Thursday, January 30, 2014

Toyi Toyi (South African protest dance) information & videos

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on performance elements in South African protests.

This post provides definitions, information, and video examples of South African "toyi toyi".

for Part II of this post.

Part II provides information and video examples of South African struggle songs. In the United States the struggle songs that are the focus of that post would be referred to as "protest chants".

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

1. (Dancing) a dance expressing defiance and protest

2. (Dancing) (intr) to dance in this way
Note that "toyi toyi" is also written as "toy toy". ("Toyi" appears to be pronounced like the English word "toy").

It's important to note that "toyi toyi" is used as a noun and a verb. Examples of both of those usages are given below. It's also important to note that toyi toyi is usually a non-violent expression of protest (on the part of the protesters).

"Toyi-toyi is a Southern African dance originally from Zimbabwe by Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) forces that has long been used in political protests in South Africa.[1]
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.

Use during Apartheid
Toyi-toyi was often very successful in intimidating the South African troops. The toyi-toyi was also 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 became more militant in the struggle for liberation. The toyi-toyi, a military march dance and song style became commonplace in massive street demonstrations. As one activist puts it, "The toyi-toyi was our weapon. We did not have the technology of warfare, the tear gas and tanks, but we had this weapon."[2]

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. [3][4] The Anti-Privatisation Forum has come out with a CD that they see as a compilation of music specially for toyi-toying.[5]”...

”Toyi-toyi is the war dance of black South Africans, which dates back to the Mau Mau people in Kenya, who rose against the English colonialists. It is a fine example of South Africa’s rare spirit in the face of impossible conditions and abject poverty. From protests to celebrations, the chants capture the emotions of joy, pain, encouragement, heartbreak and solace. Toyi-toyi is a powerful and infectious statement, by which the oppressed may voice their grievances to the government.

“Even though South Africa has 11 official languages, toyi-toyi could be considered the 12th, since it’s nearly as old as the country itself and everyone knows it, including the government.” - a resident of Orange Farm, South of Johannesburg...

The toyi-toyi is quite a marvel to watch. Throngs of people charge forwards, stomping and chanting political slogans. Such energy struck fear into the hearts of the armed forces who tried to contain them. But toyi-toyi was also a distraction from fear during the marches because people knew that later, once the crowds had dispersed, they would suffer harassment at the hands of police."

These examples are presented in chronological order with the oldest dated videos posted first.

WARNING: The viewer comment threads for these YouTube videos may include racist language and profanity. Also, violent scenes are included toward the end of the portion of the movie that is given in this post as Video #4.

Example #1: Township of Jo Slovo Toi Toi for their homes! (pt 1)

Charles Fraser• Uploaded on Jan 24, 2008

The People of the Township of Jo Slovo in Cape Town South Africa demonstrate outside the High Court in Cape Town for their right to stay where they have settled for the last 20 years. The government plans another housing project, but if it is anything like their last, the infamous 'Gateway project', We can all understand what the people are afraid of: Not ever getting a home as promised because they are too expensive.
Part II of this video isn't available on YouTube.

Example #2: Human Rights Day 2007 toyi toyi1

Sifuna Zonke, Uploaded on May 11, 2008

APF Human Rights Day protest

Example #3: How to Toyi-Toyi

CraigiejiMakhos Uploaded on Nov 12, 2009
Stressed? Life getting you down? Or is your bum in the butter? Either way, living in South Africa, it is vital that you learn how to Toyi-toyi.

More videos related to Xhosa culture and language, search under username "UBuntuBridge"
This is a tongue in cheek instructional video.

Here are three comments from this video's viewer comment thread that demonstrate the use of the word "toyi-toyi" as a noun and as a verb:
Anne Farnsworth, 2010
"Toyi Toyi to celebrate the anniversary of Mandela's election, May 9, 1994"
Toyi Toyi is used here as a verb.

bayo akin, 2013
"Toyi-Toyi is a dance from Zimbabwe, the fighters from South Africa who went and fought with ZAPU that brought the dance to South Africa."
Toyi Toyi is used as a noun.

abongile chris, 2013
"lol lol you dnt learn to toy-toy it you just move with the motion lol now will toy toy together my fellow brothers lol"
Toy -toy is used as a verb.

