Southern Ndebele people

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The women of Loopspruit Cultural Village, near Bronkhorstspruit, in front of a traditionally-painted Ndebele dwelling.
Total population
703,906 (2001 Census)
Regions with significant populations
Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces
in  South Africa
Southern Ndebele language
Christian, Animist
Related ethnic groups
Nguni, Northern Ndebele

The Southern Ndebele people are an African ethnic group located in South Africa and Zimbabwe. They are also called the Southern Transvaal Ndebele, and are centered on Bronkhorstspruit.


The Ndebele are part of the larger Nguni ethnic group. They are thought to have travelled from Natal to the Transvaal region, led by a chief called Musi and settling near Pretoria in about 1600. In the mid-seventeenth century, the nation split over a succession dispute between his two sons, Manala and Ndzundza.

In 1882, following friction with Voortrekker settlers over land and other resources, the Boer leader Piet Joubert led a campaign against the Ndebele leader Nyabela. Nyabela was imprisoned, finally being released in the late 1890s, and many of his people were indentured to white farmers.

During the apartheid era, Nyabela's successor as leader, Cornelius, was forcibly moved with his people to a tribal "homeland" called KwaNdebele, which was given nominal self-government.

Surnames of Ndebele royalty include Mahlangu, Musi, Skhosan, Mthimunye, Mabhena, Kekana and Sithole.[citation needed]


The Ndebele people speak Southern Ndebele (usually called Ndebele, although not to be confused with Northern Ndebele, which is slightly different). It is one of the eleven official languages in South Africa, and the least widely spoken.


In the 16th century, Portuguese settlers introduced brightly colored glass beads that would later be used by the Ndebele people to create garments, jewelry, blankets and headwear for both daily and ceremonial use. Traditionally, geometric beadwork is used to denote the sacred spaces within the home.[1]


  1. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ndebele: The art of an African tribe, 1986. Margaret Courtney-Clarke, London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28387-7

External links[edit]