DATA DAY | A Household Name: How to say “Shack” in different parts of South Africa

 In Data Day


Up to 10 million South Africans live in shacks; simple huts built from corrugated iron sheets attached to a basic wooden frame. The prevalence of shacks across the country has resulted in a colourful variety of names used to describe this humble abode.

We were curious to see how many names we could find, and conducted a snap-survey with our colleagues and friends to compile a list. We found 25 alternative words for ‘shack’ spread over 11 official languages and compiled an infographic of the results.

A number of themes are discernable among the meaning of the words. Most names are derivatives of another word, sometimes of a different language. Others can refer to the physical features a shack, or what the shack is used for. Some words are colloquial or slang, while others are (more mainstream) nouns that simply mean ‘shack’.

At a deeper level, many of these words offer clues to the phenomena of indigenous urbanisation in South Africa; embodied in such words as ‘mjondolo’, which is used to describe both the city of Johannesburg and ‘to stay overnight’.

It is important to remember that early shack dwellers would have come from rural villages where this particular type of housing structure did not actually exist. Shacks were an associated element of the urban realm; a place outside of the village, a place where migrants mixed, a place of hardship and ingenuity – all the ingredients for new words to emerge.

Where there is data there is hope!

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