South Africa Languages and Culture

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 diverse in the world.

South Africa TravelSouth Africa Languages and Culture

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 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.

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 TravelSouth Africa's Official Languages


To about 22.7% of South Africans, Zulu is considered to be their home language and 50% of the South Africa’s inhabitants understand the language. Zulu falls under the Nguni group and is one of the Bantu languages. Xhosa and Zulu are the only two...

More info and photographs: Zulu Language


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 clicking sounds, which are formed by the tongue. Those that speak the language are...

More info and photographs: Xhosa Language


This language also known as Luvenda or just Venda, and Tshivenda, originated from the Bantu language. Well over 650 000 of Tshivenda speakers live in the northern parts of South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Those that speak Tshivenda have a royal...

More info and photographs: Venda Language


Many South African African people can speak Ndebele and it is in fact a beautiful language if you know how to speak and understand it well. Ndebele is a Bantu language that is spoken by Ndebele South Africans (the Ndebele people are also sometimes...

More info and photographs: Ndebele Language


Sepedi is also sometimes referred to as Sesotho sa Laboa or Northern Sotho. The language of Sepedi is spoken by approximately 4,208,980 individuals and it is one of the eleven official languages in South Africa. The language is usually spoken in...

More info and photographs: Sepedi Language


Setswana is commonly known as Tswana, and is actually Botswana’s national language. However, the majority of Tswana or Setswana speakers are found in South Africa. It is the Northern Cape that is the source of the Setswana and Afrikaans speakers...

More info and photographs: Setswana Language

Southern Sesotho

This Bantu language originates from the Bantu-Nguni era and is also known as Suto, Souto, Sisutho as well as Suthu. The dialects originates from Suto, Pedi as well as Tswana which are intelligible but at the same time is also considered to be separate...

More info and photographs: Southern Sesotho Language


Swati might not sound familiar to you, but rather Sewati, Swazi or siSwati as these are all the same language, just in different names. Swati is a part of the Nguni Group and it is one of the many Bantu languages. It is mainly spoken by people in...

More info and photographs: Swati Language


The language of Tsonga is mainly spoken throughout southern Africa by the Shangaan - Tsonga culture. Tsonga is a part of Bantu branch when it comes to the Niger-Congo languages. The speakers of this language are often referred to as Shangaans...

More info and photographs: Tsonga 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...

More info and photographs: Afrikaans Language

South Africa Languages and CultureSouth Africanisms

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

South Africa Languages and CultureUseful Zulu Phrases and Words

NgiyabongaI thank you
NgicelaCan I please have ...
Ngiphuma e-(England)I'm from (England)
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
Malini?How much?

South Africa Languages and CultureUseful Xhosa Phrases and Words

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