South African Tribes

The multi-cultural population of South Africa has a majority of indigenous people in addition to the people of European, Indian and Malaysian descent and with 11 official languages and is often referred to as the rainbow nation. The indigenous (or tribal) people of South Africa have varied customs and originally lived in different areas.

Zulu –The Zulu people of South Africa are the largest group with a population of approximately 11 million and one of the most widely spoken languages in South Africa, The Zulus are believed to have emigrated from the area of the great Central African Lakes in about the 15th century and have lived since then in what is today known as KwaZulu-Natal. Associated groups of the Zulu tribe are the Matabele of Southern Zimbabwe and the Angoni of Malawi. Among the African people the Zulu’s are regarded as the Aristocracy, with high moral standards and natural dignity.

Xhosa – Came mainly from the Eastern Cape and have contributed greatly to the development of South Africa. The most famous member of the Xhosa is without doubt Nelson Mandela The Xhosa people are closely related to the Zulu people both in culture and language and have many similar customs. With the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand, Xhosa’s flocked to the area and contributed a considerable percentage of the labour force. There are approximately 8 million Xhosa’s in South Africa.

Ndebele – Their origins are mysterious but despite this they have been recognized as part of the Nguni tribes together with the Zulu’s, Xhosa’s and the Swazi’s. They are concentrated mainly in the areas of Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces. The Ndebele are distinguished by their artistic talents. It is well worth a visit to an Ndebele cultural village to see the colourful and decorated houses, their intricate beadwork and the startlingly attractive dress.

Sotho – The Sotho people are divided into three main groups, the Northern Sotho (or Pedi), Southern Sotho and the Tswana. The Sotho are known for their exceptional horse riding skills while herding their cattle and are sometimes known as the cowboys of the plains of South Africa. Their skills as artisans working with wood, metal and leather and they are also outstanding grass weavers. They are distinguished by their thick colourful blankets and conical hats.

SwaziSwaziland is an independent country bordered by South Africa and Mozambique and more than half a million Swazi people now live in South Africa mainly in the Mpumalanga area and areas bordering Swaziland and Mozambique. Many Swazi have also moved into the industrial areas in and around Johannesburg.

Venda – Most of the Venda people today live in Limpopo province. A “bantustan” or homeland was founded for the Venda and was only incorporated into the new South Africa in 1994 as previously it had been an independent self governing homeland recognized only by the South African government at that time.

There are a number of other tribes such as the Shangaan (Tsonga) whose culture is a mixture of Tsonga and Zulu, mostly residing in the Mpumalanga region (Eastern Transvaal). Aside from these larger groups there are small concentrations of Bushmen, (San People) and a very few Hottentots who have mostly disappeared due to sickness and intermarriage with other tribes.