People of South Africa / South Africa Nine Provinces / African traditionalists and languages

South Africa


South Africa is home to a diverse multitude of people with unique cultures, traditions and languages. The various cultures makes for an even more interesting "rainbow".

The people

The results of the second democratic Census (Census 2001) were released in July 2003. On the night of 10 October 2001, there were 44 819 778 people in South Africa. Of these, 79% classified themselves as African; 9,6% as white; 8,9% as coloured; and 2,5% as Indian/Asian. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), the mid-2006 population was estimated at 47,4 million. Africans were in the majority (about 37,7 million) and constituted roughly 79,5% of the total South African population. The white population was estimated at 4,4 million, the coloured population at 4,2 million and the Indian/Asian population at 1,2 million. The provincial estimates showed that KwaZulu-Natal was home to 20,9% of the population, followed by Gauteng with 20,1% and the Eastern Cape with 14,6%. The Northern Cape had the smallest share of the population, namely 2,3%. The South African population consists of the following groups: the Nguni (comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi people); Sotho-Tswana, who include the Southern, Northern and Western Sotho (Tswana people); Tsonga; Venda; Afrikaners; English; coloureds; Indians; and those who have immigrated to South Africa from the rest of Africa, Europe and Asia and who maintain a strong cultural identity. A few remaining members of the Khoi and the San also live in South Africa. Languages According to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act 108 of 1996), everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice, but no one may do so in a manner that is inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights. Each person also has the right to instruction in their language of choice where this is reasonably practicable.

Nine Provinces

In terms of South Africa’s Constitution, the country is divided into nine provinces, each with its own legislature, premier and executive councils. The provinces, with their own distinctive landscapes, vegetation and climate, are the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape, Free State, North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Official languages

The Constitution recognises 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. Recognising the historically diminished use and status of the indigenous languages, the Constitution expects government to implement positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these languages. According to Census 2001, isiZulu is the mother tongue of 23,8% of the population, followed by isiXhosa (17,6%), Afrikaans (13,3%), Sesotho sa Leboa (9,4%), and English and Setswana (8,2% each). The least-spoken indigenous language in South Africa is isiNdebele, which is spoken by 1,6% of the population. Although English is the mother tongue of only 8,2% of the population, it is the language most widely understood, and the second language of the majority of South Africans. However, government is committed to promoting all the official languages.

Religious groups in South Africa

Almost 80% of South Africa’s population adheres to the Christian faith. Other major religious groups are the Hindus, Muslims and Jews. A minority of South Africa’s population does not belong to any of the major religions, but regard themselves as traditionalists or of no specific religious affiliation. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the Constitution, and official policy is one of noninterference in religious practices.

African traditionalists

Because the traditional religion of the African people has a strong cultural base, the various groups have different rituals, but there are certain common features. A supreme being is generally recognised, but ancestors are of far greater importance, being the deceased elders of the group. They are regarded as part of the community; indispensable links with the spirit world and the powers that control everyday affairs. These ancestors are not gods, but because they play a key part in bringing about either good or ill fortune, maintaining good relations with them is vital; they have to be appeased regularly through a variety of ritual offerings. While an intimate knowledge of herbs and other therapeutic techniques, as well as the use of supernatural powers, can be applied for the benefit of the individual and the community, some practitioners are masters of black magic, creating fear among people. As a result of close contact with Christianity, many people find themselves in a transitional phase somewhere between African Traditional Religion and Christianity.

South Africa has 12 public holidays:
New Year’s Day – 1 January
Human Rights Day – 21 March
Good Friday – Friday before Easter Sunday
Family Day – Monday after Easter Sunday
Freedom Day – 27 April
Workers’ Day – 1 May
Youth Day – 16 June
National Women’s Day – 9 August
Heritage Day – 24 September
Day of Reconciliation – 16 December
Christmas Day – 25 December
Day of Goodwill – 26 December
If any of these days fall on a Sunday, then the following Monday becomes a public holiday.

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