Tsonga people

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Tsonga people
Traditional location of Tsonga people with dialectical differences and before the borders between South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were erected and the people separated.
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. Historically and currently the Tsonga people in Mozambique are between the Limpopo and Save rivers. Their density lowers between Save and Zambezi, where the Tsonga/Shona group of Ndau starts to dominate. The provinces are Maputo, Maputo City, Inhambane, Manica, Gaza, and Sofala.

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

  • 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, Lubimbi, 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-".


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 1800s. 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.[2] This bantustan's economy depended largely on gold and on a small manufacturing sector.[2] However, only an estimated 500,000 people—less than half the Tsonga population of South Africa—ever lived there.[2] Many others joined township residents from other parts of South Africa around urban centres, especially Johannesburg and Pretoria.[2]


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.[3]


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.[4] 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).[4] 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.[4] 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.[4] 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.[4] 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.[5]

Once the spirit has been converted from hostile to benevolent forces, the spirits bestow the powers of divination and healing on the n'agna.[4]

Notable Tsonga People[edit]

  1. Amukelani "Ammunition" 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. Collins Chabane (South African politician)
  7. Dr Norman Mphata Mabasa (President of South African Medical Association; Limpopo Health Minister)
  8. Eduardo Mondlane (Founding President of FRELIMO)
  9. Emanuel Sithole (2015 xenophobia victim)
  10. Emidio Josias "Mido" Macia (2013 police brutality victim)
  11. Eric Miyeni (Author, Actor, TV and Radio Personality)
  12. Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave (2008 xenophobia victim)
  13. Gito Baloi (Mozambicam musician)
  14. Given Mkhari (Former Metro FM talk show host; founder of Power FM and Capricorn FM)
  15. Graça Machel (Former South African and Mozambican First Lady)
  16. Hlulani Hlangwani (South African jazz musician)
  17. Hudson William Edison Ntsanwisi (Former Chief Minister of Gazankulu)
  18. Jabulani Tsambo aka Hip Hop Pantsula - HHP (Rapper)
  19. Jabulani "Manaizer" Leonard Bila - Communication officer (Johannesburg Management Area)
  20. Joaquim Chissano (Former President of Mozambique)
  21. Jomo Sono (South African Football Legend; Owner of Jomo Cosmos)
  22. Kelly Baloyi (Orator, FNB controversial education commercial)
  23. Khensani Manganyi (Actress; Stoned Cherrie designer)
  24. Lizha James (Mozambican musician and celebrity)
  25. Mbhazima Shilowa (former Gauteng Premier)
  26. Mike Nkuna (Masingita Group of Companies, South African Property Entrepreneur)
  27. Mixo Ngobeni (Founder of GeekKulcha)
  28. Nyiko Floyd Shivambu (EFF Commissar)
  29. Pansy Tlakula (IEC Chairperson)
  30. Professor Tinyiko Maluleke (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg)
  31. Rex Dlamini (The First Black South African Pharmacist to be given a license to operate Link Pharmacy)
  32. Samora Moisés Machel (Former President of Mozambique)
  33. Samuel Dickenson Nxumalo (Third Chief Minister of Gazankulu)
  34. Sam Nzima (Photographer of famous Hector Pieterson, his sister Anotinette Sithole and Mbuyisa Makhubo picture)
  35. Sandra Baloyi (COSAS President)
  36. Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele (Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC)
  37. Shakes Mashaba (Bafana Bafana Coach)
  38. Tito Mboweni (Former South African Reserve Bank Governor)
  39. Tsakani "TK" Mhinga (R&B singer)
  40. Wanda Baloyi (South African jazz musician)
  41. Jo Wilifred Tsonga (French tennis player)
  42. Ntsakisi Eustacia Furumele(Pharmacist , Lecturer , First black person to hold Pharmacy management position at Tygerberg hospital.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Vatsonga". Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Shangaan". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Liebhammer, Nessa (2007). Dungamanzi (Stirring Waters). Johannesburg: WITS University Press. pp. 171–174. ISBN 1-86814-449-6. 
  5. ^ 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]