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South Africa and Its People
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Godfrey Mwakikagile, South Africa and Its People
ISBN 9780981425832
 
 

Contents


Acknowledgements


Introduction


Part I:


Historical Background:

Birth and Growth of A Nation


Part II:


Profile of A Nation


Part III:


Provinces of South Africa


Free State


North West


Northern Cape


Western Cape


Eastern Cape


KwaZulu-Natal


Gauteng


Limpopo


Mpumalanga

Part IV:


The People


Part V:


Black African Immigrants

in South Africa

Acknowledgements


I WISH to express my profound gratitude to all the sources I have cited in this book. They are mentioned throughout my work with full attribution.

There may be some whom I may have inadvertently omitted where they are supposed to be acknowledged. But they are not entirely left out and are, instead, mentioned elsewhere in my work as indispensable citations.

Special thanks must go to four South African newspapers, the Mail&Guardian, the Sowetan, The Times, and the Independent which served as a vital source of information on the xenophobic violence that rocked the nation in May 2008.

I am also indebted to BBC and other sources on the same subject.

The attacks were launched by black South Africans to drive black African immigrants out of the country.

I would not have been able to write the chapter on the subject the way I did without the information I obtained from the sources I have mentioned here. And I will always be grateful to them for that.

I am also very thankful to the South African newspapers I mentioned and to BBC for some of their material I have used on the xenophobic terror to address one of the most important events in the history of South Africa since the end of apartheid.

It was the worst form of violence since the end of white minority rule in that country and it tarnished the image of South Africa as a rainbow nation, if it ever indeed was one.

One book also deserves special mention. It had a profound impact on the conception and execution of this project in many fundamental respects. And that is South Africa in Contemporary Times which I wrote before I started working on this project.

It is an introduction to the nation's history and focuses on South Africa in modern times especially since the seventies and after the end of apartheid. It also addresses some of the most controversial subjects in South Africa in the post-apartheid era.

Anyone who reads this work is also encouraged to read my the other book because they are complementary texts, literary “twins” in some respects, although they also address different subjects.

I have also written two other books about South Africa published under a different name and the people who have read them will notice similarities between those works and this one. Although they address basically the same subjects, this one is much more comprehensive in scope and includes subjects I have not addressed in my other works.

The name I have used for those books is actually my name and not a pen name as I explain in my forthcoming book, My Life as an African: Autobiographical Writings. And all my relatives and the people in my home village know me as...., my pre-baptismal name, which is the name I have used as my first name on those books. And the second name is also my name as I explain in my autobiographical writings.

Writing a book of this nature is a collective enterprise. As human beings, we follow paths illuminated by others. Without trail blazers who went before us, we wouldn't be where we are today in terms of accumulation of knowledge as members of the human race. It is a treasure trove we share, and we are able to see far only because we stand on the shoulders of others.

So, while I am tempted to assume full responsibility for all the mistakes in my work, I can not do so because I am fully aware that I am not the original source of all the information contained in this book.

Others deserve credit for a lot of that, together with the mistakes they may have made in the execution of their projects in pursuit of knowledge accumulated to share with the rest of mankind.

Therefore it is a collective responsibility, although they deserve more credit than I do in the completion of my work. I would not have been able to write this book without them as a source of invaluable information.

But the analysis is mine, and I bear full responsibility for that, also being fully aware that it may faulty here and there because we are all mere mortals with frailties.

Introduction


THIS IS a general introduction to South Africa, the continent's powerhouse.

South Africa is the most industrialised and most powerful country on the African continent. It is also the richest.

South Africa also is a country that witnessed a miracle – a peaceful transition from one of the most racist and most repressive regimes in history under the diabolical institution of apartheid to a democratic government under which members of all races have equal rights under the law.

But the focus of this study is not on what has taken place in South Africa since the end of apartheid, although we may take a glimpse of that here and there as we go along.

The focus is on the country itself in general: its geography, its people, and its history since its founding more than 300 years ago as a nation composed of different racial and ethnic groups, including Dutch settlers and other Europeans who, although a minority, played the most important role in shaping the destiny of South Africa as a racist society dominated by whites until the end of apartheid only a few years ago.

Apartheid ended in the early 1990s only as a political institution. As an economic phenomenon, it still exists in all its manifestations including brutal treatment of black farm workers by their white masters. The economy is still dominated by whites and probably will be for many years to come. But that is an entirely different subject beyond the scope of this work which focuses on South Africa in general.

So, we are going to look at what constitutes South Africa as a nation – the different racial and ethnic groups. We are also going to look at the provinces from a historical and geographical perspective and the people who live in those provinces.

We are also going to look at the country from other perspectives, including South Africa in contemporary times, to get a comprehensive picture of what is unquestionably the most dynamic, and most influential, country on the African continent and which will continue to play a major role in continental affairs for many years to come.

Also addressed in the book is the subject of xenophobic terror against black African immigrants in South Africa.

It constitutes a substantial portion of the book and may have taken a disproportionately large amount of space in this work. But that is for obvious reasons.

It is a very important subject which needs all the attention it can get form those who want to address it. For, the existence of such a phenomenon undermines the very foundations upon which the new South Africa is being built. And if it continues, there will be no South Africa as we know it.

It is going to be an entirely different country, if it is going to exist at all as a functional entity and not become an empty shell reminiscent of Zaire under Mobutu or any of the other African states which have collapsed through the decades, earning Africa the dubious and unenviable distinction as a continent of failed states.

Because of the urgency of the situation, it is imperative that the matter should be addressed accordingly and as comprehensively as possible.

One can never say too much about violence. Silence is a partner of evil and is tantamount to condoning the very evil we want to condemn and fight.

Many African countries have descended into chaos, and some of them have dissolved in anarchy, because not enough was done to avert the catastrophe.

South Africa has not reached that point. But if nothing or if not enough is done to neutralise xenophobic violence, failure to do so will inevitably lead to chaos. And it will be an invitation to a reign of terror, earning South Africa the distinction of being – just another African state.

The xenophobic violence is inextricably linked with deprivation and poverty among black South Africans trapped in the townships which are cesspools of diabolical iniquities. There are many good people in the townships. But there also large numbers who are prone to crime and don't value human life.

The failure of the government to address the plight of these people is directly responsible for the explosion which rocked the townships and other parts of South Africa in a wave of xenophobic terror directed against black African immigrants in their midst.

Their plight does not justify violence against the immigrants. But there is no question that it breeds insecurity which in turn is fuelled by poverty. It is a vicious cycle.

It was a catastrophe waiting to happen. Compounding the felony is the fact that the ruling African National Congress was, for years, fully aware of this. The leaders knew that resentment was building up in the townships. They knew there was frustration not only among the young but also among those of the older generation for having been left behind after apartheid ended. They saw the fruits of freedom being enjoyed by a relatively few amongst them. Yet the leaders did nothing.

If the xenophobic violence jolts the conscience of the South African leadership into doing something to improve th condition of the masses, and protect the immigrants as well, something good will have come out of it, although whatever good comes out of it is not worthy the destruction that ensued when angry mobs of black South Africans attacked, maimed and killed black African immigrants and destroyed their property in an orgy of violence on an unprecedented scale since the end of apartheid.

And it is a matter that has to be addressed fully by all South Africans. If it's ignored, it will continue to be a national crisis.

While I concede that I may have given what some people may consider to be undue prominence to this subject in my book, my focus on the subject was dictated by the inescapable fact that you can not begin to understand South Africa in its entirety in contemporary times without looking at what is unquestionably one of the nation's most prominent features as a society. And that is violence.

South Africa is one of the most violent societies in the world. The xenophobic terror I have focused on in the last chapter of this book is only one aspect of this disturbing phenomenon.

And South Africa as a nation can do better than that. So can the rest of Africa.

Part IV:


The People


ALTHOUGH South Africa is one of the largest countries in Africa in terms of area and population, it has one of the smallest numbers of ethnic groups – or tribes – on the entire continent.

To illustrate the point, here are two examples: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country of comparable size in terms of population, has about 200 ethnic groups; and Tanzania, which is bigger than Nigeria in terms of area but with only about a third of Nigeria's population – roughly 40 million – has about 130 ethnic groups.

By remarkable contrast, South Africa has fewer than 20. Yet it has the biggest population among all the countries of Southern Africa.

We are going to take a look at some of South Africa's ethnic groups to get a better understanding of this vibrant nation which is also, in many ways, the beacon of Africa and one of the most influential countries in the entire Third World.

