General Knowledge

10 Facts about Culture of South Africa, native people and settlers

Written by Wamiq Ali

South Africa having a GDP of $371bn annually comes second in the list of countries having the highest GDP in Africa. Therefore, learning the culture of South Africa might be a wish of some people. The article tries to gather some interesting facts about South Africa with an aim to enlighten the reader about the second largest GDP holder in Africa. South Africa as a country has South Deep Goldmine, which is the world’s second largest gold mine. This gold mine has made its way into 50 Facts about Africa’s list.

10 major Tribes form the indigenous culture of South Africa

Majority of the indigenous people of South Africa are often collectively known as Black Africans. However, culturally this one term is not sufficient to describe them, since these people are diverse. Major ethnic group of these people include Zulu, Xhosa, Hlubi, Bapedi, Ndebele, Basotho, Venda, Tsonga, Swazi and BaTswana. Study Commission on U.S. policy towards South Africa mentions that government delineates Africans among 10 ethnic of tribal compositions.

Total population of South Africa has 79.6% concentration of the native people, which South African government has concluded in census of 2011.

Settlers form mixed culture of South Africa

There are Europeans in South Africa. Mostly these Europeans are the descendants of Dutch, German, French and English settlers. Colonialism played a major role in giving South Africa a touch of foreign residents. Some of these people who can speak Afrikaans are called Boers while the rest are English speaking. However, the population of these foreigners faces decline because of low birth rate and emigration.

Interbreeding between these new-comers and existing natives along with the Asians formed another race. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that South Africa has natives (consisting of 9 major tribes), settlers from Europe and an inter-bred race. Together these three form the culture of South Africa.

According to the 2011 Census, 8.9% of the total population consists of people from Europe of white ethnicity. However, back in 1996, total percentage of the population of white settlers was 11%. The reduction of white population in South Africa proves the fact that European settlers are moving away, possibly one reason is rampant crime.

Mix-breed people form 9% of the total population. 2.5% of the population consists of Asian people.

4.5 million people in South Africa are of European descent.

4.6 million people in South Africa are of mix breed, called as coloured people.

41 million people in South Africa are natives called as Black Africa.

Zulu People in South Africa and their Culture

Zulu is one of the tribes of Bantu group. Bantu is present all around Africa. According to CIA world fact book, isiZulu is the language primarily spoken in South Africa. In conclusion, Zulu people make majority of the ethnic group in South Africa. For instance, 24.7% of the people speak Zulu in the country. Zulu mostly reside in KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

Zulu People Dancing

Reed Dance or Umhlanga ceremony of unmarried girls

Umhlanga ceremony features Reed dance which unmarried and childless Zulu or Swazi girls attend. Swazi as mentioned earlier is another tribe of South Africa. These young unmarried attendants of the event participate in the activity for eight days. Often organisers carry out a virginity test to assure that only unmarried girls take part. However, in recent years some controversy keeps on emerging regarding the test. Photographers for the event are allowed after a strict scrutiny. Only those people are allowed who look at Reed Dance from a cultural point of view.

Zhulu takes pride in Umhlanga or Redd Dance. Zhulu also have an expertise in their beadwork which girls wear as cultural assets.

Xhosa People in South Africa and their Culture

Xhosa people, a tribe among the Bantu, live in the Eastern and Western Cape province. 15.6% people of native ethnicity speak isiXhosa language. Owing to a large percentage of native people belonging to Xhosa, the language they speak is a part of the national languages of South Africa. Eastern Cape consists of a majority of Xhosa tribe.

Story telling forms a major part of Xhosa culture. Natives often use music as a way to convey their stories. Xhosa dance is wonderful, particularly umtyityimbo is a dance form in which upper bodies tremble.

Xhosa women wearing cotton made white dresses

Culture of Xhosa people assigns women white dress

The women in Xhosa culture wear white dress having unique patterns. Married women wear aprons on their white dress. Women along with their pretty dress also wear jewellery with unique designs. Beads is an important building block of the Xhosa jewellery. Women use face paint to decorate their face in a unique manner. White paint is used for the purpose.

Men in Xhosa culture are prepared for leadership qualities

When a new child is born in Xhosa dominated areas, imbeleko is performed. It’s a ritualistic practice to introduce the child to its ancestors and vice versa. Similarly, Xhosa perform death rituals when someone leaves this world. Further, elders make the young ones undergo different activities to inculcate leadership qualities in them.

Afrikaans culture of South Africa; an intermix of Dutch and Native people

This particular culture which has a concentration of 12.1% in the society of South Africa was formed with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck from the Netherlands in 1652. According to sources, Dutch wanted to grow their European culture in South Africa. However, a strong local culture took over and a mix-breed of new Afrikaans culture started.

Afrikaans plays an important role in the modern history of South Africa. The resistance against apartheid in June 1976 used this language as a political tool. As mentioned earlier, Afrikaans form the mix-bred culture of South Africa.

According to the 2011 Population Census of South Africa, Afrikaans form 13.5% population of South Africa. CIA website quotes the 12.1% figure, on the contrary. Anyhow, this forms the third largest ethnic tribe in South Africa, after Xhosa and Zulu.

European culture of South Africa; Orania, a self sufficient white-only town

A town in Norther Cape, named Orania is a white-only settlement. It serves as one example of European or white settlement in South Africa. English speaking individuals form the third largest ethnic group/ linguistic group in South Africa. Around 9.6% people of South Africa have english as their first language. These people are spread around in South Africa and follow European culture in particular.

