Tsonga people

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Shangaan.jpg Traditional Tsonga Dancing
Total population
12,993,000 million (late 20th-century estimate)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Ronga, Tsonga, Tswa, Chopi, Ndau, Tonga (Moz), Tonga (Zim), Tonga (Malawi)
Tsonga, Portuguese, English
African Traditional Religion, Christianity

Tonga, Thonga or Tsonga people (Tsonga: Vatsonga) and languages span most of southern Africa, notable countries being South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In these countries, there are regions where one or more languages and/or dialects are more dominant. For example, in South Africa, Tsonga people are mainly found in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, with smaller populations in North-West and Free State. Within these provinces, there are towns and cities where they are most prevalent, although this is continually changing in the new South Africa as black people can now move freely. Most or all of southern Mozambique is inhabited by Tsonga people, variously named as Copi, Rhonga, Ndzawu, Tonga, Shangana, and Tshwa. The provinces are Maputo, Maputo City, Inhambane, Manica, Gaza, and Sofala.

Tswa-Ronga people and languages are: Chopi, Ndau, Ronga, Tsonga, Tonga and Tswa.

  • Chopi (Chope, Copi, Tshopi, Txopi) dialects are Copi, Khambani, Lambwe, Lenge (Lengue), Ndonge and Tonga.
  • Ndau (Ndzawu, Njao, Sofala, South-East Shona) dialects are Changa (Shanga, Xanga), Danda, Dondo, Gova, Ndau, and Senji.
  • Ronga (Rhonga) dialects are Kalanga, Konde, Putru, and Ssonge.
  • Tsonga (aka standard or South African Tsonga) dialects are Bila (Vila), Changana (Shangaan, Shangana), Dzonga (Jonga), Gwamba (Gwapa), Hlanganu (Langanu, Nhlanganu), Hlave (Mbayi, Nkuna, Pai), Kande, Khosa, Luleke, N'walungu (Ngwalungu), Nkuma, Songa, Xika, and Xonga.
  • Tswa (Tshwa) dialects are Dzibi (Dzivi), Dzibi-Dzonga (Dzivi-Dzonga), Tshwa, Hlengwe (Lengwe, Lhenge), Khambani, Makwakwe-Khambani, Mandla, Ndxhonge, and Nhayi (Nyai, Nyayi).
  • Tonga can be divided into Valley Tonga and Plateau Tonga, and is spoken by Ila, Iwe, Leya, Toka and Tonga people.

Tswa-Ronga dialects not considered part of the family include Pulana (Xipulana, Sepulane).

It has been said that the two dialects that unite all Tswa-Ronga languages are Nkuna and Khosa (HP Junod, Matimu ya Vatsonga).

For "language of", the various languages and dialects may use one or more of the prefixes: Bi-, Chi-, Ci-, Gi-, Ici-, Ki-, Ma-, Shee-, Shi-, Txi-, Va-, Wa-, and Xi-. For "people of", they use either "Ba-" or "Va-".


Archaeological evidence points to a continuous occupation of the area between St Lucia Bay from at least the 13th century, probably from 1250. Early Portuguese documents of shipwrecked sailors indicate that Tsonga communities were already based between Maputo and Saint Lucia Bay by 1550. Writings of Perestrello (Santa. Bento-1554), Diogo de Couto (Santa Thome-1589), Lavanha (Santa Alberto-1593) record presence of Ronga chiefdoms between Saint Lucia Bay and the Maputo region in the 16th century. They recorded the names of chiefdoms like Ngomane, Nyaka, Mpfumo, Lebombo (Livombo), Manyisa and Tembe. These names have survived till today. What is significant is that Portuguese documents of the 16th century point to the fact that Tsonga (Ronga) chiefdoms were larger than their Nguni counterparts. Actually, Nyaka and Tembe developed powerful kingdoms, the first extending from Delagoa Bay in the north to as far as Saint Lucia Bay in the south and the latter covering the Delagoa Bay region and all land as far as the Lebombo (Livombo) mountains.