South Africa has about 45 million people. About 31 million of them are black African, 5 million white, 3 million Coloured, and I million of Asian origin, mostly Indian.

South Africa's population also is one of the most complex and diverse in the entire world. And on the African continent, South Africa has the largest number of whites, people of mixed race, and those of Asian origin. No other country on the continent comes even close to that.

The black African population is divided into four major ethnic groups, quite often with overlapping identities in terms of culture among the major groups and others within each of those groups mainly because of their common origin and shared history.

The four main groups are the Nguni, the Sotho, the Shangaan-Tsonga, and the Venda.

There are many subgroups. The Zulu are the largest, and the Xhosa the second-largest. Both belong to the Nguni main group.

Among whites, Afrikaans constitute the largest group. They make up 60 per cent of the white population. The remaining 40 per cent are mainly of British descent, although there are other people of European origin who are included in this percentage but on a much smaller scale.

People of mixed race, collectively known as Coloureds, live mostly in the Northern Cape and Western cape Provinces. And most of the Indians live in KwaZulu-Natal. Afrikaners are concentrated in Gauteng and Free State, and most whites of British descent live in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.

There are eleven official languages, as we learnt earlier: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga, Tswana, Ndebele, Swazi, Venda, Sepedi, and Southern Sotho. They are different, yet many of them are related.

The people who belong to the Bantu linguistic family in South Africa migrated from the area of East and Central Africa which includes the Great Lakes region.

The Bantu people who migrated to South Africa from this region are collectively known as Nguni. And they are divided into two major groups: the Northern Nguni, and the Southern Nguni.

The Northern Nguni include the Zulu; the Swazi; and the Shangaan who are found on both sides of the South African-Mozambican border.

The Southern Nguni include the Xhosa who constitute the largest group in this Southern Nguni family. Other Southern Nguni groups include the Thembu and the Mpondo who are also subgroups of the Xhosa.

And four of South Africa's 11 official language are Nguni languages: isiZulu, isXhosa, isiNdebele, and siSwati. Each of these languages has regional variants and dialects which are often mutually intelligible.

The Nguni social structure was also different from that of other groups such as the Northern Sotho whose homesteads were consolidated into villages. Before the 19th century, the Nguni did not have that. They had dispersed households, not villages.

And cattle were a very important part of their economy and social life. They also grew crops and did some hunting.

Their system of government revolved around small chiefdoms which were not united before the 18th century. But the people were also free to leave and join another chiefdom or form their own if they were not satisfied with th leadership.

There were some larger chiefdoms which sometimes controlled smaller ones, but such control was limited and did not last for more than a generation or two. Probably the main reason they did not last long is that the people resented too much control and hated dictatorship, in spite of their great loyalty to a ruler who was good to them.

One of the most prominent Nguni groups that evolved through the years were the Zulu who still exist today as a powerful ethnic entity.

The Zulu, whose correct name is amaZulu according to themselves, believe that they are descended from a leader named Zulu who was born a Nguni chief in the Congo Basin area centuries ago.

In the 16th century, they migrated south and eventually settled in the eastern part of South Africa, an area now known as KwaZulu-Natal.

When they arrived in South Africa, they came into contact with the San and adopted many of their customs. They also borrowed some words from the San and other linguistic features.

During the reign of Shaka, who was the leader of the Zulu nation from 1816 to 1828, the Zulu were the most powerful kingdom in South Africa and a formidable military force.

And they have remained an influential force in South African life throughout the nation's history.

The basic unit of Zulu society was imizi, a homestead consisting of an extended family. Obligations to the well-being of this social unit were determined by gender. Men were responsible for defending the family members, building homes, taking care of cattle, making farm implements as well as weapons. And women were responsible for growing and taking care of crops on land near the family compounds.

Zulu chiefs collected large amounts of tribute and taxes from their subjects and in many cases they became very wealthy. They also commanded large armies and invaded weaker chiefdoms, annexing them. Men who distinguished themselves in war enhanced their status and became leaders. Shaka, who was a warrior, is a typical example. He became a leader and built the Zulu empire. He began building the empire in 1817 but after his death less than 10 years later in 1828, the Zulu empire disintegrated.

However, the Zulu survived as a single ethnic entity, even if not under one leadership, and their common culture played a major role in holding the people together, as did their common history including pride in the Zulu empire that once reigned supreme over a vast expanse of territory in southern Africa. This ethnic consciousness among the Zulu is still very strong even today.

The Zulu are known throughout the world as formidable fighters, clearly demonstrated by their prowess in the wars against the British during the conquest of South Africa in the 19th century during which they inflicted heavy casualties on the imperial forces, although they were eventually defeated.

They are also well-known for their bead-work and basketry as well as music.

They are mostly farmers and raise cattle. One of the most important crops they grow is maize, an integral part of their diet together with vegetables and meat.

The men and the boys take care of the cows, and till the land, while women do most of the planting and harvesting in addition to the responsibilities they have at home raising children and taking care of the household.

Although many Zulus are Christians, there are those who still adhere to their traditional religion. And even among some of those who practice Christianity, traditional religious beliefs still play a role in their lives, in varying degrees depending on individual and family interests.

Zulu traditional religion is based on the existence of a Supreme Being called Nkulunkulu. The Zulu also believe that the dead, ancestors in the spiritual realm, still play a major role in the afffairs of the living. Guidance is sought from them through divination, enabling the living to interact with the spirit world.

Divination is usually done by a woman endowed with powers beyond those of ordinary men and women. This is a sangoma and she plays a prominent role in the daily lives of the Zulu.

Almost any bad thing in life is attributed to forces beyond man's control, either witchcraft or offended spirits, but it is not beyond the intervention of the ancestors to intercede with the spirit world on behalf of the living and make life better for them.

Traditional religion was deeply entrenched in Zulu society for centuries and when Europeans introduced Christianity, the new faith did not find read acceptance among the Zulu and had difficulty gaining a foothold among them. And when it did, it was in syncretic form, with modification.

One of the most important figures in the history of the Zulu in terms of religion is Isaiah Shambe, considered a Zulu messiah, who merged Christianity with Zulu religion. He preached a form of Christianity which incorporated traditional religious beliefs into the new religion, a hybrid which found more acceptance among the Zulu than the teachings of Christianity introduced by Europeans did.

The Zulu also play a unique role in South Africa today. Although apartheid is now history, at least in the legal sense, and the all the people of South now have equal rights under the law, the Zulu have been a major opposition to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

When the country was going through a transitional phase in the early 1990s, the Zulu demanded a federal form of government with extensive powers given to regional governments.

But they did not achieve their goal. However, they succeeded in defeating the African National Congress in elections in their home province, KwaZulu-Natal, and voted into office the opposition party, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) which is, for a ll practical purposes, a Zulu party.

Many Zulus are also opposed to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) because they see it as a Xhosa party. In fact, the most prominent leaders of the ANC have been Xhosa. They include Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and his father Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Other prominent Xhosas are Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, leader of the Pan-Africanist Congeress (PAC); Steve Biko, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Chris Hani, Mariam Makeba, and Hugh Masekela.

But simply because most of the most prominent leaders of the African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid and after the end of white minority rule were Xhosa does not mean that the ANC is a Xhosa party, whose detractors sometimes disparagingly refer to as La Xhosa Nostra.

One of the reasons a large number of Xhosas emerged as leaders of national stature during the struggle against apartheid and some of them eventually became national leaders after the end of white minority rule is that they were involved in the trade union movement and other activist organisations in relatively higher numbers than members of of other ethnic groups.

The most prominent Zulu of national stature is Jacob Zuma who once served as vice president under President Thabo Mbeki and was later elected the national leader of the ruling party, the African National Congress, in December 2007, paving the way for him to become the president of South Africa in 2009.

He also had overwhelming support among his people, the Zulu, in spite of their misgivings with the ruling ANC and remained solidly behind the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, a leader determined to preserve Zulu identity on the basis of regional autonomy within the context of South Africa as a single political entity. As he states:


“My party is committed to a federation....Personally, I believe in self-determination, but in the context of one South Africa - so that my self-determination is based in this region, and with my people....The IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) is here to put into practice what we preach.

All of our forebears contributed to what South Africa has become. That does not, however, mean that I must apologise to anyone for being born a Zulu, or for having that culture....

So long as the Zulu people are here, clearly I will still have a role to play in this country....

We have our own history, our own language, our own culture. But our destiny is also tied up with the destinies of other people - history has made us all South Africans.” - ( Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, in Mangosuthu Buthelezi Quotes).


