Tsonga people

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Tsonga languages and dialects.jpg
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
5,370,000 (late 20th-century estimate)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Mozambique 3,100,000
South Africa 2,300,000
Swaziland 27,000
Zimbabwe 5,000
Tsonga, Portuguese, English
African Traditional Religion, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Other Bantu peoples
Person Mutsonga
People Vatsonga
Language Xitsonga

Tsonga people (Tsonga: Vatsonga) are a Bantu ethnic group native mainly to South Africa and southern Mozambique. They speak Xitsonga, a Southern Bantu language which is closely related to neighbouring Nguni, Sotho-Tswana languages and Venda. A very Small number of Tsonga people are also found in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The Tsonga people of South Africa share a common history with the Tsonga people of southern Mozambique, however they differ culturally and linguistically from the Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe; that is, Tsonga and Tonga are not the same thing.


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 from as early as the 1500s. Within apartheid South Africa, a Tsonga "homeland", Gazankulu, was created out of part of northern Transvaal Province (Now Limpopo Province and 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]


In total, there were 5, 3 million Tsonga speakers in 2011, divided mainly between South Africa and Mozambique. South Africa was home to 2,3 million Tsonga speakers in the 2011 population census, while Mozambique accounted for 3 million speakers of the language. A small insignificant number of speakers included 15 000 Tsonga speakers in Swaziland and roughly 18 000 speakers in Zimbabwe.

In South Africa, Tsonga people were concentrated in the following municipal areas during the 2011 population census: 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), Thulamela Local Municipality (220,000 people), City of Tshwane (280,000 people), City of Johannesburg (290,000 people), and Ekurhuleni (260,000 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 (28,00 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). The provincial breakdown of Tsonga speakers, according to the 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.[citation needed]


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,while men and teenage boys take care of domestic animals (a herd of cows, sheep, and goats) although some men grow cash crops. Most Tsongas now depend on wage labour for cash, many migrating to South Africa to find work.[3]


Tsonga men traditionally attend the initiation school for circumcision called Matlala (KaMatlala) or Ngoma (e Ngomeni) after which they are regarded as men. Young teenage girls attend an initiation school that old Vatsonga women lead called Khomba, and initiates are therefore called tikhomba (khomba- singular, tikhomba- plural). Only virgins are allowed to attend this initiation school where they will be taught more about womanhood, how to carry themselves as tikhomba in the community, and they are also readied for marriage.

The Vatsonga 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 Tsonga Disco, Electro, and Mindzhumbha ya Xitsonga. Tsonga Disco was pioneered by the likes of General MD Shirinda and Thomas Chauke, while the experimental genres of Tsonga Ndzhumbha have been popularized by Joe Shirimani and Benny Mayengani. The more westernized type of sound which includes a lot of English words and heavy synthesizers is commonly known as Shangaan Electro in Europe and has been pioneered by the likes of Nozinja), the Tshetsha Boys, and DJ Khwaya. The Tsonga people are also known for a number of traditional dances such as the Makhwaya, Xighubu, Mchongolo and Xibelani dances.

Traditional beliefs and healers[edit]

Senior n'angas relax and celebrate after an initiation dedicated to the Ndau spirit.
Senior N'angas help a new n'agna out of the water during an initiation

Like most Bantu cultures, the Tsonga people 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.

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 nganga.[4]

Notable Tsonga people[edit]

The following is a list of notable Tsonga people who have their own Wikipedia articles.


  1. ^ "Tsonga joshuaproject.net". Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Rita M. Byrnes, ed. (1996). "Tsonga and Venda". South Africa: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  3. ^ "Tsonga People". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  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. 


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