By the 18th century, the Maxabane (Mashabane) (which broke away from the Nyaka chiefdom), , Matsolo and Mabota chiefdoms were added to the chiefdoms observed by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

Historically, Tsonga communities stretched from St Lucia Bay in Northern KwaZulu Natal up to the upper Save river in Mozambique, covering parts of Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Kruger National Park and South Eastern Zimbabwe

In the 1720s , Portuguese and Dutch identified the Tsonga as linguistically and culturally belonging to one group despite the fact that they belonged to different chiefdoms. This was motivated by the fact the Ronga themselves identified themselves as one group with people who spoke the same language, regardless of the fact that they belonged to different chiefdoms. Dutch reports mention that there were visitors into the Delagoa Bay area from the interior (probably the Hlanganu) who were identified by the Ronga as speaking the same language as them and that members of the Hlengwe sub-group had the same scarifications as the Ronga. The Dutch stressed that the Ronga recognized the Tonga of Inhambane and the Chopi as separate from them.

Some Hlengwe oral traditions also claim that the Hlengwe were part of Ronga of Northern KZN and Maputo region of Mozambique. In the late 1600s to mid 1700’s there are Portuguese reports about the movement of some Ronga people from the Lourenço Marques region to Inhambane region. These Ronga/Hlengwe communities are reported to have ransacked the Tonga of Inhambane and some Shona communities in the upper Save river. This movement was happening almost simultaneously with the with entering of Sotho-speaking people into the hinterland of Delagoa Bay. The Portuguese of Inhambane knew both the Hlengwe of Chauke (Cawuke) clan and Sono in the early 18th century.

Henri P Junod , postulated that Tsonga communities could be divided into these dialects:

  1. Hlengwe-mainly found in the upper Limpopo river and Save river in Mozambique and Southern Eastern Zimbabwe. The Hlengwe dialect is a transition between standard Tsonga and Tshwa
  2. Hlanganu- historically found in Swaziland, Mpumalanga Kruger National Park and between Sabie and Nkomati rivers in Mozambique. The Hlanganu dialect is a transition between mainstream Tsonga [based largely on Dzonga] and Ronga.
  3. Dzonga (South)-found between the Sabie and Nkomati rivers
  4. N’walungu (North)- mainly found between Limpopo and the Olifants River in Mozambique
  5. Vatshwa-mainly found in Inhambane in Mozambique
  6. Xika-mainly found in North East Nkomati in Mpumalanga
  7. Ronga (East) - mainly found in the Northern KwaZulu Natal and Maputo region in Mozambique. In KZN there are two Ronga dialects worth mentioning: the Xissonga in the Pongola valley, more especially in the Ndumo area and the Xikonde around the Saint Lucia Bay. These two sub-dialects may be nearer to extinction.
  8. Bila (Vila)-found in Bileni in Mozambique.

These people were so named mainly because of their geographical location and dialects. Though they spoke different dialects, the language and cultural practices were largely the same. Hence they constituted a single cultural and linguistic community. It is for this reason that when one reads Vutlharhi bya Vatsonga (a collection of Tsonga proverbs) by Junod, it is difficult to separate proverbs along the different dialects!!!!

For over centuries Tsonga have assimilated other cultural groups who came to live with them in the South East Africa region. The following clans are a case in point:

  1. Shona
    1. Tembe-Karanga (Kalanga)- were in Delagoa Bay region by 1554
    2. Baloyi(Valoyi) –Rozvi (Lozwi) – they were already in the N’walungu region during the time of the Dutch occupation of the Delagoa Bay (1721-31). Some Hlengwe oral traditions claimed that the Hlengwe were actually the ones who converted the Valoyi from Rozvi (Lozwi) into Tsonga in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This probably happened after the death of the powerful king of Rozvi, Changameri Dombo in 1696.
  2. Shiburi (Xivuri) were Sotho. They entered Mozambique as conquerors from the Mpumalanga lowveld in the 1700s as separate groups, but they organised themselves into a Shiburi (Xivuri) chiefdom.
  3. Manganyi were Nguni who lived in Kwa-Magoda in Kwa-Zulu Natal
  4. Mabunda and Maswanganyi were part of the Mazibuko (Nguni) clan in KwaZulu Natal.
  5. Gaza-Ngoni-Shangaan: several Nguni clans who left with Soshangane to Mozambique from 1821 abandoned their Nguni language and became Tsonga speaking
  6. Chopi- several Chopi people have joined the Maluleke clan.
  7. Ndau- several Ndau clans like Mashaba (Maxava or Machava), Sithole, Moyana, Miyambu, Simango are now part of the Tsonga.
  8. Nkuna- came from Ngome in KZN.