The Zulu are very proud of their culture and traditions and speak one of the most well-known languages in Africa and in the entire world.

The Zulu language is spoken by 24 per cent of South Africa's population as the first language. It is spoken by 10 - 11 million people, the Zulu, who also constitute about 24 per cent of the country's population. There are Zulus who live in Swaziland and in Lesotho as well as in other countries but most of them live in South Africa.

Smaller numbers of Zulus also live in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Although the language is spoken mostly by the Zulu, about 50 per cent of the people in South Africa – including many immigrants and other foreigners – understand Zulu. Many of them also speak the language, some fluently.

Zulu belongs to the Nguni group and is a Bantu language like most in South Africa. And it shares a special characteristic and affinity with another language, Xhosa, which also belongs to the Nguni group and is a Bantu language like Zulu. The two languages – Zulu and Xhosa – are the only two languages in South Africa that are mutually understandable.

The correct name of the language among the Zulu themselves is isZulu, although non-Zulus usually and simply call it Zulu.

The Zulu language evolved through the centuries by incorporating many sounds from the San and from the Khoi who are acknowledged as the first inhabitants of South Africa before a wave of Bantu immigration from the north swept across the region and supplanted them.

The clicking consonants in the Zulu language are clear evidence of their origin from the San and from the Khoi languages.

South African English has also incorporated a number of Zulu words into its vocabulary. The words ubuntu (humanity) and indaba (conference) are some of the examples. Others words of Zulu origin used in South Africa and elsewhere are impala and mamba (the snake – black mamba or green mamba).

It is one of the most widely used languages in South Africa because many people say it is not difficult to learn and it is easily understood.

Its sister language, Xhosa, is the second most widely spoken language, after Zulu, among many black South Africans.

It is spoken by about 18 per cent of South Africa's population. That's about 8 million people, mostly Xhosa. They are usually known as amaXhosa in South Africa and wanted to identified that way as a people. And their language is known as isiXhosa.

The Xhosa are closely related to the Zulu and migrated from the same region of the Great Lakes region in East and central Africa as the Zulu and other Nguni-speaking people.

Some of the ancestors of the Xhosa today arrived in what is now the Eastern Cape Province before the 1400s. And others came later in the 1500s and 1600s.

When they encountered the Khoi in the eastern Cape, conflict ensued in some cases, leading to the elimination and even enslavement of some of the Khoisan speakers. But in general, the Khoi, also known as Khoikhoi, were absorbed and integrated into Xhosa society without ant problems.

Most Xhosas were cattle herders or farmers. Some were hunters. Besides maize, sorghum was another important crop as it is still today among the Xhosa. They also grew tobacco. Men also earned a living n the fields of woodwork and ironwork.

Traditionally, Xhosa homesteads were organised on the basis of family ties and were patrilineal. The lineal descendants together with other related groups constituted the basis of the Xhosa social structure.

The building blocks of Xhosa society were also responsible for ensuring the survival and continuation of their bloodline by making sacrifices to the ancestors, by helping each other, and by carefully arranging marriages with neighbouring clans or lineages.

They are a heterogeneous group who have absorbed other groups through the centuries. Some of the most prominent Xhosa groups are the Pondo, or Mpondo, and Thembu both of which have produced prominent figures in South African history. Nelson Mandela came from the Thembu royal family, and Oliver Tambo came from the Pondo group as did Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

The name Xhosa has an interesting origin. It does not come from Xhosa but from the Khoisan language and it means “angry men.”

The Xhosa language is well-known for its click sound, a feature which make it difficult for many foreigners to learn although there are those who do. It has 15 different clicks, each with a different meaning.

There are other languages which also involve tongue-clicking, like Xhosa, and they are all of Khoisan origin. The Xhosa language is also representative of the South-western's Nguni family of languages and it's spoken everywhere in the Cape Province which is the native land of the Xhosa people.

There are also many Xhosas in the Western Cape Province and in Johannesburg and it's very common to hear them speak their language. There are also many Zulus in Johannesburg.

The Xhosa language is also spoken in Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, although in smaller numbers. And almost 45 per cent of all the people in South Africa speak Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele or Swati as their first language. The rest speak other Bantu languages as well as others including English and Afrikaans as their native language.

Although the term Xhosa is commonly used by outsiders to identify a Xhosa or the Xhosa people, the appropriate term to identify a Xhosa, or Xhosas, is to use the term amaXhosa. Any amaXhosa man or woman will tell you that's the right term to use.

Like all the other black South African groups, the Xhosa have been in South Africa for a long time.

They migrated south probably from what is today the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

They travelled through central Africa and further down along the east coast until they arrived in the eastern part of the Cape. They settled in South Africa before the 1500s long before the white man arrived.

The first people the Xhosa came into contact with in South Africa were Khoisan-speaking people: the San and the Khoi, so-called Bushmen and Hottentots.

A lot of intermingling including intermarriage took place between them through the years. One of the most enduring results of this interaction was in the area of language.

The Xhosa borrowed many words including pronunciation from the Khoisan languages, as did the Zulu and other Bantu groups who migrated to South Africa, and this influence is clearly evident even today in black South African languages.

The click sounds of Khoisan languages are common in Xhosa, Zulu and other Bantu languages in South Africa. It is an enduring legacy, and that is why it is only the southern Bantu languages which have these sounds.

You don't find such sounds, for example, in Nyanja or Chewa spoken in Malawi, or in Nyamwezi and Hehe or Sukuma which are some of the native languages spoken in Tanzania, or in Bemba, the main indigenous language spoken in Zambia.

Many Khoisan-speaking people were also absorbed by the dominant Bantu groups through the years and became an integral part of those groups; the Zulu and the Xhosa being the most prominent. In fact one of the Xhosa clans, Gqunkhwebe, is of Khoisan origin. The Xhosa have a number of clans.

And physical features of the San and the Khoi are clearly evident among many Xhosas because of the intermarriage which has taken place through the centuries. One of the best examples is Nelson Mandela who, especially in his advanced years, clearly showed he had some of the facial physical features identified with the San and the Khoi, so-called Bushmen and Hottentots; so did Walter Sisulu from his mother's side – his father, a railway worker, was a white man of British origin.

So, there has been a lot of intermingling, including intermarriage, through the centuries among the Xhosa, as has been the case with other African groups, but as a people the Xhosa have maintained their identity as a distinct group and without compromising their essence.

When whites first settled in the Cape Province in the middle of the 17th century, the Xhosa were already living far inland and did not come into conflict with the white settlers until around 1770 when the Boers moved east – from the Cape in the west – towards Xhosaland.

Both the Boers and the Xhosa were stock-farmers and competition for land led to conflict between the two groups which culminated in a series of wars which went on for about 100 years.

As the colonial settlers became stronger, they started annexing land from the Xhosa. Annexation of land led to subjugation of the indigenous people – a policy pursued elsewhere with equally devastating results – and, by the middle of the nineteenth century, in the 1850s, almost all the land that had been inhabited by the Xhosa was under white control.

And during apartheid, the white government dominated by Afrikaners declared that the Xhosa would be confined to two homelands, or Bantustans, Ciskei and Transkei in what is now the Eastern Cape Province, a traditional Xhosa stronghold.

The Xhosa are closely related to the Zulu, the Swati, and the Ndebele; and so are their languages, of course. Their languages are mutually intelligible but they are considered to be separate languages mainly for cultural reasons because each group wants to maintain its unique identity.

There are political considerations as well, reinforced by ethnic pride and a sense of nationalism, derived from the fact that all these people separately constitute “nations,” as they indeed were before they were conquered by Europeans and brought under one control.

In terms of life style, the Xhosa are mainly farmers and cattle owners like most black African groups whose languages belong to the Bantu family.

They are also the most southern group of the Bantu immigrants from Central Africa.

The Xhosa also have a very rich culture.

As in most parts of Africa, men play a dominant role in Xhosa society. And a boy becomes a man when his father determines that he is ready to go to the "hut".

He is set apart for a period of up to 6 weeks in which he is circumcised and taught the traditions of his people. Teaching ancestor worship is an important part of this time. This is typically done between 12 and 18 years of age. After this time, he is free to get married.

Marriages are arranged by the families. The family of the boy approaches the family of the girl and begins "negotiations". The lobola, or bride price, must also be agreed upon. It is typically 10 cows or the equivalent in money.

The bride is “captured” by the groom's family and taken to live with them; a practice also traditionally common among the Nyakyusa of Tanzania.

