I've always believed that "Saffer" is a derogatory term for a South African.
But a few minutes earlier, I saw this tweet by ESPN:
So, isn't "Saffer" a derogatory term?
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You might want to be careful using it with black South Africans, especially those who are culturally or traditionally inclined. "Old-school" black South Africans do not like to be called names they don't understand. In African culture every word has a meaning; colloquial language is considered to be rude especially when being used with elders. Do not say "Saffer" to any South African over the age of 35; that's where the modern boundary is drawn. However, you can ask; you might be surprised.
I am a young modern South African black female.
No, not derogatory (at least in the above context). When three-letter abbreviations are used for countries, "South Africa" often gets the abbreviation "SAF" (standard in cricket), thus a "saffer" is someone from SAF. It's just a regional nickname like "Aussie" or "Ozzie" for someone from Australia or "Kiwi" for someone from New Zealand: in this context it's playful/colloquial, not offensive/derogatory.
Chiming in with another South African's view.
It wasn't something I'd used or heard much in South Africa, or when I lived in New Zealand. But once I'd moved to London, UK I heard it a lot - especially among the three expat groups commonly found together - Aussies, Kiwis, and "Saffas"/"Saffers". We all called South Africans that - whether it was "us saffas" or "it's saffa day" or today the "Aussies lost to the Saffas in the cricket". It was certainly never considered derogatory, almost friendly if anything.
However, I did have a couple of cautious friends ask me as well whether it's potentially offensive, so you're not alone in that thinking. However, aside from it possibly being misheard for a different historically racist word, you're pretty safe using it, especially among the young.
Saffer is derived from the slang word SAFA which is derogatory and means "South African F*** Ass**le"
It has over time become known as Saffer for short slang. This is what it means and what is implied in New Zealand.
They have another internal term that is created along the same lines, that is Jaffa. Slang for JAFA which means "Just Another F***ing Aucklander."
I live in Auckland and am South African and I jokingly refer to myself, or my fellow South Africans as a Saffer. The term is so well used here that it has almost lost its derogatory nature and is as noted in post here just another slang term for a South African.