It must be understood that although the Tsonga assimilated foreign cultural elements, it does not follow that the people are merely a hybrid of the assimilated groups mentioned above. In fact, the Tsonga have for centuries been identified as a cultural and linguistic group sufficiently different from other neighbouring cultural groups like the Tonga of Inhambane, The Zulu (Nguni or Ngoni) and the Karanga and the Sotho in South East Africa.

As indicated above the Gaza-Ngoni-Shangaan of Soshangane were not the first Nguni from Zululand (or Kwazulu/Natal) to enter Tsonga dominated Southern Mozambique. There were other groups like the Nkuna (spoke Mbayi) who left Ngome in Northern KwaZulu, (probably during the time of Dingiswayo’s rule) for Lydenburg district in Mpumalanga and then Mozambique. In Mozambique they settled among the Rikhotso. They abandoned the Mbayi dialect and adopted Nhlave, a Dzonga sub-dialect. The Manganyi were from Kwa-Magoda. They settled among the Van’walungu and adopted the N’walungu dialect. The Mabunda (Mavundza) and Maswanganyi were part of the Mazibuko clan in KwaZulu. They left for Nhlave area of Southern Mozambique where they adopted the Nhlave sub-dialect of Dzonga. When Soshangane arrived in Mozambique they were already Tsonga speaking , which means that they had been there long enough to allow for their Nguni dialect to be swallowed by Tsonga.


The Gaza were a junior section (inKohlo branch) of the Ndwandwe. In 1819 when the Ndwandwe were defeated by Shaka Zulu the Gaza were under the leadership of Manukuza (alias Soshangane ), who doubled as the chief commander of the Ndwandwe forces defeated by Shaka. The Gaza lived in the Mkuzi area, around the eNtshaneni mountain.. The senior house under Zwide lived in Magudu, near the Pongola valley. The Gaza lived side by side with Ronga [Thonga] communities as the Mkuzi river was a historical boundary between Nguni and Ronga [Thonga] communities. There were also Ronga speaking communities [Xissonga speaking communities] in the Pongola valley, near the area where Zwide was based. This means that when the Gaza arrived in Mozambique between 1820 and 1821 , they had already interacted with Tsonga communities for a very long time. After the defeat of the Ndwandwe in 1819 Zwide moved from Magudu to present day Piet Retief area in Mpumalanga. His new domain apparently included some parts of South West Swaziland. He is believed to have died in 1824.

The Formation of the Gaza Empire After his defeat by Shaka, Soshangane left with few followers for the eastern Lebombo foothills, till they reached the vicinity of upper Tembe river, where they were met by Captain W. Owen of the British Navy in 1822. Owen claimed that Soshangane’s followers numbered between 200 and 300. About 1825 Soshangane entered the country between Matsolo and Nkomati river where he found Zwangendaba Hlatswayo of the Jele [Jere] clan , a former Ndwandwe subsidiary chief. They briefly formed an alliance. After clashing with Soshangane, Zwangendaba and his followers left for Vendaland, between Limpopo (Vembe) and Levubu (Ribvubye) rivers, where they lived there for a while, before migrating to Rozviland, near present day Bulawayo. He defeated the Changameri Rozvi. He later left for Manyikaland in the North east where he met Soshangane again in the 1830’s. He was defeated by Soshangane (some say he fled without a fight) and he crossed the Zambezi for Malawi in 1835.

By 1825 Nxaba Msane, another former Ndwandwe general and subsidiary chief had entered central Mozambique, in the Sofala province. He ruled Sofala undisturbed for about 10 years, between 1825 and 1835. It was only in 1835 when his was removed by Soshangane. Nxaba left Sofala for Zambia.