Among the Xhosa, traditionally, after the bride has been “captured,” she and the groom are considered to be married. But if they are Christians, they go to the church for a two-day service in which one day is spent in the groom's village and the other in the bride's village.

Although Christianity and Western ways are no longer new among the Xhosa, ancestor worship still plays a very prominent role among the Xhosa.

Traditionally, hey believe the ancestors reward those who venerate them and punish those who neglect them. Many Xhosas mix ancestor worship with their Christian faith.

And there is a strong sense of loyalty among the people as members of the community or tribe. Most things are shared and those that have more are expected to share more. This is ubuntu.

The Xhosa are also well-known for their bead-work. Traditionally, their garments and ornamentation reflected the stages of a woman’s life: a certain headdress was worn by a newly married girl; a different style by one who had given birth to her first child, and so on.

And Xhosa men traditionally fulfilled the roles of warrior, hunter and stockman; while the women looked after the land and the crops.

The land was communally held and great emphasis was placed on giving according to need. Everything was shared, in bad times as well as good. And Xhosa families still routinely help one another with such tasks as hut-building, a practice also traditionally common among some of the other African tribes.

Among the Nyakyusa of Tanzania, it was common even in the 1950s and 1960s among some people for a man to ask other men to come and help him build a house and even till the land, after which they feasted, eating plenty of food and drinking locally brewed alcohol called ubwalwa.

Tilling the land collectively, called ndimila in Nyakyusa, was highly functional and productive. It is also part of ubundu, as the Nyakyusa call it, and what the Xhosa and others in South Africa call ubuntu.

Also, traditional religion is central to life among the Xhosa and is one of the most powerful forces binding the people together. Legends of the Xhosa play the same role, also reinforcing their identity.

Xhosa legends or folklore have a lot in common with those of the other black African groups of Nguni origin such as the Zulu and Swazi.

Acknowledgement and recognition of the presence and power of the departed ancestors as an integral part of the living and of a Supreme Being, are basic elements of belief among the Xhosa.

Bad things which happen in life including illness are attributed to evil forces of supernatural origin; for example, tokoloshe, a hairy and potentially malevolent goblin who attacks at night.

Other entities include the huge lightning bird called impundudu, and the gentle aBantu bomlambo, supernatural beings in human form whom the Xhosa believe live in rivers and in the sea and who are said to accept into their family human beings who perish in the water, for example, from drowning.

Interestingly enough, the word impundudu is almost identical to the word imbututu the Nyakyusa of Tanzania use for a very large black bird. The difference is that while impundudu among the Xhosa is a large supernatural bird, imbututu in Nyakyusaland is natural bird.

And the term imbututu - also mbututu depending on the context in which the term is used if you know the Nyakyusa language as I do - is also used as a plural term. There are many such birds and they flock together.

I saw the birds myself in the 1950s and 1960s in Rungwe District, the homeland of the Nyakyusa, in Mbeya region in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania.

They were very large black birds with red beaks and they flew low every evening from a village called Nkuju to another village called Mpumbuli where they landed in some bushes not far from a river called Lubalisi which runs through that village.

The birds landed on a patch of land about 50 yards behind the family houses owned by two neighbours, Elijah Mwakikagile and Elijah Nsumbwe in Mpumbuli village in an area called Kyimbila about 4 miles south of the town of Tukuyu, the district headquarters of Rungwe District.

I saw those birds many times in that area and they made a lot of deep, low-pitched noise, singing in unison. Compared to the singing, or chirping, of other birds, that of the mbututu was like bass guitar.

I don't know the origin of the term imbututu, or mbututu, among the Nyakyusa, but the fact that these were very large birds – just as the impundudu is among the Xhosa – and their Nyakyusa name is almost identical to the one used by the Xhosa to describe a mystical bird in their culture, raises interesting questions in terms of common origin of many black African groups and their traditional beliefs.

It's very much possible that the term imbututu among the Nyakyusa also once referred to a mystical bird with supernatural influence in their lives, and the large black birds with red beaks they call imbututu or mbututu and which do exist in real life, remind them of that.

And among the Xhosa this huge, mystical lightning bird they call impundudu is as real in their traditional religious beliefs as the real, physical imbututu is among the Nyakyusa.

Such beliefs, deeply rooted in traditional religion, are common even today among most African tribes, although modernisation – which is mostly identified as a Western phenomenon of which Christianity and Western values constitute an integral part – has had a significant impact on some Africans who now shun those beliefs. Some do so only publicly while they continue to practise them privately.

Still, there is no question that traditional beliefs remain very strong and are central to the lives of the vast majority of Africans including those who have come under Western influence. The Xhosa are just some of those people.

Others include members of different tribes in Tanzania, besides the Nyakyusa, whom I have also included in this work for comparative analysis. As Sosthenes Mwita, stated in his article in the Daily News, Dar es Salaam, Tanzaania, 17 June 2008, entitled, “Rukwa Famous for Bizarre Cultures and Uncanny Superstition”:


“Sumbawanga, the name of the administrative capital of Rukwa region, has an intriguing history. Though scanty and even hard to come by, available documentation dates back to 1914. Equally intriguing is the culture of the dominant tribe in Rukwa region – the Wafipa.

Before 1914 Sumbawanga was called 'Sumbu Wanga', which translates loosely to “discard your amulets” or “do not come here with fetishes of witchcraft,” in the dialect of the highly superstitious Wafipa of the time.

A history booklet shows that the general fear among the Wafipa at that time was that some strangers could be better-skilled witchdoctors or magicians who could commit heinous atrocities given the chance.

The settlement’s name appeared to warn strangers who had the temerity to come to 'Sumbu Wanga' against taking the ‘offensive and diabolical’ tools of their trade with them, lest they tangle with equally dangerous local magicians.

By 1929 the name of the settlement (Sumba Wanga) was adopted as the name of the administrative capital of the then Native African Authority. In 1950, the Ufipa District Council was installed.

However, as years rolled on, 'Sumbu Wanga' changed to Sumbawanga, the blame mainly coming from newcomers. By 1982 Sumbawanga town became a township through Act. No. 8 of the Local Government Authorities (LGAs).

The township had a population of 61,223 residents by then. Today, the Rukwa region has a population of 1,141,743 residents, going by the 2002 National Census and the forecast for last year was 1,349,749 people, according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) figures.

Major languages spoken in Rukwa region include; Kiswahili, Kifipa, Kimambwe, Kilungu, Kikonongo and Kinyamwanga. With the exception of Kiswahili, the other spoken languages are local vernacular. Other tribal settings in Rukwa include Wandende and Wapimbwe.

The main regional staple foods are mainly maize, rice and beans. In some parts of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Rukwa , cassava, fish and rice are the main source of food. Other food crops widely available include groundnuts, finger-millet and sweet potatoes.

The list of foods also includes round potatoes, sorghum, wheat and sugarcane. Meat is easily available from the pastoral communities that traditionally keep varieties of domestic animals such as cattle, goats, chicken, rabbits and pigeons. But rats and mice are also a favoured delicacy in some areas in Mpanda district.

The Wafipa, the largest tribal setting in Rukwa region, still have intriguing cultural norms and tenets of behaviour. Most Wafipa eat stiff porridge (ugali) cooked from finger-millet flour. Invariably, the ugali goes with beans or an occasional snack of rat or mouse meat popularly known as koe.

The Wafipa are hardworking farmers, who also grow maize, rice, groundnuts and sunflowers. Bumper harvests of maize and rice are a normal occurrence in Rukwa region. Nearly all Wafipa families use oxen-drawn ploughs to till the land.

Mr James Tuseko (71) an elderly man from the Wafipa tribe, says most households in his community raise an average of 12 head of cattle. However, most Wafipa, he says, do not drink milk. All milk is fed to dogs and house cats.

Among the Wafipa tribe, it is widely believed that witchcraft makers, mostly elderly men can make rain. The same miracle-makers can dispel or delay the onset of rain, according to Ms Wamweru Kataushanga, a rain-maker who has now laid down her tools.

The Wafipa are widely believed to be “very generous” people. However, some Wafipa men can be unforgiving if you steal or vandalize their property especially farm produce.

Wife-stealing is a cardinal sin that is punished heavily. An adulterous man who steals another man’s wife is, consequently, hit by a powerful thunderbolt. The ominous signs of such an attack start with an insignificant gathering of rain clouds.

