How many South Africans speak their indigenous languages?


Africa Day was on the 25th of May.

Here are South African languages and their histories

South Africa democracy constitution which came into effect on the 4th February 1997, recognizes 11 languages to which the state guarantees equal status.





Afrikaans is derivative of the the Dutch language.

It originates and was initially known as the kitchen language, because it was cobbled together by the Malays who were domestic workers of the Cape Dutch settlers. 

The White South Africans who are the descendents of the Dutch settlers, and who speak this language, call themselves the Afrikaners.

However, the language is also widely spoken by the Colored population, and sections of the Black populations in Southern Africa. 

Although the language has European roots, today majority of Afrikaans speakers are not white.



English has the highest penetration of all foreign languages. 

Today English is the primary language of government, business, and commerce. 

It is a medium of instruction in most schools and tertiary institution.



IsiNdebele originated from the Nguni people of KwaZulu-Natal, and it is classified as a member of the southeastern or Nguni subgroup of the Bantu Division of language.

The Ndebele people have always managed to retain their cultural practices.

The Ndebele people are famously known for the colourful paintings on their houses and in their art.

Gogo Esther Mahlangu has become world-famous for her Ndebele paintings.

Gogo Esther has collaborated with many big brands that her used her Ndebele art, including BMW.

eNitiate | Fhulu Netshingulu | Esther Mahlangu | BMW-2
eNitiate | Fhulu Netshingulu | Esther Mahlangu | BMW-1


IsiXhosa is the second largest language spoken in South Africa.

The word Xhosa is derived from the Khoisan language and means “angry men”.

Xhosa contains three types of click sounds borrowed from the neighboring Khoisan languages.

This language uses a system of tones to distinguish words that would otherwise sound the same.



IsiZulu is most spoken indigenous language, and arguably also the South African indigenous language with the richest vocabulary and history.

IsiZulu is also in the top 10 most spoken African indigenous languages.

The presence of the Zulu language in South Africa dates back to 14th century A.D.

During this period the language adopted many sounds from the San and Khoi.

With its base in KwaZulu-Natal – the land of the Zulu people and the home of Shaka kaSenzangakhona, IsiZulu is now widely spoken throughout Southern Africa.


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Sepedi is closely related to the Setswana and Sesotho languages.

Sepedi is also sometimes referred to as Sesotho sa Leboa or Northern Sotho.

It appears that the Sotho people migrated southward from the Great Lakes in Central Africa about five centuries ago in successive waves; and the last group, namely the Hurutse, settled in the Western Transvaal towards the beginning of the 16th century.




Sesotho is part of the Sotho language group, along with Western and Northern Sotho.

The history of the Sotho people dates back as far as the first century and lays claim to an intriguing past that is still celebrated in Sesotho’s oral and literary traditions today.



Setswana is largely found in North West, a province bordering South Africa and Botswana, where the language has also dominated the language spoken by the Botswana people.

Tswana culture, social organizations, ceremonies, language and religious beliefs are similar to those of the other two Sotho groups (Sotho and Pedi) although some Tswana chiefdoms were more highly stratified than those of other Sotho Groups.


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The history of the Venda people starts from the Mapungubwe Kingdom (9th Century).

Venda speakers, also known as Vhavenda, live in the Northern parts of South Africa, called Limpopo Province.

Those that speak Tshivenda have a royal family line and adhere to strict traditions that relate to this connection.

VhaVenda came from the Great Lakes of Central Africa.

They first settled down in the Soutpansberg Mountains.

Here they built their first capital, Dzata.

The language also shares features with Shona and Northern Sotho.

There has also been some influence on the language from the Nguni languages.



Xitsonga is spoken throughout Southern Africa by the Shangaan-Tsonga culture but is concentrated in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa.

The speakers of the Tsonga language are often referred to as Shangaans.

But the Tsongas say that this is incorrect, claiming that that term should only be used for the Tsonga people who are living in Mozambique.

Although the Tsonga speakers are spread throughout Southern Africa, the majority of them live in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.

The Tsonga language does not use the English alphabet, even though they are mainly based in South Africa.

In fact, they make use of the Latin alphabet.

It is not an easy language to learn.

It makes use of specific sounds to spell, using a combination of different letters.




The Swati Language bears some similarities to Ndebele, Xhosa, and Zulu and they are often confused by those with an untrained ear.

Even though the language Siswati is closely related to IsiZulu a lot has been done in the last quarter of a century to enforce the differences between the languages for the sake of standardization of Siswati – especially in Swaziland but also in South Africa due to political reasons.

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