South Africa is the Rainbow Nation, a title that captures the country's cultural and ethnic diversity. The population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world. Of the 51.7 million South Africans, over 41 million are black, 4.5 million are white, 4.6 million are coloured and about 1.3 million Indian or Asian. About 51.3% are female, and 48.7% male.

The People of South Africa

The black population of South Africa is divided into four major ethnic groups; namely Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi), Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga and Venda. There are numerous subgroups within these, of which the Zulu and Xhosa (two subgroups of the Nguni group) are the largest.

The majority of the white population (about 60%) is of Afrikaans descent, with many of the remaining 40% being of British or European descent. The coloured population have a mixed lineage, which often comprises the indigenous Khoisan genes combined with African slaves that were brought here from all over the continent, and white settlers.

Did you know? The first inhabitants of South Africa were the San and the Khoekhoe. The San and Khoe descended from early stone age people and migrated from their birthplace in East Africa to the Cape.

Most of the coloured population lives in the Northern and Western Cape provinces, whilst the majority of the Indian population lives in KwaZulu-Natal. The Afrikaner population is especially concentrated in the Gauteng and Free State provinces and the English population in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

There are eleven official languages in South Africa. These are English (9.6%), Afrikaans (13.5%), Ndebele (2.1%), Sepedi (9.1%), Xhosa (16%), Venda (2.4%), Tswana (8%), Southern Sotho (7.6%), Zulu 22.7%), Swazi or SiSwati (2.5%) and Tsonga (4.5%). Much of the country’s media has been tailored to include as many of these languages as possible. Of course, many other languages from all over the world are spoken here too; including Portuguese, Greek, Italian, French, Chinese, and so on.

View more information about each (see below), including the origins of the language and where it is spoken in South Africa. Also see South Africanisms and useful Xhosa phrases and Zulu phrases.

South Africa's Official Languages

Languages

Afrikaans Language

The Afrikaans language is one of South Africa’s official languages and a large proportion of the local population uses it as their first or second language. It is still taught in schools. Afrikaans has a fascinating history of its own, and a heritage and ...

Languages

Ndebele Language

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 ...

Languages

Sepedi Language

The Sepedi language is spoken most commonly in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Limpopo provinces. However, smatterings of it can even be heard as far afield as Botswana. It is part of the Bantu group, which belongs to the Niger-Congo sector and it is very ...

Languages

Setswana Language

The Setswana language is one of 11 official languages spoken in South Africa, and one of nine indigenous languages chosen for this title in the post-apartheid constitution. Said to be closely related to two other languages in the Sotho language group – ...

Languages

Southern Sesotho Language

Southern Sesotho is a Bantu language that originates from the Bantu-Nguni era. It is also known as Suto, Souto, Sisutho, and Suthu. The dialects originate from Suto, Pedi amd Tswana, but these are all considered to be separate ...

Languages

Swati Language

Swati, Sewati, Swazi or siSwati are all names for the same language, which is part of the Nguni group. It is also one of the many Bantu languages and is spoken by people in South Africa and Swaziland. Swati one of the 11 official languages of South ...

Languages

Tsonga Language

Tsonga is spoken throughout Southern Africa by the Shangaan-Tsonga culture, but is concentrated in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. Tsonga is a part of Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo languages ...

Languages

Venda Language

Venda is also known as Luvenda or Tshivenda, and originated from the Bantu language. Interestingly, it is also related to Niger and Congo languages. It is one of the 11 official South African languages. Well over 650 000 of Tshivenda speakers live in the ...

Languages

Xhosa Language

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, of which Xhosa is one of the most widely spoken. Approximately 16 percent of South Africa’s population, or 8.3 million people, cite Xhosa as being their home language. Xhosa is characterised by a number of ...

Languages

Zulu Language

IsiZulu, more commonly shorted to Zulu, is one of the 11 official languages of this country. 10 million people speak the language and most of them live in South Africa. Zulu is the home language of about 22.7% of South Africans; while as many as half of ...

South Africanisms

just nowsometime soon, shortly
now nowsooner than "just now"
liftelevator
boottrunk of a car
howzithello (a greeting), as in "how is it going"
koppierocky hill
play playpretend
bakkiepick-up truck
flatapartment
robottraffic lights
bundubushveld
kloofravine
braaibar-b-que

Useful Zulu Phrases and Words

YeboYes
ChaNo
NgiyabongaI thank you
NgicelaCan I please have ...
Ngiphuma e-(England)I'm from (England)
AmanziWater
Unjani? (plural: Ninjani?)How are you?
KuhleGood, fine
Ngiya phila. Wena?I am fine. And you?
Hamba KahleGoodbye (go well)
Sala KahleGoodbye (stay well)
SiyabongaWe thank you
Ngifuna ...I'm looking for ...
NgilambileI'm hungry
LalelaListen
Malini?How much?

Useful Xhosa Phrases and Words

EweYes
HayiNo
EnkosiThank you
Kunjani?How are you?
KulungileGood, fine
Ndiphilile. Nawe?I am fine. And you?
Hamba kahleGoodbye (go well)
Sala kakuhleGoodbye (stay well)
NcelaPlease
NcedaHelp
YimaliniHow much?

Additional Reading

Where to find cultural villages

SA-Venues.com has been assisting travellers with their South Africa travel plans since 1999, and is the largest, independent online travel guide for South Africa available in both English and German.