The resulting drizzle is said to be accompanied by thunder strikes, one of which hits the “wife-thief” with pinpoint precision, killing him instantly. Normally, the victim of such harsh punishment is one who has defied repeated warnings from the aggrieved husband.

Such weird punishments are believed to be meted out most prevalently in Nkasi district. Mr Tuseko says the man who suffered a similar fate was a police officer who had annoyed village elders

Mr Tuseko says the officer made frequent unwelcome visits on the fringes of Sumbawanga where he harassed villagers demanding favours corruptly, exacting torture and making arbitrary arrests.

He was, consequently, struck by lightning as he watched a game of soccer at a stadium. The bizarre aspect in this attack was that although the victim was seated in the middle of a thick crowd of spectators, he was the only one who was singled out for death.

Those seated close to him suffered minor burns and recovered after a few days. The Wafipa have a delightful dance called nsimba.

Ms, Nakama Nachirima (64) a former dancer, says music tools comprise two or three pots that vary in size; three-legged stools (one for each pot), a whistle and small stringed bells that are worn round the ankles. The pots are placed on the ground upside down, resting on their lids. The stools are placed on top of each upended pot. Skilled music makers twitch the stools in such a way that their legs tap on the pots, producing a scintillating rhythmical sound.

Each pot produces a different melodious sound, depending on its size. Women, mostly in Kitenge or khanga uniform, shake their shoulders, nod their heads and stomp their feet on the ground in tempo to the rhythm. In the heat of the moment, men join the fray.

The Wadende, who inhabit a portion of Mpanda district, are another tribal setting who has confounding culture. The Wadende are largely hunters and gatherers. They mainly thrive on meat, fruits and honey.

The Cultural Officer for Sumbawanga Rural district, Mr James Chelelo, says the Wadende are blamed for game hunting. “They mainly target small hoofed animals such as antelopes and gazelles,” he says.

The Wadende live on the fringes of Katavi National Park where they hunt almost with impunity. Among the Wadende, each household owns a homemade gun. The Wadende are also skilled users of poison-tip arrows and spears.

According to Mr Chelelo, the Wadende till the land albeit at a small scale growing maize and beans but their consumption of stiff porridge (ugali) is minimal. They also happen to inhabit mineral rich land, thus, some are small-scale miners.

The Wadende are also skilled beekeepers. It is uncommon to find a Wandende household which does not have a pot or calabash full of honey. Rukwa region came into being in 1974 when parts of Mbeya and Tabora regions were split to form a new region.”


A lot of things the Wafipa and members of other tribes do in Tanzania – as well as in other parts of East, Central and Southern Africa – have striking similarities to what the people of black South African tribes do.

As in many other African tribes, the Xhosa in South Africa also have diviners.

A diviner plays many roles in Xhosa life besides being a traditional healer. A diviner also acts as an intermediary between the physical and the spirit world.

They are traditional doctors providing medicine, herbs and other traditional cures, for physical ailments. They also help people who suffer from mental and even provide psychological counseling in many areas. In Western medicine and health and mental care, diviner or traditional healer among the Xhosa and other African societies would be the equivalent of a conventional doctor, psychiatrist and psychologist – all rolled into one.

The diviners – or sangoma – among the Xhosa, the Zulu and many other black ethnic groups in southern Africa – are mostly women.

Among the Xhosa, they wear a shawl and headdress of fur most of the time. And they must undergo training under the guidance of a senior healer or healers before they start treating patients. It takes about five years working as an assistant to a diviner before you graduate and become one yourself.

Initiation rites differ in many ways between different African peoples. One of the most common practices among many groups is circumcision. But with increasing urbanisation many groups have abandoned circumcision even though some individuals are circumcised for their own reasons including health.

Initiation takes many forms. Among the Xhosa, the youths whiten their bodies and wear a white blanket or sheepskin to ward off evil. During the ceremonies, enlivened by energetic dances, they wear costumes made from reeds, and at the end of the lengthy initiation period – spent in isolation from the rest of the community – the specially-built huts in which the young men have been living are ceremoniously burned.

Like most Africans across the continent, the majority of the Xhosa continue to live in the traditional way, and their tribal customs and traditions have remained virtually intact for centuries; as has their life style. Traditional mud-brick huts without running water or electricity still dot the hillsides, personal wealth is still measured primarily in terms of how many cows a man owns, and initiation of the youth into manhood is still common. Young boys going through their coming-of-age ceremony are called abaKwetha.

Maize is the main part of their diet. But they also eat a variety of foods. In many Xhosa homes, meals are accompanied by a traditional beer called umquomboti.

Music also is very important in the lives of the Xhosa. Some of the most internationally renowned musicians and singers are Xhosa. They include Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela.

Many Xhosas sing and dance to traditional music. Also a wide range of acapella and gospel choirs give regular performances on different occasions not only in Xhosaland in the Eastern cape Province but also in other parts o the country. They include Amatombazana, Black Mambazo, Bomvana Mamas, the Peace Brothers, and the Phandalwazi community choir.

And as a people, the Xhosa have had profound on South Africa throughout the nation's history. And they played a major role in the struggle for freedom from white minority which black South Africans endured for more than three centuries.

While the Zulu and the Xhosa constitute the two largest black African groups in South Africa, Afrikaners are the biggest group among South Africans of European descent. And their language evolved on African soil.

In fact, the majority of South African whites use Afrikaans as their first or second language. Even many blacks, including some leaders such as Nelson Mandela, speak Afrikaans.

Afrikaans is also widely spoken in Namibia and by a significant number of people in Botswana, Zimbabwe and other countries.

The name for the language, Afrikaans, is Dutch which means “African.” It is also the first language among Coloureds who are a product of intermarriage.

The intermarriage took place among many groups. Immigrants from Indonesia and other parts of Asia as well as Madagascar intermarried with the Dutch and members of black African groups - especially the Khoikoi in the beginning in the Cape Province and later with others - to produce a distinct group of people known as Coloureds with their own unique identity.

And they have closely identified themselves with the Dutch culture – the culture of Afrikaners including the Afrikaans language – more than anything else in South Africa.

In fact 90 per cent of the Coloureds speak Afrikaans as their first language, contrasted with 60 per cent of whites who also speak Dutch. Therefore there are more Coloureds who speak Afrikaans as their first language than whites do. And whites who speak this language are mostly of Dutch origin.

Although Afrikaans is of Dutch origin in many respects, it differs from Dutch in terms of grammar and vocabulary. It is, in fact, an African language in the sense that it was created on African soil, evolved on African soil, and has incorporated many words from black South African languages through the centuries.

The evolution of Afrikaans can be compared to that of Kiswahili, also known as Swahili, in some respects. Afrikaans is not a typical African language because a very large part of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin.

By remarkable contrast, Swahili is considered to be a “typical” African language because most of its vocabulary is African. Also its grammar and syntax is African. Yet, it is not a “typical” African language like Zulu or Shona or Kikuyu or Igbo or Yoruba or Ewe or Bemba because about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of its vocabulary is of Arabic origin.

Therefore it is also partly Semitic, just as Afrikaans – a language of Dutch origin – is partly African in terms of vocabulary, and in terms of evolution, of course.

Swahili also has borrowed a few words from Persian, Portuguese, Hindi, and German.

Arabic words in Kiswahili, or Swahili, include raisi (from rais), which means president; waziri (from wazir), meaning cabinet minister; kahawa (coffee), sigara (cigarette); rafiki (friend); numbers – sita (six), saba (seven), tisa (nine); alhamisi (Thursday), and many other words in different areas of life.

From Persian, Swahili has borrowed chai (tea), diwani (councillor), serikali (government), achari (pickle), and others.

Words of Portuguese origin in Swahili include meza (table) from the Portuguese word mesa; pesa (money) from peso; leso (handkerchief), gereza (prison); sarafu (currency – money), and others.

From English - shati (shirt), basi (bus), baiskeli ( bicycle), koti (coat), and so on.

German contributions include shule (school), hela (German coin) and others.

From Hindi, chapati and other words.

And that's not unusual for evolving languages to borrow words and even concepts from other cultures. English, the most widely spoken language in the world, has done the same thing. So has Afrikaans.

A very large part of the vocabulary of Afrikaans is of South-Hollandic Dutch origin. But Afrikaans also has many words from English, Khoi, San, Xhosa, Malay, Malagasy, Portuguese, French and German.

There are many other ethnic groups which are an integral part of South Africa.

One of the four major black ethnic groups in South Africa is the Venda; the other three being the Nguni (whose members include the Zulu and the Xhosa among others); the Shangaan-Tsonga; and the Sotho.

