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A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more
…and their cooler cousins in Matieland.
Ikeys in their native habitat…

University Nicknames in South Africa

In the course of reading any South African newspaper article about universities, the unacquainted reader may be confused by some of the terminology involved. “Maties Slaughter Ikeys” is a common enough headline prototype — given that, I think, the last time the Ikeys (University of Cape Town) beat Maties (Stellenbosch) in rugby, a white man was president.

What are these mystical nicknames for South Africa’s universities, clouded in mystery to the outsider? Here is a handy guide.

Stellenbosch is Maties and their are multiple theories about the origin of this nickname. Some suggest the maroon tops of the university’s rugby players suggested (to their rivals) that they looked like tomaties, or tomatoes. Other suggest, more obviously, that it is a diminutive of the Afrikaans word maat, meaning “mate”, which accurately reflects the friendly nature of most Stellenbosch students.

Do note: the word is pronounced MAH-ties not MATE-ees, and the university is also known as Matieland.

The University of Cape Town are Stellenbosch’s archrivals. They are known as Ikeys and it is claimed that this was originally an Afrikaans slang word for Jews, and that Stellenbosch students mocked the supposedly larger Jewish population at UCT. It may come from the uni’s Afrikaans initials U.K. (Universiteit Kaapstad) — it’s not a long jump from “ooo-kah” to “i-kee”.

Whatever the origin, “Ikeys” is now a term of pride, and the UCT rugby club are additionally known as the “Ikey Tigers”.

The University of Pretoria goes by the nickname of “Tuks” or “Tukkies”. This origin is clear and simple: the institution was originally called Transvaalse Universiteits-Kollege, or Transvaal University College.

The University of the Free State has a similar origin for its nickname of “Kovsies” — in the 1940s it was known as the Universiteitskollege van die Oranje-Vrystaat or UkOV. I’ve no idea where the modern nickname for their rugby team “the Shimlas” comes from. Their home ground is called Shimla Park, but of course that could easily be named after them in the first place.

The Potchefstroom campus of North West University was founded as the Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir Christelike Hoër Onderwys, Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, hence “Pukke”.

The University of the Witwatersrand‘s nickname of “Wits” is fairly obvious. The Witwatersrand (Afrikaans for “white water ridge”) is a range of hills which includes South Africa’s richest deposit of gold and uranium mines. This is why the South African government named their unit of currency the “rand”.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is the merger of the Port Elizabeth Technikon and the University of Port Elizabeth. The city of Port Elizabeth itself, though always still referred to by that name, became part of a larger municipal entity called the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality in 2001, even though there is no geographical feature by that name, and the simpler “Mandela Bay” would sound so much nicer.

Regardless, it was decided to call the merger of the two tertiary institutions Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and the rugby team’s nickname is “the Madibaz”, as Madiba is the Xhosa clan name of Prince Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the former president of South Africa.

Another brief note on these nicknames: they apply varyingly in different circumstances. Sometimes, as with Madibaz, they refer only to the university’s rugby team. But one could, for example, say “I went to Pukke last weekend”, while one would never say you “went to Ikeys”. So whether the nickname applies to the university (as a place or institution), its students, its rugby club, or some combination of the above is different at each uni.

Photos: and Stellenbosch University
This post was published on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013 5:50 pm. It has been categorised under South Africa and been tagged under , , .
Jeanette Serdyn
22 Apr 2014 6:42 am

Nice piece. In Afrikaans a tomato is a “tamatie” not a “tomatie”.

Calvin James Montgomery
23 May 2014 1:42 pm

Dearest Andrew,

Always such a pleasure to see your posts about SA ( feeling extremely patriotic!)

Very proud of the fact that I am a ‘Witsie’…

All the very best


Chad Davids
22 Aug 2014 10:56 am

Maybe you could add UWC – “Bushies” this is not the racial slur refering to coloured people, but UWC was at the time literally built in an open bush area of CPT. Back in the ‘Bad old days’ it was often called ‘Bush U’ from which we get the nickname and Bush FM which was originally the campus station at UWC.

Chad Davids
22 Aug 2014 11:03 am

Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) “Tekkies”. Amalgamation of Cape Technikon (Capetech) and Peninsula Technikon (Pentech). The nickname has nothing to do with tennis shoes, but is the nickname that remained from Pentech’s sports teams. Maybe it would have been better if they spelt it “Techies.”

30 Sep 2014 10:25 am

PUK/PUKKE is not from PU vir CHO. It was also originally Ptchefstroomse Universiteits Kollege (PUK)before it became PU vir CHO.

12 Nov 2014 8:38 pm

All our teams at NMMU are referred to as the Madibaz, not just the rugby team.

20 Nov 2014 10:30 am

Great stuff you’ve put together here, Andrew. I wonder what’s with the others like Rhodes (Rhodies? Settlers?, UKZN (combo of Uni of Natal and Durban-Westville, Zululand, North West etc. Once again, great article.

20 Nov 2014 10:33 am

Oops! Forgot that North West is Pukke

THe Chief Inspector
5 Dec 2014 3:29 pm

Andrew you need to keep up mate

I think you will find that the IKEY’S beat Maties at rugby TWICE in this years Varsity Cup 2014

Don’t mention it , I’m happy to help ;-)

Andrew Cusack
5 Dec 2014 3:50 pm


But this post is from 2013, when our record still held…

Jean-Pierre Jordaan
28 Jan 2015 6:23 am

I read an article that the Shimla nickname comes from students who wished to get a nickname for their beloved rugby team by throwing a dart at the world map. The dart landed on a place called Shimla in India, hence they decided to call themselves the Shimlas. Hope this helps. Great article!

Servaas Hofmeyr
10 Apr 2015 6:28 am

Yes, on the Shimla matter, Jean-Pierre’s explanation is correct. Heard it on an interview with a team manager of their’s once.

Philip Oberholster
11 May 2017 2:52 pm

The name Shlimla originated from the attack or victory cry (in Afrikaans : “Kreet”) which was composed from Indian place names found in an atlas. The author/s is unknown but it comes from prior to 1954 when I was a first year at Kovsies. It starts with : “Shimla, Shimla, Punjabi, Irawaddi…Shimla, Shimla, Wie is ons?…Vrystaats Universiteit!…”

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