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The "toyi-toyi" (verb: “to toyi-toyi”) is a celebratory and often quite stirring and provocative South African dance. It has long been used in political protests in South Africa, most famously during the Anti-apartheid struggle, and became a frequently used metaphor on stage and even in songs, poetry and novels. The origins and the name are uncertain, and many theories have been advanced. One of the most widely held is that it originated from migrant workers out of Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), but this is but one theory.


Toyi-toyi could begin as the stomping of feet and spontaneous chanting during protests that could include political slogans or songs, either improvised or previously created. Some sources claim that South Africans learned it from Zimbabweans.


During the Struggle

During the struggle for independence (1970s to 1990) the toyi-toyi was often very successful in intimidating the South African troops, often used with chants such as the African National Congress's "Amandla" ("power") and "Awethu" ("ours") or the Pan African Congress's "One Settler, One Bullet". After the 1976 Soweto massacre, the movement gained more militancy struggle for liberation. The toyi-toyi, used as a military march dance and song style became commonplace in massive street demonstrations.

Current use in South Africa

After Apartheid ended, people have used toyi-toyi to express their grievances against current government policies. Use of the dance has become very popular during recent service delivery protests and among trade unions, and some South Africans have used it in violent attacks against refugees. The country's independent social movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Anti-Eviction Campaign have begun using toyi-toyi and other liberation protest strategies for their anti-government protests. The Anti-Privatisation Forum has come out with a CD that they see as a compilation of music specially for toyi-toying.

Theatrical uses


For more information

See Kruger, 1999, Coplan, 1985.

See also Dance

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