older own a mobile phone.

In fact, there are more SIM cards in South Africa than there are people, according to statistics that claim that mobile penetration in South Africa is as high as 128%.


Hair straightener

We shun natural, kinky hair and exalt straight, lanky hair. And this is not even a ‘black’ thing. Black and white women spend a fortune at hairdressers across the country having their hair straightened. If it isn’t Brazilian blowouts, then it’s relaxer products.

Keeping up with the Jones’s (or ‘conspicuous consumption’)

South Africans are big on accumulating material goods as a demonstration of socio-economic superiority. Our status depends on the suburb in which we live, the cars that we drive, the schools our kids attend, and the number of consumer gadgets we drape on our walls and kitchen counters.

Looking impressive is something we care about, obviously, or 5 million of us wouldn’t be drowning in debt. Debt counsellor, Paul Slot, reckons that most South Africans live above their means. A recent study shows that as much as 76% of our income goes to repay debt. Worse still, many of us are one paycheck away from poverty (little savings or an emergency fund).



What would we have left to discuss over dinner parties if we solved the issue of protecting our properties from crime?

Most middle-class homes in the country have signed annual contracts with private armed security firms who will jump the wall (provided it does not have an electric fence – then you need to foot the extra bill to install a key safe in an outside wall to give them access) should you find yourself faced with a ‘situation’. On top of the security fee, we have alarms, electronically controlled gates, burglar bars and panic buttons.


South Africans are mall rats. We’re a nation of shoppers for whom a weekend away (without access to malls) is tantamount to taking a plant out of water. This habit goes together with our over-zealous consumption. But it’s also our youth’s hangout. Black and white teenagers, cell phones to ears, wander the corridors hanging out in groups and spending their parents’ money in local coffee shops and movie houses.

By 2016 the number of large malls in South Africa will grow to 180. At least 25 new mega shopping centres will grace the scene between 2013 and 2016. They will double in the space of five years.

Shopping Mall

Spectator sports

To say that we’re a nation obsessed with sport is an understatement. Rugby, footie and cricket have serious followings. We take our teams seriaas! We display team stickers and colours on the windows of our cars, whilst some of us think nothing of a walk down the aisle to the Blue Bulls anthem.

Rugby is hugely popular with whites, football has a mainly black and coloured following (although we tend to obsess over international teams, like Manchester United), whilst our cricket team has managed to regain its position as the world’s number two, slowly recovering from the Hansie Cronje debacle in 2000.


The only airline to serve a sky braai (alright, it was April Fool’s day, so are we still unsure whether the chop, piece of boerewors, half a mealie and some pap and sous really is available inflight), but we do love their humorous safety demo and the most South African airways saga, in which SAA filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority for Kulula’s use of the term ‘South African’ on their planes (their tail fin uses a version of the South African flag, which also has SAA up in arms – shame!).


Can you think of anymore South African obsessions? Let us know in the comments below …