South Africa embodies a rich collection of ethnic backgrounds. Nevertheless, the ethnicity idea became explosive during the apartheid regime. This is when the then government used it for racial and political purposes. Perhaps you may ask yourself what the biggest tribes of South Africa are, the differences between them, how they live, the kinds of traditions and rituals they have and whether they have got any chiefs. Well, the answer to these questions is all listed below explaining how each tribe in South Africa exists.

Tribes of South Africa – Facts and Figures


It is the best known African tribal group. Zulu is one of the top tribes of South Africa. Zulu legend traces their origin to patriarch Zulu, the child of an Nguni chief who lived in the Congo basin. They began to migrate south, in the 16th century, where they eventually settled. Their king, Shaka, formed a great kingdom and organised his nation in a very hard and military way. He also made a large army and armed them with shields and assegais. These were to help them prevent the Dutch and British from taking over. However, Shaka later died and the Zulus were overtaken and forced to work in the white peoples’ mines. Presently, they live in kraals in a province known as KwaZulu-Natal. They have a hierarchy of local and clan’s chiefs and are also fond of storytelling and singing.

Tribes of South Africa
Shaka Zulu dancers — Stock Photo © Ryan Born


The Xhosa tribe often live in ‘homelands’ based in Ciskei and Transkei. This tribe came wandering from the north few hundred years ago. They love keeping animals and have a strong tradition of story-telling. However, something bad happened to them during the white invasion where the whites took over their lands and began living on them. The Xhosa were even subjected to work on their lands as slaves. This brought about many conflicts until when the white rule finally ended and the people regained their lands.


Venda people

Just as many other tribes in South Africa, the Venda hailed from the north. They then settled down in Soutpansberg Mountains where they first built their capital known as D’zata. They occupied the largest area that was rich in vegetation and mountains influencing more people to speak their language. The Vendas perform some rituals, which are still kept a secret to other people and they have some mystic legends too. They have a special relationship with crocodiles since they live in an area where many crocodiles exist.



The Tswanas came into South Africa during the 14th century. They speak a language known as Sechuana, which is a Bantu language. However, in the year 1820, the Tswanas were driven away by the Matabele people whereby they became ruled by Britons and the Boers. Up to this time, the Tswanas have been residing in great villages called kraals. These villages have a hierarchy ruling where all local chiefs gather under their coordinating king who rules them. The Tswana are a peace-loving people and they consider the rain as an important being to them.

Tswana dance


The Hottentots are much like the Bushmen. They nearly have the same culture, language and look. Hottentots mostly call themselves ‘Khoi’ and Bushmen call themselves ‘San’. When they mix up, they are referred to as the ‘Khoisan’ or ‘Khoikhoi’ people, mostly because of their clicking sounds too. They also have much in common with other tribes in East Africa, for instance, wanderers and herders. They are not a big community, hence, they have been mixed up with other people in South Africa. Some of them have also migrated to live in Namibia where they find exciting and comfortable.


Last but not least are the Sotho. These people came wandering from the north and later spread over central South Africa. Basotho nation was then formed by King Moshoeshoe in the 18th century, which up to this day, they remain united. Their language is related to Setswana and Sepedi. sotho

South Africa is distinguished by the Rainbow Land. How factual is that? This country is not only a culturally colourful realm, but it is also multiracial with different groups of people who add to what is exclusively South Africa. All the above tribes are an evidence of this. They have beautiful traditions that not only differ but make the country admirable. The tribes are many with the biggest group being the Zulus. Being familiar with these tribes makes it easy to master the history of South Africa.

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