Example #4: Toyi Toyi

Patrick Balcasio, Uploaded on Feb 11, 2011

Toyi-Toyi scene from the film 'Stander'
Here are two comments from that video's viewer comment thread:

JakeBluegrass, 2012
"The wrong songs are being sung here. These are ANC songs. Steve Biko, AZAPO and BCM were the influential organisations of the day. The slogans would have been more BCM orientated. The ANC did not feature much during this period. The ANC were caught off guard by the riots and launched a violent campaign to wrest popularity from the BCM. The ANC have been less than honest in ignoring this and have tried to whitewash BCM's role. This sequence shows how ignorant the film makers were of this period."

Walter Holder, 2012
"Oh Heavens Jake! Shall we appeal to Botha to have the movie banned? There are just too many mistakes for it to continue. Just a few things i noticed : Stander's hair is too long; one cop is wearing a combination belt over camo uniform; the Saracen was painted the wrong colour; there were no albinos in the clip; the cops' moustaches are drooping past the corners of their mouths: one cop's shoe-laces were untied..... ever heard of artistic license?"

UPDATE: Additional video July 23, 2014

Video #5: African People Power : SATAWU Protest in Johannesburg

Pedro Buccellato, Uploaded on Feb 17, 2011
South African Transport & Allied Workers' Union striking workers march to the Bargaining Council offices in Braamfontein to make their point. Peaceful, well co-ordinated and disciplined: Thanks SATAWU for not trashing Braamies and thanks to the SAPS & Metro units for being cool and keeping things under control.

Johannesburg 16 February 2011
A long segment beginning at 3:21 shows a large group of protesters singing & doing toyi-toyi. While doing toyi toyi, some of these protestors held their right arm up with their fist clenched/ Others blew vuvuzelas or symbolically held the traditional Zulu warrior weapon known as "assegai" (a short pole weapon). From "The use of various types of the assegai was widespread all over Africa and it was the most common weapon used before the introduction of firearms. The Zulu and other Nguni tribes of South Africa were renowned for their use of the assegai."

Thanks to all those who risked and still risk their life and their livelihood in a struggle for rights and justice.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Not to minimize the significance of toyi toyi, but the raised leg motion of that protest dance -which Americans would probably refer to as a protest march-reminds me of the high step movement that is most associated with historically Black (African American) marching bands and the "upstomp" step in African American originated stomp and shake cheerleading.

    Click for information about the high step marching style.

    Here's some information about how an "upstomp" is performed that I added [under the name cocojams jambalayah] as a comment to a 2011 post that I wrote for sociological images:

    "Here's information that I just received from Charlottefashionicon via email:

    "A "upstomp" is the motion that u see where the cheerleaders stomp and bring the foot up next to the knee. The "west meck high school" cheerleaders do it perfectly in that video I posted.*
    *Click for a pancocojams post that showcases the West Meck High School Varsity Cheerleaders.

    Note that another commenter in that discussion used the screen name “upstomp junkie”

    I read one article (whose link I didn't document) suggested that this type of marching came from the movement style of parade horses. Perhaps it did-at least partially.

    It may just be a coincidence that that toyi toyi movement is similar to African American high stepping marching & upstomps. But I wonder if any African Americans came across toyi toyi (either through visiting South Africa or from South Africans studying in or visiting the USA) and incorporated that movement in performance styles in the USA. It seems to me that that is just as credible a possibility as creating a marching style by imitating parading horses.

  2. Great clips, commentary and lessons. It would be great to see this discussion continued at EmbodyPeace

    1. Thanks for your comment, Martha Eddy.

      Peace and love!