Zef is a term that has been used by the South African band Die Antwoord, but the phrase isn’t unique to the hip-hop duo and their style. What is the style that inspired the band’s ‘poor but fancy’ look – and where does the idea of something being called ‘zef’ come from?
Here’s an explanation of the phrase, and why it makes up the larger blanket of unique South African culture.
The phrase zef is commonly associated with the hip-hop duo Die Antwoord, but it’s not a term that applies only to the rapper crew.
When used by the band and their fans, it refers to the style that Ninja has described as being ‘poor but [you’re] fancy’. Loud music, loud cars, bright colours, and jewelry – that is part of what could be described as a zef image.
The phrase is used for their new documentary, for which Die Antwoord have already released a trailer.
But the term didn’t start with the band.
The term zef is a descriptive word that was originally an insult, used by people who were looking down on working class people. According to Urban Dictionary, the phrase originally meant to degrade someone’s social status – like Ninja said, being ‘poor but fancy’.
When used in South Africa during the 80s and 90s, it had mostly negative connotations. Nobody wanted to be zef, and nobody wanted someone to call them this – at least for the most part.
Today, the term refers to a culture that people intentionally embrace in all its bright colours and styles.
The origins of the term lies in a car that was once very popular in South Africa; the Ford Zephyr.
First released in the 1950s, the car was immediately popular with drivers in the United Kingdom – but also with the middle-class in South Africa.
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Eventually, regardless of what they drive, the term became associated with things that are ‘common’ – like toilet Barbies and crocheted bathrooms.