Friday, April 19th, 2024

Close this search box.

South African Proverbs and Sayings

No comment
Sunday, February 21st, 2016
No comment

Umhambi uyahlinzekwa.
A traveller is provided for.
( It is a good thing to look after those who have visited you)

Akukho kufa kunjani.
No death is different.
(Eventually we will all die, even if you are scared of going to a dangerous place. This proverb is used to encourage someone to go regardless of the dangers.)

Ukukhula kukubona izinto.
To grow is to see things.
(One grows through experience.)

Isityeba mva sinqol’ intaba.
The last to be rich, ascends the mountain.
(The last to succeed is noticed more, so do not rush.)

Ubukhulu abuphangwa.
Greatness is not rushed for.
( It pays to be patient, your time will come too.)

Kuyasa nangomso.
It shall dawn again tommorow.
( Tommorow is still another day if you failed today.)

Ukusa akufiki kabini ukuzakuvusa umntu.
Dawn doesn’t come twice to wake a person up.
(You cannot regain lost time, so when dawn comes you must wake up and work and not wait another second more.)

Indoda imba kwenye eqolo.
A man takes from another mans back.
(No one can succeed without help from others.)

Umzingisi akanashwa.
One who perseveres has no misfortune.
(You must not let obstacles discourage you. If you persevere you will eventually win.)

-Motsamai o ja noha
-A traveller eats even a snake
-When you are not at home situations force you to do what you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
-Leoto ke moloi
-The foot is a witch
– The foot is taken as being evil because it takes you to a place where you might encounter danger
-Ligundvwane liphila ngemajobo esihambi
-The house mouse lives through the traveller’s loinskin
-A traveller encounters difficulties that local people dont
-Unyawo alunampumulo
-The foot has no nose
-Dont abuse and bully strangers, because you dont know where they come from. Tomorrow your feet might lead you to their place of origin and you will find yourself in trouble.


-Mafutsana a llelana
-Orphans mourn for each other
(Poor people help each other because they know the pain)

Noka e tlatswa ke dinokana
-The river is filled by the streams
(Small efforts combined will result in something big)

-Ngaka ha e iphekole
-The healer does not diagnose himself
(Even an expert needs help from others)

-Botshollwa bo chesa, bo tsohe bo fodile.
– Its hot when its poured, but tomorrow it will have cooled down.
(Overtime tempers subside, just like a liquid thats poured while hot and tomorrow it will be cold

-Tshwene ha e ipone lekopo
-The baboon does not see its forehead
(A person usually does not see his own flaws, but sees those of others)

Royalty is one aspect of African societies. From time immemorial our societies have been led by kings and chiefs. The very existence of society and balance was brought about by the system of kings, queens and chiefs. This has created separate classes. That of royalty and that of commoners. We will look at proverbs that talk about how the royalty and its subjects interact.
-Seyingene kuteNkhosi.
-Its now part of the kings herd

(according to traditions of emaSwati, the kings cattle do not mix with those belonging to commoners. If by accident your cattle becomes mixed with the kings herd, it is now his. You will not get it back.
You will then hear emaswati when you want something that belongs to you and they will say seyingene kuteNkhosi which means you will not get it back, likening it to a cattle which wandered into the kings herd.)

Siswati proverb
-Dza musanda dzi ţahula tshene
-Royal cattle (don’t damage crops, they merely) pull up weed.

(if you are from rural areas you know that cattle in summer must be looked after by herd boys. That is because people have ploughed vast fields which are not fenced. If the cattle are not looked after they will wander into the fields and damage the crops. Traditionally if cattle damage your crops you go to the chief to report the matter and demand their owner to pay damages. But what if the chiefs cattle wander into your fields? The Venda will say the royal cattle were actually weeding your fields!

This proverbs has been used to prove that the royal family will never be found guilty of anything, because the royal family is never wrong.

Tshivenda proverb
-Ukusuza komnumzane kuyazitshwa ngumfokazane.
-The farting of the head of the homestead is ignored by the commoner.

( every homestead of amaZulu has umnumzane, the head of the family. The man who makes desicions. Everyone is bound by his word. It is law. Should it happen that umnumzane accidentally farts in front of his family, they will ignore it. They might even beat a nearby animal such as a dog and accuse it of the farting.
This proverbs has come to symbolize the mistakes that people of authority do. The commoner will ignore them just like ignoring the patriachs fart.

Monokotshwai ha o butswe ka ho ya ka ditakatso tsa tshwene.

A strawberry doesn’t ripen according to the wishes of a baboon.
You may wish for things to happen in a certain way, but at the end they happen differently. people will tell you though they have succeeded but it was not really the kind of success they dreamt of, but its success. the final product of a thing might not be what you pictured but find that its still good just like the ripening of strawberry, the baboon might have a dream of how it should ripen but cannot control it and when its ripe its still as delicious.