After defeating Nxaba, Soshangane lived for a while in Musapa in Zimbabwe, where he conquered the Ndau (Vandau) and Manyika (Vamanyika). Some Gaza Ngoni lived in various Manyika regions in Zimbabwe, like the Zindi, Samanga, Nyamhuka, Karombe and Murahwa. They intermarried with local women.

Between 1838 and 1845 Soshangane brought the whole region between Nkomati and Zambezi rivers under his political control. Although he raided the Lourenço Marques area in the early 1820’s, after leaving the Tembe river for Bilene (Bileni) in the Limpopo valley in late 1820’s [about 1827], the area did not fall under his sphere of influence. In fact, Dingane’s Zulu army, with auxiliaries from Matsolo [Matola] and Maputsu [Maputo] ransacked Lourenço Marques in 1833 and killed the Portuguese governor. After 1838, Zulu influence of the Lourenço Marques had waned. For a large part of Gaza rule in Mozambique, the Lourenço Marques region was regarded as nominally part of Portuguese rule. European visitors to this region in the 1800’s claimed that Portuguese control of the Ronga chiefdoms was virtually a theoretical claim rather than a reality. Sometimes Portuguese governors actually paid tribute to Ronga chiefs.

The Nkuna, Valoyi, Mavundza and Rikhotso left for the Transvaal in 1835 after refusing to accompany Soshangane in his pursuit of Zwangendaba. Soshangane’s attempt to pursue them became fruitless and ended in 1842 in the battle of Matshengwana.

The Maluleke (or Van’wanati) had long established themselves around the northern part of the present day Kruger National Park and around the confluence of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In other words, although they were raided by the Gaza and the Ndebele, these groups refused to be subjugated. For over a period of about 150 years to this date, these groups lived outside the Gaza Kingdom, they re-established themselves as independent polities.

Another group of the Tsonga people left with the Portuguese hunter Joao (aka Jiwawa or Juwawa) Albasini to settle in Luonde [Riyondze], near the present day Makhado Town. He established the Spelonken or Xipilongo empire, which was constituted by the “Magwamba” community. For close to two decades, Jiwawa Albasini did not have any relationship with Soshangane or the Gaza Kingdom until the late 1850’s when Soshangane’s son, Muzila, fled to Spelonken or Xipilongo in the face of a civil war with his brother Mawewe. Soshangane died in October 1858. After his death a struggle ensued among his sons. Modanise was his eldest son by his first wife, Muzila, by his second wife, and uSihono and Mawewe, by his third wife. The third wife was the ‘great wife’ as her lobolo was paid by the nation. uSihono, the elder brother of Mawewe, was technically the rightful heir to the throne after Soshangane’s death. The Gaza elders (who supported Mawewe) kept Soshangane’s death a secret and organized war against Modanise, uSihone, Yopanjwa, Mzila and Mhlabandabuka. Mzila had fled to the Spelonken whilst the other brothers fled north to the vicinity of the Zambezi river where Mawewe’s armies followed and killed them all by May 1859, except Mhlabandabuka who managed to cross the Zambezi river into Malawi. Mawewe was left to rule the Gaza empire.

Muzila returned to Mozambique at about November 1861 armed with more support from Jiwawa Albasini, Hosi Magudu Khosa of Khoseni, Hosi Mahuntsi of Makwakwa and the Portuguese of Lourenco Marques, which enabled him to drive Mawewe into Swaziland where some of his descendents live to this day. Muzila ruled the Gaza Kingdom from Musapa (Mustapha or Mussourize), in the Chimanimani mountains in the present-day Zimbabwe for over 20 years. Muzila’s rein continued until August 1884 when he died, living his son, Mdungazi, alias Nghungunyani, to take over. Nghunghunyani moved the capital from Musapa to Mandlhakazi, near Bileni in 1889, to try to reestablish the shaky authority of the Gaza empire over the communities of Limpopo valley, more especially the Vachopi.

Like his father, Nghungunyani did nothing to re-conquer the Tsonga who had established themselves outside the Gaza Kingdom. In fact, Nghunghunyani only attempted to conquer some Ronga Communities whom his father and grandfather had failed to subjugate during their lifetime. He, too, failed to subjugate them and instead opted to establish some diplomatic relations with some of them. Nghunghunyani ruled his people from his new capital city of Mandlakazi near Xai-Xai (or Ncayi-ncayi).

