South African Tribes Information: Population, History & More

The ethnic groups in South Africa have a variety of origins. Statistics South Africa asks people to describe themselves in the census in terms of five racial population groups. The 2011 census figures for these categories were Black African at 76.4%, White at 9.1%, Coloured at 8.9%, Asian at 2.5%, and Other/Unspecified at 0.5% :21

Statistics South Africa provided five racial categories by which people could classify themselves, the last of which, “unspecified/other” drew negligible responses, and these results were omitted. The 2010 midyear estimated figures for the other categories were African at 78.4%, White at 10.2%, Coloured at 8.8%, Asian at 2.6%. The first census in South Africa in 1911 showed that whites made up 22% of the population; it declined to 16% in 1980.

Perhaps you may ask yourself what the biggest tribes of South Africa are, the differences between them, how they live, the kinds of traditions and rituals they have and whether they have got any chiefs. Well, the answer to these questions is all listed below explaining how each tribe in South Africa exists.

List of popular South African tribes with pictures below.

1. Xhosa

The Xhosa tribe often live in ‘homelands’ based in Ciskei and Transkei. This tribe came wandering from the north few hundred years ago. They love keeping animals and have a strong tradition of story-telling. However, something bad happened to them during the white invasion where the whites took over their lands and began living on them. The Xhosa were even subjected to work on their lands as slaves. This brought about many conflicts until when the white rule finally ended and the people regained their lands.

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2. Zulu

The Zulu of South Africa believe that they are descendants of a chief from the Congo region. They believe that everything happens for a reason; as a result of an evil sorcery or offending of the spirits. This is why they interact with the spirits for their god Nkulunkulu does not get involved with the daily aspects of the human life. The Zulu code of dressing is complex as a result of their shields. The work of the women is to cultivate the land while men take care of the cows.

3. Tswana

This is a group highly distinguished by their legal system which includes a hierarchy of courts, mediations and harsh punishments for those found guilty. The Tswana are closely related to the Sotho due to their similarities in family life, social structure and political organization as well as belief in magic.

4. Sotho

South Africa Sotho tribe women photo

This South African tribe is divided into three which includes the Southern and Northern Sotho and the Tswana. A man’s status is always measured by how well he relates to the chief, his standing in the community and age. Women involve themselves in agriculture while the men herd livestock and are also artisans who use leather, wood and metal. They can be identified by the blankets with which they wrap themselves and their conical hats which represent their position, important moments and milestones of their family.

5. Venda people

Just as many other tribes in South Africa, the Venda hailed from the north. They then settled down in Soutpansberg Mountains where they first built their capital known as D’zata. They occupied the largest area that was rich in vegetation and mountains influencing more people to speak their language. The Vendas perform some rituals, which are still kept a secret to other people and they have some mystic legends too. They have a special relationship with crocodiles since they live in an area where many crocodiles exist.

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6. Pedi

A-Cultural-Tour-to-South-African-Tribes

The Pedi are known as the Northern Sotho speaking nation. They initiate boys at an early stage and girls were given initiation necklaces by their admirers to serve as a rite of passage. The teenage girls and women would wear their hair worked up in a circular matted cup and leave their breasts uncovered until the time of marriage to show respect.

7. Ndebele

Image result for Ndebele

The Ndebele have similar authority structure to that of the Zulu and consists of residential units by each family known as an umuzi. The women in this society show their status by the use of various ornaments. Married women wear brass and copper rings around their neck, arms and legs as a symbol of faithfulness to their husbands.

8. Tsonga

Tsonga tribe pics south africa

In the Tsonga culture a village may be formed as a result of one family since a man was allowed to have many wives and children. They worship the Supreme Being Tilo and the men were naturally considered as the alpha.

9. Pondo

Tsonga tribe pics south africa

This tribe is classified under the sub-group of the amaXhosa. It is a Xhosa speaking group of people who gave their name to Pondaland, the area that comprises the Northern Seaboard of the Eastern Cape Province.

10. Swati

The Swati also known as the Swazi is the only South African tribe that has maintained their unique identity to date. They wear colorful traditional dresses and are known for its patriarchal nature. Selecting the king for them is like selecting the next queen mother who dominates the kingdom. These people have retained their traditional beliefs in sorcery, witchcraft and traditional healing despite having accepted Christianity. They are known for their various traditional events, the unhlanga, incwala and the most exiting – the eight-day reed dance. The eight-day reed dance is majorly for the purpose of protecting the chastity of the single women and for praising their queen mother.

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