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Although dala typically means to “create”, the term has taken on a variety of new meanings as a slang term.

Dala is just one of many slang terms that South Africans use on a daily basis. But unlike some of the other popular slang terms making the rounds, dala can be used in an array of different ways.

Dala meaning South Africa

South Africa is known worldwide as the rainbow nation and with 12 official languages (now including South African Sign Language [SASL]) this classification definitely includes the colourful variety of local mishmashed, borrowed and invented slang terms.

However, between fan-favourites like “howzit”, “aweh”, “gwaai”, “umkhaba”, and “zamalek”, there is one slang term that can be chopped and changed to fit into just about any South African-sized space in a conversation. “Dala” (pronounced daah-lah) which you could hear in contexts ranging from family fights to workplace motivational speeches – has a variety of meanings and an equally varied origin.


While dala is now most commonly used in its slang form throughout South Africa, the word actually originates from Xhosa. The Xhosa word “dala”, when directly translated to English, means ‘to create’ or to ‘give rise to’.

Though like any good South African slang term, it has now evolved beyond this original definition. In fact, a recent academic journal by Toyer and Peck, which was published in Volume 52 of Discourse, Context & Media actually posited that “The seemingly effortless uptake of [the #dalawhatyoumust hashtag] by diverse South Africans suggest that it has somehow become unmoored of its ethnic and linguistic inception”.


When dala is used as a slang term, rather than as its original form, it means to “do”, rather than to “create”.

Perhaps one of the most common ways that you will see dala used is in the phrase “Dala what you must” or “dala what you cava”, which can be roughly translated to “do what you must” or “do what needs to be done”. This phrase is not only used to encourage the inception of a task, but it can also be used as a sort of quiet recognition that something is out of your control and “is what it is”.

Everyday Usage Cases/Examples

And while “dala what you must” will already get you far in just about any conversation with a South African, there are also a few other ways to incorporate this versatile slang term into your everyday conversations.

You can also use dala in the following ways:

Use Example
To ask if something has been done “Did you dala your homework?”
In place of the word kiss “No dala on the first date”
To motivate someone “It is not what you dala, but how you dala”