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Ndebele Language – Beautifully Expressive

This beautiful African or Bantu language is spoken by the Ndebele people of South Africa who are also sometimes known as the amaNdebele. They are spread throughout the provinces of Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga and their language can be divided into two main dialects, Northern Transvaal Ndebele (also known as Nrebele) or Southern Transvaal Ndebele.

The Southern Ndebele speakers are found in the Limpopo Province which was formerly known as the Northern Transvaal. They can be found in and around Mokopane and Polokwane and are few in number. Because no one ever compiled a proper orthography for the language, it has never been taught in schools and is slowly dying out. Most of the younger Southern Ndebele now speak Northern Sotho since the language is considered by many to be more versatile and useful.

The Northern Ndebele speakers are found mainly in Mpumalanga and Gauteng. For many years, the Ndebele language was considered to be of little importance and most children were taught Zulu instead, since this language is more commonplace in the region. However the Ndebele people were still regarded as being different from the Zulus and thus they were separated and catered for under the Apartheid government of old. They received their own radio station, Radio Ndebele which was later renamed to Ikhwekhwezi (Star) in post-apartheid years. It might be said that the radio station has largely contributed to the continued use of the Northern Ndebele language and much of the vocabulary remains the same with the exception of a few Northern Sotho and Afrikaans words which have become commonplace.

According to the census taken in 1996, there are currently roughly half a million people in South Africa who can speak Ndebele and who belong to this cultural group. They should not be confused with the Ndebele or Matabele people in Zimbabwe and Botswana whose language is more similar to Zulu than it is to South African Ndebele.