Culture and Traditions in South Africa


South Africa is ‘the rainbow nation’. You will struggle to find a more diverse amount of cultures and religions anywhere else in the world. Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Tswana, Ndebele, Khoisan, Hindu, Muslim, and Afrikaner people are just nine of the many ethnic groups living within the South African borders. Each has its own cultures and traditions.

Backgrounds

It would be impossible to categorise all South Africans together as South Africa has an eclectic mix of ethnicities, languages and religions.  Over 80% of its people are Black Africans, but those born and bred in Africa are split into tribal groups. These groups have ten languages between them. Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans, a language similar to Dutch, are the three most widely spoken. However, the eleventh language – English – is spoken by most citizens as their second or third language.

White South Africans are either English and are English-speaking or Afrikaners, who speak Afrikaans. Most Afrikaans ancestors were French, German or Dutch and today they are usually from the Eastern and Northern Cape. White South Africans were responsible for oppressing Black South Africans during Apartheid, but racial segregation is now illegal in the country.

An estimated 86% of the population are a version of Christian. Around 11% follow a traditional African religion or a local tribal one. The rest of the population are believed to be Muslims and Hindus due to an influx of Indians in the 1800’s, who were shipped over in the to work in sugar cane farms. A large number of descendants of those Indian workers still live in South Africa.

Traditions

Traditions in South Africa are often unique to ethnic cultures, as opposed to being national traditions. Khoikhoi and San, the original inhabitants of present-day South Africa, still track and hunt animals for food. Their survival instincts make them greatly feared by other groups. Zulu warriors carry shields to protect them from poachers. The Zulus believe that supernatural ancestral spirits, which apparently appear in their dreams, are responsible for illness and death.

Worshipping and telling stories about ancestors is common among Xhosa people. Young men often play sporting stick-fighting. They are given a ceremony when they are declared sufficiently mature. There is a class system within the Xhosa culture, as its people dress in garments representing their social status. Other tribes simply differentiate themselves from other tribes with unique traditions. Ndebele women wear multicoloured rings of beads round their necks, which distinguishes them from other groups.

Arts and Crafts

Traditional African groups such as Zulus are known for their crafting skills. They make wooden baskets and grass huts, along with beaded bracelets and necklaces. Arts and crafts is often the role of the woman in the Xhosa tribe and so they teach their daughters their dextrous skills. Ndebele women furnish their huts with colourful blankets and decorate the walls in beautiful geometric designs. Sotho people traditionally make and design pottery.

Venda is the smallest and perhaps most artistic culture in the region. Its people, who originate from the Great Lakes of South Africa, paint pictures influenced by their belief in water spirits.

Modern generations of Black Africans are moving away from their tribal background in search of the riches and lifestyle of the city. They sometimes take their culture with them by sharing their arts and crafts. This results in a real mash-up of culture in South Africa that creates a place like nowhere else on Earth.

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