Bannerman (1978) argues that the relationship between the many Southern Hlengwe chiefs in Zimbabwe and the Gaza kingdom was more complex. He states that rival Hlengwe groups occasionally sought the support of both the Ndebele and the Gaza to settle scores against each other. Xitanga [Chitanga], for instance, sought Ndebele help to help deal with his rebellious Induna Mpapa. According to Forestall , the Sengwe was the only Southern Hlengwe chiefdom that paid tribute to Muzila, but was also subject to Chikwalakwala. The other groups were occasionally raided by Gaza forces while the Sengwe was spared because of its tribute-paying status. Some Hlengwe chiefs also paid tribute to Boers in the Transvaal. Tribute paying was not always or necessarily an indication of subjugation of a community. It seems like some communities used tribute paying as a tool to retain their autonomy rather than face constant raids by rival powerful groups. This is demonstrated by the paying of tribute to rival powerful rulers as some Hlengwe clans did. Even Soshangane paid the Boers 300 head of cattle as compensation for the attack and defeat he inflicted on them in August 1836 and made himself a nominal tributary.

In 1894, a war broke out between Nghungunyani and the Portuguese settlers in Lourenco Marques - now Maputo - (named after a Ronga King, Maputsu). In the course of the war Nghungunyani was captured in 1895 leading to the royal family abandoning the war for the bush, leaving Magigwana Khosa – the army chief general - fighting with his generals. Magigwana Khosa continued with the fight until 1897 when he was killed by the Portuguese army at a place called Mapulangweni. The royal family abandoned the war at the time when the people needed them to give direction. The core of the royal family located in Bushbuckridge with no attempt to return and reclaim their Kingdom.

In Bushbuckridge, the Nxumalos established their own Amashangane Tribal Authority. (The exact location and the map of this area are explicitly illustrated between page 44 and 45 of Vukosi bya Buyisonto) a copy of the map is attached as Annexure ?.

It is interesting to note that when they arrived in South Africa, no attempts were made to claim the people who were already living this side of the border (the “Magwamba” in the Hlanganani, Giyani, Louis Tritchardt and Malamulele districts; Mavundza in Tzaneen and eastern Giyani districts; Valoyi also in eastern Giyani and Tzaneen districts; the Xika in Komatipoort and Barberton districts; Hoxani and Nhlanganu groups who lived near them in Bushbuckridge; and the Nkuna in the Tzaneen district) or those they have never fought at all (the Thonga or Rhonga-Tembe in northern Natal).

In fact, these people were not involved in the war against the Portuguese as they were not under the command of the Ndwandwe forces. The second group of the Nxumalos, led by Gija, fled to Xipilongo under a Venda Chief Tshimbupfe Davhana as his ndhuna and he and his people were later removed to Xaswita in Maluleke country (under hosi Xikundu). They did not stay long there as they were expelled from the area by hosi Xikundu when they refused to live by Xikundu’s rules on his land and they were settled in Ntlhaveni on land traditionally belonging to other Maluleke clans, but which had been confiscated by the Boers. When they arrived at Davhana’s country, they were treated as ordinary people who were running from their own war. No attempts were made by Gija to claim the N’wanati or the nearby “Magwamba” because he recognized their independence. In fact, in a statement Gija gave to the government of the day in 1904, he confirmed most of what is contained in this submission. This was nine years after the defeat of the Nxumalos by the Portuguese and about seven years after the arrival of most of them in the Transvaal territory (The full statement and related handwritten notes are attached as Annexure and ?).

To further show that they accepted that Gaza was a lost case, when Buyisonto, Nghunghunyani’s heir, returned from Portugal where he had been held captive with his father, no attempt was made to resurrect the Gaza kingdom. Buyisonto was not welcomed by the “Magwamba” as their King even though he landed in the nearby Louis Tritchadt train station. More information on this is contained in Makamu and Mathebula’s books and all the trekpasses of Buyisonto’s trip from Windhoek, via Johannesburg to Louis Tritchadt are attached as Annexure , and ?)

