The Nguni People of South Africa

South Africa is renowned as the Rainbow Nation. How true that is! Our country is not only a racially colorful nation but it is also multi-cultural with many groups of people contributing to what is uniquely South Africa. The Nguni People of South Africa include the Zulu, Xhosa and Ndebele who reside all across the country. Join me as I take a deeper look into this fascinating cultural group.


Although each of these three cultures speaks a different language, they are all closely related, sharing many traditions and beliefs. In the past, and still in some traditional communities, men and women had distinctive roles. Young boys would care for the live stock whilst women were responsible for growing subsistence crops. Younger men would act as warriors who in their later years would become members of the local council. Much of this has changed especially with urbanization. Despite this, the Nguni culture and tradition has remained intact.

Nguni life is seen as a number of stages, each is significantly marked by various rituals and dress. Girls adjust their manner or style of dress as they grow older and mature into women. Boys on the other hand have to be circumcised before learning the ways of men. Marriage is a very important event and a number of customs are related to the marriage process. ‘Lobolo’ is paid in the form of cattle or money to the parents of the future bride. Her parents then have to give a dowry which would include clothing and items for the home. Dance, music and song plays a large role in all important events. Nguni people tend have great rhythm and love music.

The Nguni religion is typically monotheistic. God is said to care for larger matters whilst the ancestors deal with miner tasks. The ancestors are revered and worshiped. The Nguni often combine Christianity with traditional religion. Many are fearful of the wicked unleashed by witchdoctors. ‘Sangomas’ are frequently consulted to help individuals speak to or understand the wishes of ancestors. Nguni people will visit ‘nyangas’ who are herbal doctors although they do tend to opt for western doctors.

The Nguni people are well-known for their love of bright colors and personal adornment. In general they will wear western clothing, breaking out their traditional outfits during celebrations and important events. Animal skins, beads and other objects are used in outfits. Colored beads in specific patterns act as an unspoken language representing status, clan, home village and are used as love letters.

Many Nguni villages have been opened up to tourists. Those visiting these attractions have the opportunity to come in close contact with these amazing cultures. Often you can join in with daily activities and celebrations. Be sure to include one of these cultural villages on your itinerary. It is the best way to truly experience South Africa, a small taste of this diverse country.