The Venda live mostly in Limpopo Province in the northern part of South Africa.

There are about one million Vendas and their language is also known as Luvenda, Tshivenda or simply Venda.

Their native land was once a Bantustan during the apartheid era in what was then the Transvaal Province before it became part of Limpopo Province after the end of white minority rule.

Although the vast majority of the Venda live in South Africa, a significant number of them also live in Zimbabwe just across the border. About 84,000 Vendas live in Zimbabwe, while the rest live in South Africa mostly in Limpopo Province. A significant number of them also live in the Northern Province.

As with most of the black South Africans, the Venda migrated south from the area of the Great Lakes region which includes the Congo.

They first settled in a mountainous area in the northern part of South Africa. The mountains in this part were later named Soutpansberg Mountains by the Dutch who ruled South Africa.

Their native land in this part – of South Africa and southern Zimbabwe – is a lush, mountainous and remote region; a factor that also explains why their culture, language, arts and crafts have remained virtually intact for centuries.

They have never been conquered by either the neighbouring tribes or the white settlers.

This is partly due to the remote country in which they live, and also because of the natural protection of the mountains to the south and east, with the Limpopo River shielding them to the north.

The Venda constructed permanent stone towns similar in style to Great Zimbabwe, which lies north of the Limpopo River over the border and is thought to have once been the capital of an empire that stretched across much of southern Africa – there is also a Venda minority in Zimbabwe.

The Venda built their first capital, D’zata, in that area and the ruins of this old settlement can still be seen today. The ruins are some of the most important historical treasures in South Africa.

The large walled city at Dzata was built in the 16th century, and there was a rich trade in ivory and slaves with the Arabs and Portuguese who were beginning to establish mercantile routes in the area.

The Venda first established the Mapungubwe kingdom in the northern part of South Africa in the 800s A.D. And their first king was Shiriyadenga.

The Mapungubwe Kingdom extended from the Soutpansberg Mountains in the south and across the Limpopo River all the way to Matopo Hills in what is now southern Zimbabwe, centuries before the Ndebele migrated north from South Africa and settled in this region which is now also known as Matebeland and part of the republic of Zimbabwe.

The Mapungubwe Kingdom gradually declined from 1240, and the centre of power and trade in the region moved north to the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom.

But in spite of the kingdom's decline, the Venda culture maintained its vitality. For example, south of the Limpopo River in South Africa, Venda and Shona-Venda pottery styles developed in the 14th and in the 15th centuries together with other cultural developments.

And although there are no stone-walled ruins in Limpopo Province comparable in stature and size to those of Great Zimbabwe in the northeastern part of the Northern Province (also of South Africa) there is definitely a strong cultural link between the two.

There was also a lot of intermingling between the Venda and the Shona. From around 1400, waves of Shona-speaking migrants from modern Zimbabwe - known by the Venda as Thavatsindi - settled across the Lowveld in South Africa, becoming an integral part of the communities in this region.

The Venda are generally regarded as one of the last black groups to have entered the area south of the Limpopo River.

Venda culture has retained its identity through the centuries. But it is also an eclectic mixture. There are many elements from the cultures of East and Central Africa. It also has some characteristics of Nguni and Sotho cultures. For example, the Venda practice male circumcision, which is common among many Sotho but not among most Nguni peoples. They also don't eat pork, a prohbition common among the people along the East African coast especially among Muslims.

Also British anthropologists Godfrey Wilson and Monica Wilson found out in their studies in the 1930s and 1940s among the Venda and the Nyakyusa of Tanzania, what was then Tanganyika, and of Malawi (then known as Nyasaland) that they shared a number of cultural characteristics.

Such similarities may indicate a common origin or cultural interaction and exchanges between different African groups in the region.

The Venda language, TshiVenda or LuVenda, emerged as a distinct dialect in the 16th century. And in the 20th century, the TshiVenda vocabulary was similar to SeSotho. But its grammar shares similarities with Shona dialects which are spoken in Zimbabwe.

The Venda are also culturally closer to the Shona people of Zimbabwe than they are to any other South African group. Also, their language has a lot of similarities with Shona and Northern Sotho. It has also been influenced by the Nguni languages in some ways.

Venda culture has also been influenced by the Lemba, the black African Jews, who settled in the same region where the Venda live. The Jewish ancestors of the Lemba travelled from Yemen to what is now Tanzania and Mozambique before moving further south.

The beads they brought with them from these countries are still treasured to this day and are used in divination and other ceremonies. The Lemba are very good traders and artisans and are also famous for their metalwork and pottery, all of which has had significant influence on the Venda.

Another highly significant result of this interaction between the Lemba and the Venda is that many Vendas now also claim to have Semitic or Jewish roots. And that is because the Lemba have become an integral part of the Venda community, although it's a subgroup, within the larger community, which jealously guards its unique identity because of its Jewish heritage.

The Venda also prohibit their people from dealing with unclean animals such as pigs just as the Lemba do, and they don't eat pork just as the Lemba don't. Even the names of the two groups are similar: There's not much difference between Lemba and Venda. They sound basically the same.

The claim by the Lemba that they have a Jewish heritage has been validated by science, including DNA tests done by South Africa's National Health Laboratory Services and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The scientists examined the Y chromosomes of the Lemba and found that 50 per cent were of Semitic origin, showing that the group originated in the Middle East around 1000 years ago.

Moreover, this particular type of chromosome found among the Lemba is a highly distinctive. It is the same chromosome found only in a hereditary Jewish priesthood sect known as the Cohanim. Inclusion into the sect was handed from father to son thus retaining the original Y chromosome, meaning that it is now scientifically proven that the Lemba, and therefore many Venda, are indeed descended from the ancient Israelites.

It has also been determined that the members of this sect of Jewish priests are descendanats of Aron, brother of Moses, in the Old Testament.

The Venda have also intermarried with the Tsonga, Lobedu, Zulu, Swazi and other people, all of whom have had significant influence on Venda culture.

Many of them also still practise polygamy and traditional religious beliefs in which departed ancestors play a central role.

Also traditionally, there is an important social division in Venda society between commoners, called vhasiwana, and the children of chiefs and their descendants who are known as vhakololo.

The Venda have a strong mystical tradition, and consider lakes and rivers to be sacred.

Water plays a very important part in the religious beliefs of the Venda and there are many sacred sites where the Venda consult their ancestral spirits.

In traditional religion, the Venda believe that water spirits known as zwidutwane live at the bottom of waterfalls. These supernatural beings are only half-visible. They have one eye, one leg, and one arm. And this highly symbolic and of great religious significance in traditional worship aamong the Venda.

One half of these beings can be seen in this world and the other half in the spirit world. And traditionally, the Venda take offerings of food to them because the zwidutwane can not grow anything under water, in spite of their supernatural powers.

One of the most sacred sites of the Venda is Lake Fundudzi. There are many mythsa dn legends about the lake. It is fed by the Mutale River yet does not appear to have an outlet. It is also said that you can sometimes hear the Tshikona song although no one appears to be there. Tshikona is a Venda national dance.

The Venda are well known for their wood-carving, which has spiritual significance, and believe that the rains are controlled by the Python God, which lives in Lake Fundudzi.

Lake Fundudzi is consequently considered a sacred site, and visitors must obtain permission from the lake’s resident priestess before approaching it.

In Venda folklore, the lake is home to huge python which is celebrated by young girls in the Venda fertility dance. The python is the god of fertility.

Lake Funduzi, in Thathe Vondo forest and surrounded by mountains, is also home to the mythical white crocodile; which might indeed have existed since the lake has many large crocodiles even today. And no-one is allowed to bathe or swim in the lake.

The Domba Python Dance is held one a year. An offering of beer is poured into the lake and as the final stage of their initiation into womanhood, Venda girls line up in a single file and dance in long winding lines like a snake.

The Domba is also very important in securing good rains for the following season.

Therefore one of the most important rituals among the Venda is Domba, a pre-marital initiation.

It is also the last one in the life of a Venda girl or boy. The chief formally announces the beginning of a Domba and preparations are made by the families for their girls to be ready and to prepare what’s necessary to attend the ceremony.

It is a rite of passage attended by both boys and girls who have previously attended other separate initiations for each gender, Vusha and Tshikanda for girls, and Murundu for boys when boys are also circumcised. The circumcision done during this rite was adopted from the North Sotho.

Only girls attend the Domba which has two main functions: teaching girls how to prepare themselves to become wives - birth planning, giving birth and child care, and how to treat a husband; and bringing fertility to the new generation of the tribe.