Instead he was linked with the Maxobye people, who were under Gija, who took him to his people in Bushbuckridge. On his way to Bushbuckridge, he traveled past many Tsonga communities who were not even aware of his presence. They included the Nkuna, Valoyi, Rikhotso and Mavundza. During his coronation in about 1922 as the King of the Amashangana, none of the other Tsonga leaders were invited as they were busy with their independent businesses. Not even the nearby Mnisi, Khosa and Hoxani clans attended the coronation, let alone the Ngomane, who were also not very far from the area.

Buyisonto ruled until his death without having claimed to be the King of the South African Tsonga people. Upon his death, he was again replaced by his brother Thulamahashi as regent for the second time. Thulamahashi had earlier took over from his paternal uncle, Mpisana, in 1910 as regent for his brother and relinquished power when Buyisonto came back from captivity. On both occasions that he was a regent, Thulamahashi was never, at any stage, a King of the Tsonga. Since their settlement in South Africa, this group was ruled by Mpisane, Thulamahashi, Buyisonto, Nghobo, Mafemani, Kheto and Eric (Mpisana II), and of course Gija, Magona and SDW Nxumalo. There is no known record of any of these leaders attempting to re-organise their Kingdom.

A rumour that Thulamahashi (Nghunghunyani’s remaining son and regent at the time) was trying to mobilise his people in about 1912 to return to Gaza with him disintegrated when Thulamahashi was made to swear before the Pretoria authorities that the rumour was not true (a full report is attached as Annexure?). But, even if this was true, it is clear that Thulamahashi would not have instructed the N’wanati, Mavundza, Nkuna, “Magwamba”, and several Tsonga clans under Venda chiefs to return to Gaza because they were not under his authority. Let alone the Hoxani and Nhlanganu groups who lived near them in Bushbuckridge. Between 1918 and 2005 we count 87 years of lull. Between 1896 and 2006 we count 110 years since the fall of the Gaza Kingdom.

In Xitsonga we have three sayings that are relevant in understanding kingship:

  1. Vuhosi a byi peli nambu (Kingship does not cross a river [boundary])
  2. Xisola hosi xi sola xi sukile (a person undermines a king only when he or she has left the king’s kingdom).
  3. Loko mhisi yi pela nambu yi hundzuka mbyana (when a person crosses his/her boundary, he/she becomes a member of the group on the other side of the boundary)

Tsonga communities who fled away from Soshangane and his successors for the former Transvaal should be understood in terms of the first two sayings mentioned above. These communities chose to cross the “river” and subject themselves to Sotho and Venda rule or alternatively maintained their independence. The arrival of the Ndwandwe in the Transvaal must be understood in terms of the third expression.

The history of the Gaza Kingdom, although it is an important part of Tsonga history, it is not the alpha and omega of Tsonga history. Soshangane never founded a so-called Shangaan nation. He merely created a shaky multicultural and multilingual empire which was a conglomeration of groups like Vatsonga, Vachopi, Vatonga, VaSena.and Shona groups like Vandau, Vamanyika, Teve and Podza. Soshangane did attempt to impose his language in the royal kraal and the military. Many of the conquered groups who were part of a group known as Mabuyandlela did briefly adopt some Ngoni custom and language (lala)- northern Nguni dialect that sounds like a mixture of Siswati and isiZulu. This dialect is characterized by a Thefuya form of speech, which tends to replace the “L” with “y’. For instance Nxumalo becomes Nxumayo, Mabulandlela becomes Mabuyandlela

The majority of the people who were outside the military continued to practice their cultures and languages rather than Ngoni custom. The cultures and languages of the conquered groups remained fairly intact today. This is not to say that these conquered groups have not adopted some elements of Ngoni culture, but it is rather to emphasize that they retained their original identities to a level which cannot be confused with Ngoni culture. On the contrary, descendants of Soshangane and his people largely abandoned Ngoni custom and Ngoni-Shangaan language and joined the cultures and languages of the conquered or defeated groups. For example, in Chipinga, Zimbabwe there is a Gaza chiefdom that originates from one of Nghunghunyani’s brothers and its people are Ndau speaking rather than Ngoni. In South Africa there several Gaza chiefdoms like Magona (Tsonga speaking) at Malamulele, two Mkhatswa chiefdoms in Barberton (Siswati speaking) and AmaShangane Traditional Authority under Hosi Eric Nxumalo in Bushbackridge (Tsonga speaking).


