South Africa – Rainbow Nation of the World

South Africa (Mzansi) is rich in cultural diversity and fondly known as the Rainbow Nation.  Thina Dlamini looks at the language, food, dress and traditions of its people.

Language and population

South Africa has 11 official languages these include Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Sepedi (Northern Sotho), Sesotho (Southern Sotho), Swati, Tshivenda, Tsonga and Tswana. There are 9.6% English as first language speakers and is widely spoken as a common language. Many South Africans speak English as a second language and this makes it easy for international travellers to communicate with the locals. The country has 13.5% Afrikaans speakers, 2.1% Ndebele speakers, 9.1% Sepedi Speakers (Northern Sotho), 7.6% Southern Sotho speakers (Basotho), 2.5% Swati people who migrated Eswatini, 2.4% Tshivenda speakers, 4.5% Tsonga speakers, 9% Tswana speakers, 16% Xhosa speakers and 22.7% Zulu speakers.

Black people make up most of the population by 79.2%, White people make up 9.1% of the population, Coloureds (Cape Coloureds) make up 8.9% of the country’s population and Asians who migrated from Asia that turned to neutralized South African citizens make up 2.5% of the population. 


The Afrikaans language is one of South Africa’s official languages, the language is spoken all over the country however most Afrikaans speaking people live in the Free State, North West and Gauteng.  The language is mostly spoken by Whites and by the Cape Coloureds however coloureds chose to distance them from the traditional Afrikaans because of the history behind it, coloureds created their own Afrikaans that is called Kombuis Afrikaans (Kitchen Afrikaans) this type of Afrikaans is mostly spoken by Cape Coloureds. Afrikaans has a history that is separate from Apartheid.

Afrikaans is widely spoken in neighbouring countries but a lesser degree than South Africa.  The language is spoken in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana and other surrounding countries.  Afrikaans means African when translated from Dutch to English.  Afrikaans was created in Cape Town and slowly made its too other parts of the country.  The language was created by French and the Dutch settlers who arrived centuries ago.  Historically the main people who made Cape Town what it is today are the Indonesians, Madagascans, Khoi, Dutch and West Africans. 

Traditional Afrikaans and Coloured Food

Afrikaans cuisines have their influence from the Dutch and French settlers who occupied the Western Cape.  Famous Afrikaans dishes include:

  • Sosaties (South African Kebabs)
  • Chops
  • Boerewors (South African Sausage)
  • Potjiekos (A stew that is cooked with a three legged pot)
  • MelkTert (Milk Tart) the crust is made from crushed tennis biscuits and the base is made from custard and is sprinkled with a hint of cinnamon.
  • Koeksusters
  • Bobotie
  • Pickled Fish

Bapedi (Sepedi) – Northern Sotho Language and Culture

Sepedi is generally spoken in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and some of the Limpopo province.   The language is also spoken in neighbouring countries but not as prominently as in South Africa where approximately 4.7 million individuals speak it.  Sepedi is part of the Bantu groups that are part of the Niger-Congo group it is parallel to the languages Setswana and Sesotho which are the native languages of Botswana and Lesotho.  Ultimately Sepedi is often called Sesotho Sa Laboa or Northern Sotho.

The culture has its own set of traditions.  Sepedi has garnered recognition amongst people who are interested in the African culture. Lobola is an important aspect amongst black cultures in South Africa. Unlike other cultures Sepedi weddings are not held in a church, they take place at their homes.

Traditional food and drinks

  • Sorghum Meal (Traditional Beer made out of Matabele)
  • Moeta (Muddy)
  • Mokgopu (Traditional Cups)
  • Thophi
  • Mashotja (Mopani Worms)
  • Morogo wa dikgopana (Spinach Cooked and left to dry in the sun)
  • Dikgobe (Coarsely ground corn/samp and beans)

Setswana Language and culture

Setswana is one of nine native languages of South Africa and the fifth most common, with more than four million speakers.  Setswana people are a Bantu-Speaking ethnic group.  The language is also part of the South African constitution. Setswana is the national language of neighbouring country Botswana and is also spoken in Zimbabwe and Namibia by small groups of people.  Setswana is mostly spoken in the following provinces in South Africa Northern Cape, Gauteng and North West. 

Common Setswana Phrases

  • Good Morning:                           Dumela rra/Dumela mma
  • Good Afternoon:                        Thupama e e monate
  • Good Evening:                           Muitsibowo a monate
  • Good Night (Sleep Well):          Boroko/Robala Sentle
  • Welcome:                                    o amogetswe/ Le amogetswe
  • Hello:                                            Dumela
  • How are you?:                            o tsogile jang

Setswana Traditional Food

Typical Setswana Food include:

  • Phane (Mophane Worms)
  • Bogote Ba Lerotse (Sorghum porridge cooked in melon)
  • Seswaa (Ground Meat)
  • Ting (Fermented porridge)
  • Mokoto
  • Dikgobe (Samp and Beans cooked in melon)
  • Serobe
  • Morogo wa Setswana cooked in peanuts
  • Mosutlhwane (Sorghum grains)
  • Kabu (Boiled Dried Corn)

Setswana Clothing

Before colonisation Tswana men wore threads made from animal skins and fur of local animals called Tshega. They also wore kaross (blanket made from animal skin). Tswane women wore an apron which they had to wear in front called a khiba,  and mosese (shirt worn behind) and lastly they had to wear a kaross to cover up the upper body, they were a large of ornaments (necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings).  To carry babies on their backs they wore a thari.

In Modern days they have culturally assimilated to how other people from around the world dress.  They wear traditional attire for weddings and traditional ceremonies.

Cape Coloureds

Coloureds, are a multiracial ethnic group of Southern Africa. There are 3.6 million Coloured people in South Africa and the majority live in the Western Cape and the Northern Cape. Others migrated to East London, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Nelson Mandela Bay. 

In South Africa, Coloureds are mostly descended from interracial unions between Western European men and Khoisan or mixed-race women

Here’s an interesting fact nobody knows: Coloureds are the architects and engineers responsible for all the beautiful buildings we see in Cape Town. Cape Coloured seamstresses and tailors are famous for their craftsmanship.

Each year on the second of January, Cape Coloureds take part in Kaapse Klopse, a minstrel carnival, where they dress in bright colourful garments with face paint, carry umbrellas play a wide range of musical instruments.  The celebration commemorates the ending of slavery and to welcome a new era.

Cultural Coloured Food

  • Pickled Fish (Eaten during the Easter Weekend)
  • Potjiekos
  • Vetkoek (Fat cakes)
  • Koeksuisters
  • Biryani
Share iNdaba Zabantu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Translate »