Many rituals are very special to the Venda and some of them are kept secret and not discussed with outsiders. But it is common knowledge that the python dance conducted at the female coming-of-age ceremony is usually where the chief chooses a wife.

Girls and boys dance fluidly, moving around like a snake, to the beat of a drum, while forming a chain by holding the forearm of the person in front.

And once a wife has been chosen, a number of courtship and grooming rituals take place during a period of a number of days.

The Tshikona is traditionally a male dance in which each player has a pipe made out of a special indigenous type of bamboo growing only in few places around Sibasa and Thohoyandou (which no longer exists). Each player has one note to play, which has to be played in turn, in such a way as to build a melody.

The Tshikona is a royal dance. Each ruler or chief has his own Tshikona band. Tshikona is played at various occasions for funerals, wedding or religious ceremonies. In many important ways, it is indeed the Venda national dance or music, especially to the Venda who are indigenous to South Africa.

The Tshigombela is a female dance usually performed by married women. It is a festive dance sometimes performed at the same time as Tshikona.

There is another type of dance, Tshifhasi, which is similar to Tshigombela but it's performed by young unmarried girls who are known as khomba.

Drums are are very important in Venda culture. And there are legends and symbols linked to them. Most sets of drums are kept in the homes of chiefs and headmen and comprise one ngoma, one thungwa, and two or three murumba.

Drums are often given personal names and are always played by women and girls except in during some dances involving religious rituals when men may play them.

The Venda are known to be very artistic and produce many fascinating arts and crafts, with sculpture being particularly well-represented. Whether using wood or stone, the artist carves away the surplus material to reveal the true form or spirit of the object hidden underneath.

All this is easily dismissed by many people, especially Westerners, who see it as sheer superstition and witchcraft. But to the Venda, it is highly significant and central to their life and identity as a people. And it common among other tribes as well.

The Venda remain close to their ancestors through ancestral worship, and their art serves as a link and as a conduit to the world of spirits. Witchcraft is not viewed as an evil practice but a means to establish contact with the spirit world, usually when seeking guidance from the departed ancestors who remain an integral part of the living in almost every conceivable way.

Many Vendas go to traditional healers who diagnose their illnesses and then provide cures for them in consultation with the spirits in another realm which, despite its nature as an invisible world, is always inextricably linked with the physical world.

Ailments are cured or alleviated, for example, by making sacrifices and offerings, such as a chicken, to the ancestors and to appease the spirits. Herbs also are an integral part of the entire healing process, administered to those who have all kinds of physical, mental and even spiritual problems.

The Venda have maintained a solid traditional way of life, of which they are immensely proud, and continue to do so in spite of Western influence and modernisation which has spread in many parts of South Africa.

In the rural areas, cattle ownership is synonymous with wealth, and the lifestyle revolves around agriculture. Male and female roles are clearly defined, with the men responsible for livestock, ploughing and the building of huts, while the women do most of the harvesting as well as all the domestic duties.

Polygamy is still common, and due to the prosperity of the farmland, fewer men leave the area to work in the mines than is the case with many other tribes. As a result, traditional life has changed little over the years.

The Venda language is Bantu like all the other Black African languages spoken in South Africa except the Khoisan languages of the Khoi and the San.

And like all Bantu languages, Tshivenda is part of the Niger-Congo family which covers a vast expanse of territory stretching from Senegal in West Africa all the way to Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa and to central and southern Africa.

The Venda are some of the African people who continue to conduct their “national” life – as a Venda community – in the traditional way.

They have Tshivenda tribal councils of chiefs and elders who meet to discuss matters concerning their community, a form of government which is a practical alternative to western forms of government many African societies have adopted all the way down to the grassroots level with undesirable results in many cases.

Music is also very important in the Venda way of life, not only for entertainment but because of its cultural and religious significance and as a form of kinship binding the people together as a cohesive entity. It is an integral part of daily life among the Venda, unlike in many African societies across the continent where many people don't value music very much or as much as some members of different ethnic groups do.

The Venda have music almost for every event in their lives. There is music for worship. There is music for sadness.

The Venda also have music for work as many people of other African tribes do; for example, the Nyakyusa in Tanzania and Malawi who are said to share many cultural values and traditions with the Venda, according to the works of British anthropologist Monica Wlison who conducted her studies among the Venda and the Nyakyusa and other tribes in the region in the 1930s.

I remember witnessing this among the Nyakyusa in Rungwe District in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania in the late 1950s and 1960s. Many of them used to sing when they were working on their farms.

Also after work, many Nyakyusa, especially men, celebrate by drinking and singing at tradtional drinking places where locally brewed alcohol – mostly from maize and other grains – is sold. The Venda also, after working all day n the fields like the Nyakyusa, relax with traditional music, a few drinks and dancing.

I also witnessed funerals among the Nyakyusa which went on for days and where there was a lot of mourning and chanting, and quite often invoking the names – hence spirits – of the ancestors.

The invocation of ancestral names and guidance is an integral part of many African cultures.

Drum beating also is an integral part of most of the music among the Venda. And a lot of their songs are usually murmured.

The Venda also have traditional meals just like other Africans do. And cooking is done the traditional way. The traditional meal among the Venda is Tshidzimba, a mixture of groundnuts, beans and maize or what's called mielie grains.

The term mielies, or mielie-meal, refers to maize. It's usually porridge and is a staple food among black South Africans. Another staple food among black South Africans is pearl millet.

The Ndebele are another Bantu ethnic group in South Africa who also live in southern Zimbabwe.

The Ndebele in Zimbabwe migrated from what is now KwaZulu-Natal Province in the 1830s. The fled from Zulu domination and encroachment by the Boers and established a new homeland in southern Zimbabwe. They are one of Zimbabwe's two ethnic groups – the other one is the Shona, the dominant group – and their homeland in southern Zimbabwe is known as Matebeleland.

They are members of the Nguni family of tribes. Altogether, the Nguni tribes constitute two thirds of South Africa's black population.

There are four Nguni groups: the Central Nguni, who are the Zulu-speaking people; the Southern Nguni, collectively identified as the Xhosa-speaking people; the Swazi people from Swaziland and adjacent areas; and the Ndebele of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga Province.

And there are some differences among the Ndebele themselves in South Africa, a product of historical, social and cultural circumstances.

The Ndebele in Limpopo Province as well as in the Northern Province and those in Mpumalanga Province have been separated not only by geography but also by differences in their languages and cultures.

The Ndebele in the Northern Province are mainly members of the BagaLanga and the BagaSeleka tribes who very much have adopted the language and the culture of their Sotho and Tswana neighbours in this province. In fact, their language is sometimes mistakenly identified as a dialect of Northern Sotho because of the grat influence of Northern Sotho on this language. The younger Ndebele mostly speak Northern Sotho and their Ndebele language is gradually becoming extinct.

There are three groups of the Ndebele: the Southern Ndebele in Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces; the Northern Ndebele in Limpopo and Northern provinces; and the Ndebele in southern Zimbabwe where they are also known as Matebele.

Unlike the Northern Ndebele, the Southern Ndebele have retain their unique culture and identity as a people. And they still speak “pure” Ndebele unlike their northern cousins.

The Ndebele people first moved away from their cousins, the Zulu, in KwaZulu and settled in the hills of Gauteng near the nation's capital Pretoria.

They were therefore an offshoot of the Zulu nation and left KwaZulu, or Zululand, in the 1820s under the leadership of Mzilikazi. They had the same skills of warfare their cousins, the Zulu, had and used them effectively across the Highveld against the Sotho and the Tswana whom they conquered. The Sotho and the Tswana were already living on the Highveld when the Ndebele arrived.

But when they attacked the Bosotho who lived in the mountains of what is now Lesotho, the former British protectorate of Basutoland, they were beaten back and settled in Western Transvaal.

The Ndebele tribe grew rapidly because they absorbed the people they had conquered and made them an integral part of the Ndebele ethnic group.

By 1835, they expanded their field of operations and were launching raids across a vast expanse of territory which included Swaziland and Northern Trasvaal.

But the region where they had established their stronghold, the Highveld, attracted the attention of the Boers because it was very fertile. The Boers, known as Voortrekkers, started moving into the region in 1836 in order to establish farms. And they were determined to oust the Ndebele from this region.

They attacked the Ndebele, and a series of bloody conflicts ensued. The first conflicts proved disastrous for the Boers. Several columns of the Voortrekkers were wiped out by the Ndebele. Then Mzilikazi launched a full-scale attack on a Boer stronghold at Vegkop on the Highveld but with disastrous consequences.