The problem with Tsonga population counts is that they don't 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 reason why this happens is that Tsonga people are called by so many different 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.

  • Tswa-Ronga: Ronga 848,000 + Tsonga 4,954,000 + Tswa 1,549,000 = 7,351,000.
  • Enter Chopi 893,000 = 8,244,000.
  • Enter Ndau 2,348,000 = 10,592,000.
  • Enter Tonga (Moz) 441,000 = 11,033,000.
  • Enter Tonga (Zam and Zim) 1,739,000 = 12,772,000.
  • Enter Tonga (Malawi) 221,000 = 12,993,000.

That sums up the Tswa-Ronga and Tonga populations in southern and eastern Africa.


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.[2]


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 beliefs 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.[3] 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).[3] 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.[3] 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.[3] 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.[3] 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.[4]

Once the spirit has been converted from hostile to benevolent forces, the spirits bestow the powers of divination and healing on the n'agna.[3]

Notable Tsonga People[edit]

  1. Amukelani "Amumnition" Tshawane (Rapper and producer)
  2. Benson Ntlemo (Sowetan reporter)
  3. Bishop Baloyi (Jacaranda FM reporter)
  4. Brian "Spider" Baloyi (former Bafana Bafana and Kaiser Chiefs goal keeper)
  5. Cassius Baloyi (South African Boxer)
  6. Dr Norman Mphata Mabasa (President of South African Medical Association; Limpopo Health Minister)
  7. Eduardo Mondlane (Founding President of FRELIMO)
  8. Gito Baloi (Mozambicam musician)
  9. Given Mkhari (Former Metro FM talk show host; founder of Power FM and Capricorn FM)
  10. Graça Machel (Former South African and Mozambican First Lady)
  11. Hlulani Hlangwani (South African jazz musician)
  12. Hudson William Edison Ntsanwisi (Former Chief Minister of Gazankulu)
  13. Jabulani Tsambo aka Hip Hop Pantsula - HHP (Rapper)
  14. Joaquim Chissano (Former President of Mozambique)
  15. Jomo Sono (South African Football Legend; Owner of Jomo Cosmos)
  16. Khensani Manganyi (Actress; Stoned Cherrie designer)
  17. Lizha James (Mozambican musician and celebrity)
  18. Mbhazima Shilowa (former Gauteng Premier)
  19. Mike Nkuna (Masingita Group of Companies, South African Property Entreprenuer)
  20. Nyiko Floyd Shivambu (EFF Commissar)
  21. Pansy Tlakula (IEC Chairperson)
  22. Professor Tinyiko Maluleke (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg)
  23. Rex Dlamini (The First Black South African Pharmacist to be given a license to operate Link Pharmacy)
  24. Samora Moisés Machel (Former President of Mozambique)
  25. Samuel Dickenson Nxumalo (Third Chief Minister of Gazankulu)
  26. Sam Nzima (Photographer of famous Hector Pieterson, his sister Anotinette Sithole and Mbuyisa Makhubo picture)
  27. Sandra Baloyi (COSAS President)
  28. Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele (Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC)
  29. Shakes Mashaba (Bafana Bafana Coach)
  30. Tito Titus Mboweni (Former South African Reserve Bank Governor)
  31. Tsakani "TK" Mhinga (R&B singer)
  32. Wanda Baloyi (South African jazz musician)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Vatsonga". Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Shangaan". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Liebhammer, Nessa (2007). Dungamanzi (Stirring Waters). Johannesburg: WITS University Press. pp. 171–174. ISBN 1-86814-449-6. 
  4. ^ Broch-Due, Vigdis (2005). Violence And Belonging:The Quest For Identity In Post-Colonial Africa. Psychology Press. p. 97. Retrieved 10 July 2012. 


  • 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]
  • Mandla Mathebula, et al. (2007) "Tsonga History Perspective." [2]
  • "First Online Tsonga Dictionary". [3]

External links[edit]