What is Zef?

Putting it simply, South Africa is a diverse nation. With a long and complex history of immigration and race relations, today’s post-Apartheid South Africa gets seen very rarely in the world’s media landscape. For many westerners, South Africa’s history stops with the election of Nelson Mandela.

Die Antwoord is a three-person “rap/rave crew” hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa. Led by rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, with support from DJ Hi Tek, Die Antwoord claims to be representing Zef, a cultural movement among white Afrikaaners, “the descendants of Dutch homesteaders who have been living in Southern Africa for almost 500 years” (Bishop). Because whites are a minority of the total population, Zef is a minority movement in South Africa.


Zef, which literally translates to “common,” is a subculture adopted by lower-class white South Africans only in the last 15 or so years. Physically, it’s like throwing it back to the worst fashions of the 1980s. Zef is unapologetically tacky and bright. It is aggressive and in your face. Yo-Landi Visser can be seen in her videos wearing multiple watches on each wrist, sporting her signature rat tail and straight bangs. In the video for ‘Baby’s On Fire,’ she wears a matching bra and shorts decorated with a standard yellow smiley face, an outfit you’d really only see at a warehouse rave in 1993. Zef is, in a way, similar to the culture surrounding country music in America, a refined and mainstream interpretation of historically considered “White Trash” customs.

Contextually, Zef is rebellious. As the story goes, for generations, white Afrikaaners have continually adopted the culture of their parents, probably in a way to separate themselves from other races and communities within the racially divided country. In the post-Apartheid nation, however, there’s no longer pressure for whites to retain this elitist culture.

South Africa is a large, heterogenous nation with a rich (although tense) history behind it. For a nation which produces very little media content in the worldwide media landscape, what comes out of South Africa and into the west is highly selective. There is very little, if any, media content in the international eye that is produced by and representative of black South Africans. White South Africans make up less than 10% of the total population, and yet the bulk of the popular media seen by the west is produced by that faction. 

Die Antwoord’s overseas influence is undeniable. They are signed to Interscope Records, and their worldwide record sales are impressive for a South African trio representing a minority subculture. Die Antwoord’s popularity, and the very nature of their exclusive representation of South Africa, may indicate that post-Apartheid South Africa is not as far along progressed as the rest of the world is lead to believe.





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