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Origin of the term
The word zef is an Afrikaans slang word which roughly translates as "common", with connotations of "uncool", "disgusting", "gross" and/or "trashy" in Afrikaans. It differs from the Australian term bogan and the British term chav in that it is mostly a positive term for oneself, rather than a derogatory term for someone else. It is also not typical of the poorest classes of the society, but rather a mostly white, lower-middle class subculture. Yolandi Visser of Die Antwoord is quoted as saying, "It's associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you're poor but you're fancy. You're poor but you're sexy, you've got style."
The concept of "zef" originated in the 1960s and 1970s as a derogatory term to refer to working class whites, including residents of caravan parks. It is a shortening of the name of the Ford Zephyr motorcar that was popular worldwide from the 1950s to the 1970s. In South Africa, these cars were often customized with enhanced engines, tires and wheels. They were often owned by working-class people, especially from the then-upcoming East and West Rand areas of Johannesburg (due to gold mining activity and the rising price of gold after it was de-coupled from a fixed price of USD 35 per fine ounce). The average Zephyr driver, while relatively comfortable financially in the 70s, was still generally from a more working-class than elite or highly educated background, so owners of these cars were given the derogatory description of being "zef" (Zephyr owner) by middle-class and more well-to-do South Africans. Frikkie Lombard, editor of the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal, has explained zef as "something which is usually considered to be common, but nowadays has credibility."
Zef music and culture
The music group Die Antwoord self-identifies as "zef" in style. In an interview Jan 2011, Ninja of Die Antwoord responded to the controversy arising from his claim that zef represented South Africa. Critics suggested it might rather just represent (Afrikaans) white South Africa. He commented that "racism is somewhat obsolete and a thing of the past for South Africans." In the same interview, Ninja describes that zef is a style of music and a style of subculture, comparing it to hip-hop in its role in society. In a featurette for Die Antwoord's role in the film Chappie, Ninja states that zef means "that you literally don't care what anyone else thinks of you; like, you represent yourself in your music, in how you dress, in how you think, how you speak." 
In 2013, a "satirical blog" originally titled Zef Kinners briefly became a viral success in South Africa (and then faced legal claims) after it was started as a student school project, posting photos of people the blog considered to exemplify zef. The blog's creator commented, "Jack Parow and Die Antwoord are not zef. That's the safe version of zef. Zef has a dirty face."
Authors Russ Truscott and Maria Brock have perceived the "rise of zef culture" to be an expression of "Afrikaner self-parody" growing out of a sense of "national melancholia" in post-apartheid South Africa. They note similarities to earlier touchstones of South African culture such as the anti-apartheid Voëlvry Movement, the satirical magazine Bitterkomix, and the alternative rock band Fokofpolisiekar.  Similarly, playwright/academic Anton Krueger has posited that the "embrace of the vulgarity embodied by Zef" is in part an "outlet" for a post-apartheid "sense of shame".
Other performers who have been identified as exponents of zef include Voëlvry leader Koos Kombuis, comic performers Corné and Twakkie (Louw Venter and Rob van Vuuren) of The Most Amazing Show, and the comedy group Zef Sketse, known for their 2006 TV series Kompleks.
- Hoby, Hermione (12 September 2010). "Die Antwoord: 'Are we awful or the best thing in the universe?'". The Observer.
- Bosch, Marius (5 February 2010). "S.African Afrikaans rappers takes Internet by storm". Reuters.
- Culhane, Dylan. "Die Antwoord - Zef So Fresh". Vice. Archived from the original on 13 August 2011.
- Anton Krueger, "Zef/Poor White Kitsch Chique: Die Antwoord's Comedy of Degradation", Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, vol. 13, issue 3-4, 2012, pp. 399-408. DOI: 10.1080/17533171.2012.715484. An extended version of this article is also available here.
- Magdel Fourie, "The Dummies guide to Zef", News24, February 16, 2010.
- Die Antwoord Extended Uncut Interview. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBpi-mv6qX8 Retrieved on 12 January 2012[unreliable source?]
- CHAPPIE Movie – Die Antwoord Featurette. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIrqK4NoZpg Retrieved on 6 July 2015
- Yolisa Mkele, "Fifty Shades of Zef", The Times, 30 April 2013.
- Russ Truscott, "National melancholia and Afrikaner self-parody in post-apartheid South Africa", Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2011) 16, 90–106. DOI:10.1057/pcs.2010.42.
- Russ Truscott and Maria Brock, "What’s the Difference Between a Melancholic Apartheid Moustache and a Nostalgic GDR Telephone", Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 3, 318–328. DOI: 10.1037/a0029073.
- Hannalie Marx and Viola Candice Milton, "Bastardised whiteness: ‘zef’-culture, Die Antwoord and the reconfiguration of contemporary Afrikaans identities", Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, Volume 17, Issue 6, 2011, pp. 723-745. DOI: 10.1080/13504630.2011.606671. (Among other references, this quotes an Afrikaans source as describing Kombuis the "grandfather of zef".)