Fall of apartheid has reduced the population of European settles. However, Orania till this day survives as the white-only settlement. The town settlers claim that Orania is a cultural settlement in the current day. They are not in favour of any xenophobic attitude, rather they just want to preserve their identity. Surprisingly, the town also has its own currency called Ora.

A school in Orania

European settles of Angola, Mozambique along with Zimbabwe came to South Africa over the years after the independence of the respective African countries.

Bapedi or Pedi people in South Africa and their culture

Bapedi is another native tribe; however, they come forth in number, as compared to Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English speaking. Pedi is another name given to this ethnic tribe in South Africa. Another name of this ethnic tribe is Basotho. It’s worth mentioning that like Zhulu and Xhosa, this tribe is a part of Bantu ethnic group in South Africa. North Sotho ethnic tribe is often called as Bapedi; whereas the South Sotho ethnic tribe is called Basotho.

Sesotho and Sepedi language share 9.1% and 7.6% concentration in South African population, as per the stats given by 2011 Census. Collectively, the two groups form a major percentage of the South African population.

Basotho Women taking part in a parade

Circular-cap hair style of Bapedi women

Traditionally Bapedi women turned their hair into a circular-cap style. The hairstyle of the females of this ethnic tribe is pretty unique; therefore, in old pictures it is easy to identify the group.

Go Phasa or Malopo ritual; an important part of Bapedi culture

Key family member of Bapedi tribe offers a beer for sacrifice. Others might use goats or other domesticated animals for the sacrifice. The only reason for this ritual is to talk to their ancestors. Bapedi believe that ancestors might come through the act via a spiritual power. The ultimate goal is to gain healing and strength.

Cultural music is also a part of Bapedi tradition. They play different kinds of musics which belong to varied genre.

Basotho people have a unique sense of dressing

Apart from Bapedi, Basotho people have a unique sense of dressing. The dress code varies within different age groups.

Basotho men wearing their traditional dress

Young boys often wear an undergarment made out of sheep skin cut in a triangular shape. The triangular clothe is so wrapped to hide the private parts. Growing up, the garment is increased in size and length. Eventually it covers the entire legs. Further, men Basotho men also love to wear animal’s hide. Chief’s of Basotho people often wear hides of cats such as leopards.

Along with a unique dress code, Basotho people also wear unique hats. The conical shaped hats are made out of a particular grass. Today, certain aspects of this unique culture is not found at par with the traditional one. The reason behind this change is modernity.

Tswana people in South Africa and their culture

According to 2011 census, 8% people speak Setswana as their first mother language. Tswana is one of the parts of Sotho. As we earlier established, Sotho people have three divisions – Northern Sotho, Pedi or BaPedi – Southern Sotho – Basotho and Western Sotho – Tswana. We discussed Basotho and Bapedi together with each other, being a part of Sotho tribe.

A landlocked country in South Africa contains majority of Tswana people

Botswana is a landlocked country in South Africa. It consists of a majority of Tswana people. South Africa also contains Tswana people; however, their number is lesser than the one residing in Botswana. In South Africa, Tswana live in North West province. In modern day, many people of Tswana ethnicity live in Johannesburg but they don’t identify their affiliations with any tribe. Tswana people are mostly lead by their chief.

Marriage culture in Tswana people

Noble groups with much wealth prefer to marry their father’s or mother’s sibling daughters. For instance, inter family marriage helped traditional Tswana people keep wealth contained. The first wife was often selected by others, in traditional cultures of Tswana. Further, marriage becomes valid once bride wealth is transferred from groom’s family to the bride’s. In other instances, if a bride is unable to produce a child, her tribe replaces her with one of her sisters.

If a man has more than one wife, then each wife is allocated her own house, field and cattle.

A Tswana Family

Miss Universe 1999 belongs to Tswana tribe

After learning about their tribe culture, the reader might generate an impression that Tswana people are not much effective in modernity. However, to break this perspective, it’s worth knowing that Miss Universe 1999 title winner was from Tswana tribe. Mpule Kwelagobe was the first woman from Botswana to win the prestigious title.

Miss Universe 1999 from Botswana (A landlocked country in South Africa)

Other tribes which form some percentage of society in South Africa

There are other notable tribes and ethnic formations which contribute towards making South Africa Rainbow nation. However, describing them all would not conclude this list to ten major facts about South Africa. The 2011 population census of South Africa reveals that 2.1% people are from Ndebele, 2.5% – Swati, 2.4% – Venda and 4.5% constitute TSonga.

TSonga people in particular have a strong belief on their ancestors. Something which is common in most South Africa tribes.

Xibelani dance – an indigenous dance of Tsonga people

Xibelani in Xitsonga means hitting to the rhythm. Women who perform this dance wear skirts of unique design. Women of Limpopo province in northern South Africa perform this cultural dance. Tsonga girls learn the dance as a custom and norm, because it’s culturally binding on them to be able to perform Xibelani. It involves moving the hips on the tune, and using the entire body to translate the movement.

South Africa is a super diverse multicultural country

Calling South Africa as Rainbow Nation is accurate. It’s a country which has a diverse and rich culture. Describing the country culture in one single post, limited to ten points is not a sufficient approach. It’s a fact that culture of South Africa contains elements of its neighbour countries like Botswana, eSwatini, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Would you want me to add something else? Drop your comments.

About the author

Wamiq Ali

Programmer, Blogger and an Entrepreneur trying to make this web a better place by making others learn for free.

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