Noka e tlatsoa ke dinokana
A river is filled by tributaries

The meaning of this proverb is that all big and beautiful things started small, therefore the action that might seem futile today all lead to something greater tomorrow, even a river as huge as the Vaal or Orange if filled by lots of smaller streams.

Isikhova sidla ngeso laso, esimehl’ ankungu sifa yindlala
the owl eats its eye,the one with misty eyes dies of hunger

(everyone lives through their hard work, if you dont work hard you will suffer)
Ithemba alibulali,kubulala ubungxamo
Hope never kills,but rushing things does

(it is good to be persevering because eventually things will become alright, dont rush them to be)
Isiqhelo siyayoyisa ingqondo
Habit defeats the mind-

(as humans we are creatures of habit, once you get used to doing something it becomes hard to change, even if your mind wants to)
Ukukhula kukubona
Growing is seeing-

(as you grow you see things with a diferent eyes than when you were young)
Inkomo isengwa ngoyaziyo
A cow is milked by the one who knows it-

(you must leave things to those who know how to do them)

Losemuva ngulosembili
The one behind is the one ahead.
Just because you have succeeded and take yourself to be ahead in life dont grow pompous, the person you think you are better than today might be the one you need hel from tomorrow. thats how life is you are ahead today, behind tomorrow

Mong wa molao ga o itse
The one who makes law doesnt know the law.

(Those who make laws are often the ones who brake them.)
Moja pele o tshwana le moja morago
The one who ate first is the same as the one who ate last

(success is success, whether you succed first or last.)
Kgomo ga e ke e tlhaba mong wa yone.
A cattle will not attack its owner.

(A good child is one who makes his/her parents proud of them.)
Ke utlwile ga e tshwane le ke bonye ka matlho.
I heard is not the same as I saw.

(One who is trusted is the one who saw than the one who also heard from someone.)
Ga go lekanwe go se meno.
People are not equal unlike teeth

(People are not equally gifted in their talents and skills.)
Ere o tlhalefela ngaka, le bolwetse o bo tlhalefele.
When you become wise of the healer, also become wise of the sickness.

(Its better to prevent sickness from occuring in the first place.)
Ere ontima, o mphele ngwana.
You might stint me, but be generous to my child.

(if you refuse to give something to someone but give it to their child instead its like you have still given it to them.)
Ere o fitlhela pina e binwa, o e bina.
when you find a song being sung, sing it too.

(If you have gone to a place, do as people of that place do.)

Kgomo ha di na motloha pele
In a herd of cattle, it doesn’t matter which is ahead

Imbewu ihlalela ihlanga layo.
Each seed waits for its time to be sowed.


When cattle live the cattle brye to the grazing pastures, it really doesn’t matter which cattle is ahead because in the end they will all reach the pastures and graze. Thats also how life is, success does not come to us at the same time. the fact that we are of the same age or come from the same neirghbourhood does not mean that things will happen to us simultaneously. One must be patient and wait for their time just like the proverb says that each seed patiently waits for its time to be sowed and then germinate and grow into a plant.

Nomu a wu taleriwi hi nami.
The mouth can cross any river.

(It is easier said than done.)
Xandla famba, xandla buya.
Let the hand go, let the hand come back.

(A giving hand is a receiving hand)
Xihlovo a xi dungiwi loko u heta kunwa mati.
Don’t dirty the well after drinking water.

(Don’t treat bad a person who has helped you. You will need their help in the future.)
Ku teka hi ku hoxa nyoka exikhwameni.
Getting married is like putting a snake in your pocket.

(marriage will always have its troubles.)

Ukufunda akupheli, kuphela amalanga.

Learning never ends, its the days [of living ] that end.

Emehlo namabili ayabonisana

Two eyes help each other

(if you have people to help you you make informed decisions)
Emandla endvodza akapheli

Strength of a man has no ending

(You can loose everything you have but as long as you live, you can start afresh)
Alimbiwa ligodzi umuntfu angakafi

A grave must not be dug until a person is dead

(you must never give up, as long as you breath there is still hope. even when someone is sick in the family you must not loose hope until the last breath is drawn)
Inhlambi ifela emantini

A diver is killed by the water

(An expert in something is usually killed by the very thing he claims to be the master of, just like when an expert diver drowns in the water)
Bantfwana bangumliba loya embili

Children are like plant offshoots that ever go forward.

(Children are the future of the nation)
Matsanga ahlantela labangenambita

Those who do not have pots, often get a good harvest of pumpkins.

(Opportunity often presents itself to people who are not ready to take advantage of it. but those who are prepared will not get it.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *