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Introducing Kasi: A New Definition and Understanding of the African Concept beyond Its Surface

Kasi is a term you may have come across before… or not. But here are some definitions:

  • Kasi – ‘hood or ghetto.’ ~ Rekord
  • Kasi – diminutive of lokasie > Afrikaans word for location, otherwise referred to as loxion / lekeishene / township: a state of mind. ~Litnet.
  • Kasi /ˈkɑːsi/ (noun) Informal – South African: a neighbourhood in a city or area around a city occupied predominantly by black South Africans. ~ Oxford
  • Kasi – a rather special gender-neutral name, meaning “thorny tree,” “alert,” and “watchful.” Along with its varied meanings, this name also has a few origins; namely, Sanskrit, Irish, and Greek. ~ Thebump

It’s clear that “kasi” has many different meanings and pronunciations.  Here’s one way you pronounce it:

The term kasi has been used to refer to townships. “In South Africa, under apartheid, the term township (or location), in everyday usage, came to mean a residential development that confined non-whites (Blacks, Coloureds, and Indians) living near or working in white-only communities. Soweto (“SOuth-WEstern TOwnships”) and Mdantsane are well-known examples.” ~ Wikipedia.

We are adopting a new way of looking at the word, based on our experience of South Africa over the years. Here is our definition:

Kasi (noun)
A term used in South Africa and other parts of Africa to refer to all coastal and inland areas that are typically classified as rural, township, formal and informal settlements, traditional and/or indigent areas, and villages. These areas are a mix of high and low-population density geographical locations, generally established outside of urban centers where economic activities are more vibrant. Kasi includes areas that have historically experienced systemic inequality, marginalization, and exclusion, often resulting in limited access to basic services, opportunities, and resources. Kasi is commonly associated with a distinct cultural identity, characterized by a vibrant community spirit, creativity, and resilience in the face of adversity. The spirit of Ubuntu, which emphasizes sharing, unity, and community, is deeply ingrained in the fabric of kasi.


We have decided that the old definitions, at least based on how we see the future of kasi, are not inclusive enough. To us, kasi is a term that refers to a wider scope of geographical locations. These areas have experienced systemic inequality, marginalization, and exclusion, often resulting in limited access to basic services, opportunities, and resources. However, the term has evolved to represent more than just a geographical location or the history of the terrible regime that oppressed the people who lived in them.

To us, ‘kasi’ embodies a distinct cultural identity characterized by a vibrant community spirit, creativity, and resilience in the face of adversity. Because of this, the essence of the word predates and acknowledges history beyond colonialism, recognises the present conditions and is telling of the future. In this definition that we have adopted, the people of kasis carry the spirit of ubuntu, a traditional African philosophy emphasizing the importance of community, compassion, and human relationships. We’re not trying to paint a picture that kasis are all rosy, we’re saying that the concept of kasi has transcended its limited original colonial meaning to carry with it a semblance of African pride, gathering and unity.

The term kasi can be found in various South African languages. In Zulu, for example, the word “ekasi” is used to refer to a township or informal settlement. The term has been used for decades in various African languages to refer, also, to a rural area or village. The term may be spelt or pronounced differently, but the meaning carries many of the similarities listed above.

Kasi areas / kasi communities / kasis are known for their unique nuances but some of their characteristics are familial. It’s worth noting that the more traditional areas (“eMakhaya” / “Ko magaeng”), kasis may have other governance structures e.g. ruled by traditional leaders, such as kings, queens, and chiefs. Whatever the leadership model, it is usually deeply rooted in the traditional African way of life or founding principles of that kasi, and those become an essential part of the kasi culture. In some kasis, it is still commonplace to find traditional leaders playing a critical role in preserving the culture and identity of the people, ensuring social cohesion, and providing leadership and guidance.

For us, it is undeniable that the kasi is a rich cultural heritage that has been shaped by centuries of African history, culture, and tradition. Kasis are a place of diversity, where people from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages come together to form a vibrant community. The kasis vary in so many ways when you magnify their differences in things such as architecture, language, art, music, and food. But we accept the fact that they have been a place of perseverance, innovation and enterprising, where people create opportunities out of necessity and sheer survival.

In recent years, the term kasi has gained popularity beyond South African borders, and we want it to be recognised for the cultural phenomenon it has become; inspiring music, fashion, and art. Understanding the kasi goes beyond its surface and requires a deeper appreciation of its complexity and significance. The spirit of ubuntu, unique nuances, creativity, resilience, and community spirit are some of the components that make up the kasi culture.

Finally; we feel that a more inclusive definition of kasi is a modern, true and powerful concept that connects people from different communities by speaking to the challenges and opportunities faced by ‘historically’ marginalized African communities. But this time around, it’s not only our struggles that unify us, it’s also our strengths. Our clarion call is that the term “Kasi” must be modified as it is a distinct cultural identity that has evolved to represent more than just a physical location or a colonial history. The kasi is a symbol of African resilience, culture and unity, and its rich heritage is deeply rooted in African history, culture, and tradition.

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