Six little things that give South Africa character

From Shongololos to Shosholoza, there are so many little things that make South Africa unique.


Just the other day I was chatting with my family and, as we do so often, we began to reminisce about our time living in South Africa. As we were talking we realised how unique all the things we were talking about were, which inspired me to write the following list.

1. The Tokoloshe

The Tokoloshe is a small evil character in Zulu mythology. Our housekeeper told me when I was a child that I should raise my bed and sleep as high as possible so that the Tokoloshe would not bite off my toes.

Tokoloshe Wikimedia Commons/Toanke
Wikimedia Commons/Toanke

According to superstition, the only way to remain safe from the Tokoloshe is to put a brick beneath each leg of your bed. Silly as it may sound, I hope to tell my future child the tale of the Tokoloshe as it is one that amazed me.

2. Parktown Prawns

This was literally my least favorite thing about living in South Africa. You may not know this but these horrifying creatures are actually called Libanasidus vittatus. These heinous unwelcome visitors are found in homes and in gardens.

Parktown Prawns Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

I can recall at least two Parktown Prawn sightings a month especially after a rainstorm. My instant response to seeing them was to leap up onto the highest table because they have the ability to jump and also spray black liquid which is actually their faecal matter – Yuck!

As much as I hate to admit it, Parktown prawns are useful pest controllers as they feed on snails and fallen fruit; however I can’t help but view them as a pest themselves!

3. Shongololos

In South Africa these millipedes are affectionately known as “shongololos.” The name is derived from the word “ukushonga” which means to roll or roll up. This makes sense as any South African knows that when these creatures feel scared they do just that.

Shonogololo / Millipede

“shongololos” are harmless and often become playmates for young children. I remember playing with them as a young girl and being so fascinated when they would roll up.

4. Thunderstorms

Oh how I miss the bold, beautiful and vivacious South African thunderstorms. I have very clear memories of being in the car with my parents or being at home and being struck by a sudden thunderstorm.

Joburg van der Westhuizen

These thunderstorms are unlike any thunderstorms I have witnessed in America. They are loud and powerful, accompanied by bright white lightening and followed by delicate drops of rain. These thunderstorms are a treat for any storm chaser and really a treat for anybody who enjoys a lot of thunder and lightning.

5. Africanised Bees

Africanised bees do not play. In America getting stung by a bee is a rarity as they are pretty peaceful unless you physically go up to them and start messing with them.

Africanised Bee - Daniel Plumer Plumer

The bees found in America are European bees. Unlike European bees, Africanised bees are angry and out for blood, they are called killer bees for a reason. They are far more likely to attack a perceived threat than a European bee. They are also much smaller in size and faster than European bees; however, their venom is no more lethal than European bees.

6. Shosholoza 

I don’t care how long you have been living in another country, when you hear “Shosholoza”, you remember what South African pride is all about. “Shosholoza” is a traditional African mining song. There is no song more powerful and more meaningful to a South African than “Shosholoza.”

Although you may have pledged your allegiance to another country you will never be able to deny the overwhelming feeling of pride that comes rushing through your bloodstream when you hear this hopeful song. “God Bless America” just doesn’t have the same gusto as “Shosholoza.”

So if you are like me, and have forgotten how absolutely powerful and amazing this song is, I urge you to sing along. No matter how far you have wandered, always remember that you are proudly South African.

Shosholoza Kule … Zontaba Stimela siphume South Africa Wen’uyabaleka Wen’uyabaleka Kule … Zontaba Stimela siphume South Africa Shosholoza Kule … Zontaba Stimela siphume South Africa Wen’uyabaleka Wen’uyabaleka Kule … Zontaba Stimela siphume South Africa

There are many things that give South Africa its character, so tune in next week for part two.