Tsonga people

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Shangaan.jpg Traditional Tsonga Dancing
Total population
4.6 million (late 20th century estimate)[1]
to ~ 5,277,000[2]
Regions with significant populations
Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland
 Mozambique 3,092,000[2]
 South Africa 2,154,000[2]
 Swaziland 26,000[2]
 Zimbabwe 4,900[2]
Tsonga, Portuguese, English
African Traditional Religion, Christianity

The Tsonga people (Tsonga: Xitsonga) are a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa inhabiting the southern coastal plain of Mozambique, parts of Zimbabwe and Swaziland, and Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province of South Africa. Tsonga people should not be confused with Tonga people, who are found in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Tsonga language and Tonga language are totally completely different languages all together and they are not related at all. The Vatsonga nation include; Varhonga, Va-Xika, Vatshwa, Vadzonga, Vahlangano, Van'walungu, Machangana (Soshangana group which mixed with Vatsonga tribes through intermarriage) They numbered some 4.6 million in the late 20th century.[1] The word Shangaan is a name given to the people of Gaza Empire by their founder King Soshangane Manukuso Nxumalo derived from Soshangane. In South Africa, the name Shangaan should not be applied because the Tsonga people of South Africa were never part of the Gaza empire and have been refusing to become part of the Gaza empire since the empire was founded by Soshangane. A case in point is the Tsonga people under the rule of paramount chief or Hosi-Nkulu Njhakanjhaka of Elim in the Spelenkon district of Makhado. Neither Hosi Nhjakanjhaka nor his people were subordinates of Soshangane.


Like other Bantu people in South Africa, the Tsonga people originate from Central Africa and arrived in South Africa some 1000 years ago. Initially, the Tsonga people settled on the coastal plains of Southern Mozambique but later migrated to the Transvaal Province in South Africa during the early 1800's. Within apartheid South Africa, a Tsonga "homeland", Gazankulu, was created out of part of northern Transvaal Province (Now Limpopo Province and Eastern Transvaal (Now Mpumalanga) during the 1960s and was granted self-governing status in 1973.[3] This bantustan's economy depended largely on gold and on a small manufacturing sector.[3] However, only an estimated 500,000 people—less than half the Tsonga population of South Africa—ever lived there.[3] Many others joined township residents from other parts of South Africa around urban centres, especially Johannesburg and Pretoria.[3]

Demographics and Geographical distribution[edit]

Although the Tsonga people originate in Southern Mozambique, there are more Tsonga people in South Africa than in Mozambique, their place of origin. In South Africa, there are 2.3 Million Tsonga people, while Mozambique has 1.6 million people. There is logic in this, for instance, there are more Portuguese people in Brazil than in Portugal, place of origins for the Portuguese. Similarly, there are more Spanish people in South America than in Spain, a place of origin for the Spanish people.

Tsonga is spoken by about 2.3 million people in South Africa, 1.5 million people in Mozambique, and 25,000 people in Swaziland. There are also 100,000 speakers in Zimbabwe.

In South Africa, Tsonga people are concentrated in the following Municipal areas; Greater Giyani Local Municipality 248 000 people, Bushbuckridge Local Municipality 320 000 people, Greater Tzaneen Local Municipality 195 000 people, Ba-Phalaborwa Local Municipality 80 000 people, Makhado Local Municipality 170 000 people and Thulamela Local Municipality 220 000 people. City of Tshwane 280 000 people, City of Johannesburg 290 000 people and Ekurhuleni 295 000 people.

In the following municipalities, Tsonga people are present but they are not large enough or are not significant enough to form a dominant community in their shere of influence, in most cases, they are less than 50 000 people in each municipality. At the same time, they are not small enough to be ignored as they constitute the largest minority language group. They are as follows; Greater Letaba Local Municipality 28 000 people, Mbombela Local Municipality 26 000 people, Nkomazi Local Municipality 28 500 people, Mogalakwena Local Municipality 31 400 people, Madibeng Local Municipality 51 000, Moretele Local Municipality 34 000 and Rustenburg Local Municipality 30 000 people.

The provincial breakdown of Tsonga speakers, according to 2011 census, are as follows; Limpopo Province 906 000 people, Mpumalanga Province 415 000 people, Gauteng Province 800 000 people and North West Province 110 000 people. Overall, Tsonga speakers constitutes 4.4% of South Africa's total population.


