About the Ndebele Language

A large proportion of South African folk are able to speak Ndebele. It is known as a beautiful language, melodic on the ear. It is a Bantu language that is spoken by Ndebele South Africans (who are also sometimes referred to as the amaNdebele).

Did you know? There are 11 officially recognised languages, most of which are indigenous to South Africa. English is spoken everywhere you go. English is the language of the cities, of commerce and banking, of government and official documents. All our road signs and official forms are in English and at any Hotel, Bed and Breakfast or Guest House the service staff will speak to you in English.

People of the Ndebele culture and language can be found throughout the province of Gauteng. Their language may be separated into the chief dialects. These are Southern Ndebele and Northern Ndebele. The census of 2011 revealed that just over 2% of South Africans call Ndebele their home language, while a small portion more are able to understand it. These should not be confused with the Ndebele speaking folk of Zimbabwe or Botswana, who speak a different language with the same name.

Most of the people that speak Southern Ndebele are situated in and around the Limpopo Province. There are also a few Ndebele residents living in Polokwane and Mokopane, but their numbers are tiny. This language is generally only spoken amongst people of the Ndebele culture and it is not taught at schools. As a result, it is falling away and is only carried through via the generations. Many of the young children of the Southern Ndebele speak Northern Sotho because it is said to be a lot more adaptable and useful than any other. Mpumalanga and Gauteng are home to most of the Northern Ndebele people.

Ndebele was not always considered to be an important, or eve necessary, language. Therefore, little ones were taught to speak Zulu and Northern Ndebele instead, as it was more common than traditional Ndebele. Ndebele families were very different from the Zulu communities, and this motivated the Apartheid regime to keep them separate. All of these factors contributed to its being an isolated, relatively unknown language and culture.

Ndebele got its own radio station, which was simply named “Radio Ndebele” and then later renamed “Ikhwekhwezi” which means “star”. Many people will agree that the radio station has played a major role in keeping the Ndebele language alive; particularly in terms of the pronunciation and vocabulary.

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