The Ndebele were no match for the Boers in terms of firepower; in fact, they had no guns and fought the Boers using traditional weapons. They were routed. The Boers were also helped by two African groups, the Griqua and the Tswana. The Ndebele fled to Northern Transvaal. But the Boers were not done with them and, under the leadership of Andries Pretorius, they attacked the Ndebele near a place that was later named after him – Pretoria – and forced Mzilikazi to go further north. Mzilikazi led his people and crossed the Limpopo River into what is now Zimbabwe. The Ndebele settled in the southern-western part of the country where they still live today.

Although the majority of the Ndebele under Mzilikazi moved north and settled in Zimbabwe, a significant number of them stayed behind in South Africa in the area around Gauteng Province. These are the Southern Ndebele who are now part of Mpumlanaga Province.

And despite the strong ties the Ndebele in Zimbabwe – known as Matebele – have with their kith-and-kin in South Africa, there are still some differences between the two because of the separation and different environments. For example, the Matabele do not paint their huts geometric patterns or wear neck rings; these are unique to the South African Ndebele.

The Ndebele also had their own problems before the Boers arrived on the Highveld and forced them to migrate farther north. When they arrived there, the Highveld was already inhabited by the Sotho and the Tswana.

The area where they first settled after they left Zululand became part of what later came to be known as the Transvaal Province after the Dutch extended their rule from the Cape and took the land away from them and the other indigenous people.

The Ndebele who settled on the Highveld split again years later, just as they had broken away from the Zulu earlier when they left Zululand.

Some remained on the Highveld which later became part of Transvaal – so named by the Dutch – and now the Northern Province after the end of apartheid, and came to be known as the Northern Ndebele.

The other group moved east and south and settled in what is now Mpumalanga Province and came to known as the Southern Ndebele. But in spite of the split, both groups remained distinctly Ndebele.

Even conquest by the Dutch did not succeed in destroying the cultural identity and unity of the Ndebele as a people.

Also the social structures and institutions of the Ndebele were....

The Ndebele language is divided into two groups: Southern Ndebele and Northern Ndebele.

The people who speak Northern Ndebele live in and around Limpopo Province which was once known as Northern Transvaal.

Most of the people who belong to the Southern Ndebele group live in Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces. Many of them also speak Zulu.

There are also a few words from Afrikaans and Northern Sotho (Sepedi) which have been incorporated into the Ndebele language.

And many young people, and even some older ones, who belong to the Northern Ndebele cultural and linguistic group also speak Northern Sotho which is the dominant language in Limpopo Province; it is also spoken in the North West Province. Northern Sotho is also known as Sepedi or Pedi, although Pedi is just one of the dialects of this language.

But the term Pedi has assumed greater significance and is used to identify the entire ethnic group of Northern Sotho.

Sotho speakers are the third-largest black African linguistic group in South Africa after the Zulu and the Xhosa. There are about 7 million of them.

About 5.6 million Sotho live in South Africa, and 1.9 million in the small country of Lesotho which is completely surrounded by South Africa.

The Sotho are divided into three sub-groups. One of them is the Northern Sotho, also called Pedi or BaPedi. And their language, of course, is Sepedi, also known as Pedi or Northern Sotho.

The other two are the Southern Sotho, and the Tswana also known as BaTswana.

Like all the other Bantu-speaking groups in South Africa, the Sotho migrated from the Great Lakes region of East and Central Africa about 500 years ago. They moved south in waves of migration during different periods. The last group among Sotho to move south was the Hurutse who settled in Northern Transvaal towards the beginning of the 16th century.

It was this last Sotho group which eventually evolved into the Pedi.

Like most of the other black African groups in South Africa, the Sotho were traditionally farmers and cattle herders. They owned cattle, sheep and goats and grew maize, beans and other crops including tobacco. They were also well-known as craftsmen. They were renowned for their skills in metalworking, leatherworking as well as ivory and wood carving.

And like Nguni tribes, the Sotho also lived in small units under chiefs. But unlike the Nguni, the Sotho families lived collectively in villages and shared social and economic responsibilities for the entire community. Sotho villages were composed of wards, and each ward comprised members of more than one patrilineal descent group.

The position of chief was hereditary in Sotho society. And it was the chief who appointed the leaders of the wards whose homes were built around the chief's compound.

Sometimes, Sotho villages grew considerably and had thousands of people.

Their farms were usually some distance from the villages, and their clustered way of living – with many homes deliberately grouped together in villages – enabled them to defend themselves far better than they would have had they lived far apart from each other as members of other tribes did and still do. The consolidation of households into villages under the leadership of chiefs also enabled the leaders to effectively exercise control over their subjects.

The inhabitants of the villages were also divided into groups of men and women who were close in age. This is somewhat similar to what the Nyakyusa of Tanzania had: age villages. Young boys from the age of 13 would leave their parents' homes and start their own villages, get married, and build new communities.

The Sotho practice was not quite like that but the age-sets in their villages had specific responsibilities just as young Nyakyusa boys had a responsibility to establish their own villages and start families independent of their parents....

Among the Sepedi, or Northern Sotho, the bride and the bridegroom's closest and senior family members get together to discuss the wedding including the dowry. The Nyakyusa of Tanzania and Malawi do basically the same thing.

The Sepedi (Northern Sotho) call dowry – lebola. The Nyakyusa call it lobola.

The Zulu and the Xhosa also call it lobola just like the Nyakyusa do. The Swazi call it lobolo.

They are all basically the same words, linguistically, and they all mean the same thing: dowry.

Also among the Sepedi and the Nyakyusa, it is usually the bride's parents who decide what kind of dowry should be demanded. Among the Nyakyusa, it is usually cows; and among the Sepedi, it is also usually livestock and even money or it can be anything.

Among the Zulu, the father and uncles of the bride decide what the dowry should be, and what items should be given to the bride's family as lobola.

If the bridegroom's parents refuse to “pay” that, the bride is not going to be given to the prospective husband by her parents. There will not be any wedding. But usually a compromise is reached and the bride is given away by her parents.

This is common practice among the Sepedi, the Nyakyusa and many other African tribes or ethnic groups in different parts of the continent.

A Sepedi wedding is usually held at the bride's or bridegroom's home. Among the Nyakyusa, traditionally, it is held at the bridegroom's home not at the home of the bride. So there are some differences, but not fundamental, and not in terms of formalities in general.

Also among the Sepedi, when the bride is dressed and ready for her wedding, she is required to go to the river and draw enough water and collect some firewood for the ceremony. The Nyakyusa don't do that.

After a Sepedi bride has collected enough water and firewood and has fulfilled other tasks on the day of the wedding, she's ready to walk to her future husband during the ceremony, while her grandmother sweeps the floor in front of her to “clear her way.”

The Nyakyusa don't do that, either, but the bride's mother and other female relatives are always there, at a Nyakyusa wedding, to “escort” the bride or their daughter, accompanied by akalulu, as the Nyakyusa call it, which is making joyous sounds at a high pitch and with the rapid movement of the tongue hitting the cheeks inside, back and forth, to accentuate the rhythm.

Such ululation by the women, which is an integral part of Nyakyusa culture, is common in other African societies as well.

Among the Sepedi, after the couple is married and the people at the wedding have congratulated them, a cow or a sheep is slaughtered and the meat is equally divided between the two families.

The Nyakyusa do basically the same thing but the food and the drinks brought to the wedding ceremony are consumed by the people who are at the wedding. And some of it is, of course, shared between the families of the bride and th bridegroom' which is not very much different from what the Sepedi (Northern Sotho) do in their culture at weddings.

After the wedding has formally taken place, the Sepedi celebrate with music, what they call kiba. And only men are allowed to dance to kiba music, a cultural restriction that is not imposed on the people in all African societies, although the Sepedi, or Northern Sotho, may not be unique in this regard.

One of the ethnic and linguistic groups which transcends national boundaries is Setswana.

The Tswana or BaTswana are inextricably linked with the Northern and Southern Sotho in terms of origin and are sometimes known as the Western Sotho. And their language is closely related to SeSotho or Sotho, which is Southern Sotho. In fact the two languages are mutually intelligible in most areas.

The Tswana migrated from East Africa around the same period when other people left the region and moved south, eventually settling in southern Africa....

Source:

Godfrey Mwakikagile, South Africa and Its People,

ISBN 9780981425832