A social history of urban male youth varieties in Stirtonville and Vosloorus, South Africa

  • Heather Brookes
  • Tshepiso Lekgoro


Informal male youth varieties are a widespread phenomenon of township life across South Africa. A common view is that there are two varieties with separate origins: a Bantu language-based variety, called Iscamtho, and an Afrikaans-based variety called Tsotsitaal that has decreased in use because of the unpopularity of Afrikaans. This article examines the origins and relationship between these two varieties by investigating the social history of Bantu- and Afrikaans-based varieties in two townships east of Johannesburg: Stirtonville (a mixed-race township) and its successor, Vosloorus, to where, Bantu languagespeaking Stirtonville residents were forcibly moved in 1964. Young men who were old enough to participate in male youth street social networks in Stirtonville mainly used an Afrikaans-based slang. When Stirtonville residents moved to Vosloorus, the grammatical base of the male youth variety shifted from Afrikaans to Zulu and South Sotho. These findings suggest that the Afrikaans and Bantu language-based youth varieties are not separate phenomena with different origins. Rather, they support more recent work on male youth communicative practices showing that these informal varieties are not separate languages, but manifestations of one phenomenon, a performative style of speaking among young men involving the insertion of a slang lexicon into a local language.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2014, 32(2): 149–159

Author Biographies

Heather Brookes
SARChI Linguistics, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Tshepiso Lekgoro
Department of Anthropology and Development Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614