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Southern African Proverbs

Proverbs from around Southern Africa, from communities in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa … Feel free to suggest or submit more via the forum, which will then be added to the list.

  1. When you think of a rhinoceros, climb a tree.
    Community/language of origin: Shona
    Country: Zimbabwe / Zambia/ Mozambique
  2. You cannot put two bulls in one kraal.
    Community/language of origin: Tswana
    Country: Botswana
  3. When trees grow together, their branches are bound to touch each other.
    Community/language of origin: Bemba
    Country: Zambia
  4. The hands that make mistakes belong to those who work.
    Community/language of origin: Sesotho
    Country: Lesotho
  5. One should never rub bottoms with a porcupine.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Zambia
  6. A person who sells eggs should not start a fight in the market.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Zambia
  7. The lion is a beautiful animal, when seen at a distance.
    Community/language of origin: Zulu
    Country: South Africa
  8. You have to be patient if you want to prise a worm from a chicken.
    Community/language of origin: Bemba
    Country: Zambia
  9. One should look into what caused the elephant’s tusk to break.
    Community/language of origin: Chewa
    Country: Zambia
  10. The lion is a beautiful animal, when seen at a distance.
    Community/language of origin: Zulu
    Country: South Africa
  11. Do not open the mouth of a snake to see its teeth.
    In original language: Unknown
    Community/language of origin: Sesotho
    Country: Lesotho & South Africa
  12. When you bite indiscriminately, you end up eating your own tail.
    Community/language of origin: Zulu
    Country: South Africa
  13. Fortune favors the foolish.
    In original language: Amajodo awela abangelambiza.
    Community/language of origin: Ndebele
    Country: Zimbabwe
  14. One does not become great by claiming greatness.
    Community/language of origin: Xhosa
    Country: South Africa
  15. Fortune never comes twice.
    In original language: Inhlanhla kayiphindwa kabili
    Community/language of origin: Ndebele
    Country: Zimbabwe
  16. Discretion is better than valour.
    Meaning: Being prudent is better than to merely be courageous
    In original language: Kwabo kagwala akulasililo.
    Community/language of origin: Ndebele
    Country: Zimbabwe
  17. It is only a foolish cock that believes the sun will not rise if it does not crow.
    In original language: Unknown
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Lesotho
  18. Never trust a dog to guard your food.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: South Africa
  19. A person who rarely travels thinks what he is exposed to is the best.
    In original language: Omwana shenda atashanina kunaya
    Community/language of origin: Bemba
    Country: Zambia
  20. A person who panics at the sound of something falling knows what he has secretly hidden up a tree.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Zimbabwe
  21. When you wake up one morning and find that everybody around you is very tall, you must first see if you are standing.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Malawi
  22. Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Swaziland
  23. Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: South Africa
  24. If you are requested to carry someone’s drums, it does not mean you are authorized to play them.
    Community/language of origin: Shona
    Country: Zimbabwe
    Read more about If you are requested to carry someone’s drums
  25. It is only a foolish woman who quarrels with a midwife if she intends to have more children.
    Community/language of origin: Shona
    Country: Zimbabwe
  26. Do not throw away the old bucket until you know the new can hold water.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: South Africa
  27. Money can buy you a bed, but it cannot buy you sleep.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Malawi
  28. You cannot appreciate the wisdom of the foolish unless you become a fool yourself.
    Community/language of origin: Muzuzu
    Country: Malawi
  29. All that glitters is not gold.
    Community/language of origin: Gabarone area
    Country: Botswana
  30. Do not laugh at people with a disability, because tomorrow it might be you.
    Community/language of origin: Shangaan
    Country: Mozambique
  31. Everything that has a beginning has got an end.
    In original language: Shakukala shungaheli shasingita
    Community/language of origin: Shangaan
    Country: Mozambique
  32. He who gives you advice loves you.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Zambia
  33. The guest is the one who kills the snake.
    Means: In case of trouble you ask for the advice of a foreigner to help you out.
    In original language: Mulendo ndyena panyoka
    Community/language of origin: Cisena,Tete province
    Country: Mozambique
    Read more about The guest is the one who kills the snake
  34. Give to the one who has given to you.
    In original language: Mupe akupere
    Community/language of origin: Makonde
    Country: Mozambique
  35. You will never know the importance of your buttocks until you develop a boil on them!
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: South Africa
  36. If your buttocks burn, you know you have done wrong.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: South Africa
  37. When a leopard starts devouring its young ones, it starts by accusing that young one of smelling like a goat.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Zimbabwe
  38. A bird will always use another birds’ feathers to feather its own nest. [Quoted from Stanley Letsoko]
    Community/language of origin: South Sotho
    Country: Lesotho
  39. The horse that arrives early gets good drinking water.
    Community/language of origin: Zulu
    Country: South Africa

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  • If possible the proverb not only in English but original language as well
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