The Tsonga population counts are known to not include all Tsonga people. They are usually just counts of the Tsonga people in the Gaza Province of Mozambique and the Tsonga people in the former Gazankulu homeland of South Africa. This leaves out a great number of Tsonga people. The occurs because Tsonga people are known by a variety names: Shangani (Gaza Province, Zimbabwe and Swaziland), Ronga (Maputo Province and Maputo City), Tswa, Chopi, Tonga, Ndau, Hlengwe, and the list goes on. Also, the Tsonga (Ronga) people of northern KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) have been reclassified as Zulu.

Some figures from according to how they divert from central Tswa-Ronga have been summed up.[4] Tswa, Ronga and Tsonga were summed up. After which Chopi was added. Ndau was then added, which is sometimes referred to as a Shona language. finally the Tonga languages were added, linguistically different from the aforementioned but culturally similar. Mozambican Tonga was first, then Zimbabwe and Zambia, and lastly Malawi. Although it may seem that Tsonga people are a minority in one country, they are a majority in the subcontinent.


The Tsonga traditional economy is based on mixed agriculture and pastoralism. Cassava is the staple; corn (maize), millet, sorghum, and other crops are also grown. Women do much of the agricultural work, although some men grow cash crops. Most Tsongas now depend on wage labour for cash, many migrating to Zimbabwe or South Africa to find work.[1]


Tsonga men traditionally attend the initiation school for circumcision called Matlala (KaMatlala) or Ngoma (a Ngomeni) after which they are regarded as men.

The Tsonga people living along the Limpopo River in South Africa have recently gained a significant amount of attention for their low-tech, lo-fi electronic dance music. Shangaan electro has been pioneered by South African producer 'Dog' (also known as Nozinja). The Tsongas are also known for a number of traditional dances such as the Mchongolo, Xigubu, Makwaya and Xibelani dance.

Traditional Belief and Healers[edit]

Senior n'angas relax and celebrate after an initiation dedicated to the Ndau spirit.

Like most bantu cultures, the Shangaans have a strong acknowledgment of their ancestors, who are believed to have a considerable effect on the lives of their descendants. The traditional healers are called n'anga.[5] Legend has it that the first Tsonga diviners of the South African lowveld were a woman called Nkomo We Lwandle (Cow of the Ocean) and a man called Dunga Manzi (Stirring Waters).[5] A powerful water serpent, Nzunzu (Ndhzhundzhu), allegedly captured them and submerged them in deep waters. They did not drown, but lived underwater breathing like fish. Once their kin had slaughtered a cow for Nzunzu, they were released and emerged from the water on their knees as powerful diviners with an assortment of potent herbs for healing.[5] Nkomo We Lwandle and Dunga Manzi became famous healers and trained hundred of women and men as diviners.

Senior N'angas help a new n'agna out of the water during an initiation

Among the Tsongas, symptoms such as persistent pains, infertility and bouts of aggression can be interpreted as signs that an alien spirit has entered a person's body.[5] When this occurs, the individual will consult a n'anga to diagnose the cause of illness. If has been ascertained that the person has been called by the ancestors to become a n'anga, they will become a client of a senior diviner who will not only heal the sickness, but also invoke the spirits and train them to become diviners themselves.[5] The legend of the water serpent is re-enacted during the diviner's initiation, by ceremoniously submerging the initiates in water from which they emerge as diviners.

The kind of spirits that inhabit a person are identified by the language they speak. There are generally the Ngoni (derived from the word Nguni), the Ndau and the Malopo. The Ndau spirit possesses the descendants of the Gaza soldiers who had slain the Ndau and taken their wives.[6]

Once the spirit has been converted from hostile to benevolent forces, the spirits bestow the powers of divination and healing on the n'agna.[5]

Notable Tsonga People[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Shangaan". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Tsonga people group are reported in 4 countries". Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Shangaan and Venda". South Africa: A Country Study. Rita M. Byrnes, ed. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1996. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  4. ^ http://www.joshuaproject.net/
  5. ^ a b c d e f Liebhammer, Nessa (2007). Dungamanzi (Stirring Waters). Johannesburg: WITS University Press. pp. 171–174. ISBN 1-86814-449-6. 
  6. ^ Broch-Due, Vigdis (2005). Violence And Belonging:The Quest For Identity In Post-Colonial Africa. Psychology Press. p. 97. Retrieved 10 July 2012. 

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  • Junod, Henri Alexandre. (1927). The Life of a South African Tribe. London (second edition).
  • The Fader – Ghetto Palms 90: New Styles/Shangaan Electro/South Africa Road Epic! [1]

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