A large proportion of South African folk are able to speak Ndebele. It is known as a beautiful language, melodic on the ear. It is a Bantu language that is spoken by Ndebele South Africans (who are also sometimes referred to as the amaNdebele).

People of the Ndebele culture and language can be found throughout the province of Gauteng. Their language may be separated into the chief dialects. These are Southern Ndebele and Northern Ndebele. The census of 2011 revealed that just over 2% of South Africans call Ndebele their home language, while a small portion more are able to understand it. These should not be confused with the Ndebele speaking folk of Zimbabwe or Botswana, who speak a different language with the same name.

The Ndebele people are known for their outstanding craftsmanship , their decorative homes  and their distinctive  and highly colorful mode of dress and ornamentation .

With eleven official languages, South Africa is one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world. In 1994, Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the phrase “rainbow nation” to describe South Africa’s unique multicultural makeup. Needless to say, the phrase stuck and it serves as an excellent metaphor for travelers to discover the many diverse peoples of South Africa.

The Ndebele are part of a larger tribe called the Nguni, which include the Zulu, the Xhosa, and the Swazi. Collectively, the Nguni make up about two thirds of the Black population of South Africa, with the Ndebele population estimated at over 700,000 people. The Ndzundza Ndebele today mainly live in the former homeland of KwaNdebele in Mpumalanga and around  Nebo , Northern Province.

There are three main groups of Ndebele people, Southern, Northern and the Ndebele of Zimbabwe. The Ndebele of Zimbabwe speak a distinct language from the Southern and Northern groups, both of which reside in South Africa.

A traditional Ndebele village is made up of several individual family units called umuzi. Each umuzi consists of a head of the family (umnumzana), his wife and his children. As the children themselves grow and become married, they establish their own umuzi in the community of their birth, which in turn grows the village.

Strong patriarchal attitudes and practices are evident in Ndebele communities . More than many other groups , Ndzundza men especially those of chiefly backgrounds continue to practise polygamy. 

Although the modern Ndebele have retained many unique customs , however urbanization has affected their traditional culture patterns . 

FASHION AND ART OF THE NDEBELE

The Ndebele women  continue  their  tradition of creating elaborate beadwork of all sorts with strong  brightly coloured geometric designs. 

Ndebele women express their status in their community through art and fashion. Most notable is the colourful geometric patterns that the women paint on the exterior of their homes. This skill is passed from mother to daughter and is done by hand without the aid of squares or rulers. While the entire exterior of the house is painted, the most intricate and colourful designs are saved for the front of the house. 

These colourful patterns can also be found in the women’s fashion. After a Ndebele woman marries, her fashion and accessories become more colorful and extravagant, reflecting her growing status in the community. Women wear brass rings called’ idzila’ around their arms, legs and neck after they are married. The rings symbolize a woman’s faithfulness to her husband and are believed to have strong ritual powers.

The Ndebele’s distinctive designs have gone on to influence designers the world over. French footwear designer Christian Louboutin, for instance, designed a pair of stilettos using motifs from Ndebele culture. Esther Mahlangu, an internationally recognized Ndebele artist, has had her work commissioned by BMW and South African Airways. In 1991, she painted a BMW 525i in the traditional style of Ndebele mural work.

An Active Spiritual World

As most traditional groups in Africa , Ndebele life is characterized by an active spiritual world, which exercises great influence over or even the smallest issues in daily existence. Illness and bad omen, good health and fortune are all seen as the result of either direct interventions from the spirit world , or manipulations of interlocutors with that world. The latter are the healers who work for good ,or witches who weave evil about them. The ancestors ‘abezimu’, the most important denizens of the spirit world , are both solicitous and jealous , requiring constant placation through sacrifice. Failure to follow the dictates of the law and custom , as demanded by the ancestors , is believed to be the main cause of bad omen. They are also believed to protect the living against misfortune by counselling them in dreams and giving them strength to medicinal preparations made from herbs and other concoctions. The ancestors are thus the foundation on which the traditional healing rests.

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