About  |   Contact  |  Mongabay on Facebook  |  Mongabay on Twitter  |  Subscribe
Rainforests | Tropical fish | Environmental news | For kids | Madagascar | Photos

South Africa - SOCIETY

South Africa - The Society

South Africa

SOCIETY IS STILL BEING FORMED in South Africa in the 1990s. The region's earliest cultures have long since been displaced, and most people living in South Africa today are descendants of Africans who came to the region in the first millennium A.D. These early populations did not remain in one place over the centuries, however. Instead, their settlement patterns changed as numerous small chiefdoms were thrown into upheaval by increasing conflicts over land, the arrival of European settlers after the seventeenth century, and nineteenth-century Zulu expansionism. During the twentieth century, several million South Africans were displaced by the government, especially after the country's system of apartheid (see Glossary) invalidated many of their land claims.

South Africa's turbulent social history should not obscure the fact that this region probably was home to some of the earliest humans on earth. Archaeological evidence suggests that human populations evolved in the broad region of south central and eastern Africa, perhaps as early as 2 million years ago, but at least 200,000 years ago. Fossil remains of Homo sapiens in eastern South Africa have been tentatively dated to 50,000 years ago, and other remains show evidence of iron smelting about 1,700 years ago in the area that became the northern Transvaal. The evolutionary links between the earliest inhabitants and twentieth-century African populations are not well known, but it is clear that San and Khoikhoi (also called Khoi) peoples have been in southern Africa longer than any other living population.

San hunters and gatherers and Khoikhoi herdsmen, known together as Khoisan because of cultural and linguistic similarities, were called "Bushmen" and "Hottentots" by early European settlers. Both of these terms are considered pejorative in the late twentieth century and are seldom used. Most of the nearly 3 million South Africans of mixed-race ancestry (so-called "coloureds") are descendants of Khoisan peoples and Europeans over the past three centuries.

Bantu language speakers who arrived in southern Africa from the north during the first millennium A.D. displaced or killed some Khoisan peoples they encountered, but they allowed many others to live among them peacefully. Most Bantu societies were organized into villages and chiefdoms, and their economies relied primarily on livestock and crop cultivation. Their early ethnic identities were fluid and shifted according to political and social demands. For example, the Nguni or Nguni speakers, one of the largest Bantu language groups, have been a diverse and expanding population for several centuries. When groups clashed with one another, or their communities became too large, their political identity could easily shift to emphasize their loyalty to a specific leader or descent from a specific forebear.

Historians believe that the ancestors of the Nguni-speaking Xhosa peoples were the first Bantu speakers to reach the southern tip of the continent. The Zulu, a related group of small chiefdoms, arrived soon after, and by the early nineteenth century they had evolved into a large, predatory kingdom. Zulu armies displaced or destroyed many small chiefdoms, and in the upheaval some of those who fled north probably retraced the pathways their ancestors had used centuries earlier as they moved into the region. Others were subjugated and assimilated into Zulu society, and a few--the forebears of today's Swazi and Sotho peoples--resisted Zulu advances and withdrew into mountainous regions that would later become independent nations.

European travelers and explorers visited southern Africa over the centuries and, after the mid-seventeenth century, began settling near the Cape of Good Hope. Dutch immigrants moved inland from the coast in search of farmland and independence, especially during the nineteenth century, when their migration became known as the "Great Trek." British merchants, farmers, and missionaries arrived in large numbers during the nineteenth century. Asians, including merchants and traders as well as laborers and slaves, arrived from India, China, Malaya, and the Indonesian archipelago. South Africa began to develop a multiethnic mercantile, trading, and financial class, based primarily on the country's mineral wealth after the discovery of diamonds and gold in the 1880s.

The South African War of 1899-1902, one of the Anglo-Boer Wars, hastened the process of assimilation that made South Africa one of the twentieth century's most diverse populations. After the war, East Europeans arrived in growing numbers, many of them fleeing religious or political persecution. South Africans of African descent were increasingly marginalized as the concept of racial separation became a central theme in political debate and a key factor in government strategies for economic development.

The mining industry fueled the development of the interior plateau region as the nation's industrial heartland. Agriculture was made possible in this relatively arid land scattered with rocky outcrops only by employing indigenous or imported laborers at low wages and by the extensive use of irrigation. These measures allowed rural whites to achieve living standards that would have been impossible elsewhere and contributed to the growth of flourishing urban centers. The earliest of these were Cape Town, where the relatively dry hinterland proved ideal for grain farming and vineyards, and Durban, where agricultural development centered around sugarcane, forestry, and a variety of food crops.

The government adopted elements of legally entrenched racial supremacy in the twentieth century that culminated in the legal separation of the races, or apartheid, after 1948. Some believed that apartheid would allow parallel development of all ethnic and racial groups, but it was soon clear to most South Africans and to others that apartheid was an intolerable system of racial privilege and subordination bolstered by the frequent use of force.

Until the mid-twentieth century, white South Africans' views on race were relatively consistent with those of other Western nations. But after World War II, when the rest of the world began working toward greater integration among races and nations, South Africa veered in the opposite direction. By the 1960s, white domination had become entrenched, even as colonial rule was ending in the rest of Africa and racial segregation was condemned throughout much of the world.

As a result, South Africa became increasingly marginalized within the international community. Apartheid became so repugnant to so many people worldwide that this wealthy nation faced mounting economic and political pressures to end it. South Africa's growing isolation, together with the disastrous effects of apartheid, convinced most whites that racial separation would, in the long run, not guarantee their safety or prosperity. The government began dismantling racial barriers in the early 1990s, but apartheid-era distinctions left lasting marks on South African society, and the new, multiracial government in the mid-1990s faced too many pressing needs to spend much time celebrating its country's newfound character.

<>Ethnic Groups and Language
<>Health and Welfare
<>Women in Society

South Africa

South Africa - Population

South Africa

Size and Growth

The first census of the Union of South Africa was taken in 1911, one year after its formation. Several enumerations occurred after that, but the black African population was not accurately counted in any of them. In 1950, when apartheid legislation officially restricted black peoples to approximately 13 percent of the land, the government declared that a national census would be taken at the beginning of each decade. After that, Africans were gradually assigned to live in these homelands, then called Bantustans. As the first four homelands were granted nominal independence in the 1970s and the early 1980s, their residents and others assigned to live there were excluded from the official census of South Africa.

Another problem with census measurements was that many black South Africans lived in informal settlements, or "squatter camps," close to cities where they worked or hoped to work, and squatters were often omitted from census counts. In addition, although all citizens were legally required to register births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, many people--especially urban blacks--avoided doing so, in part because of the stringency and complexity of the laws governing legal residency.

The 1980 census count was nearly 23.8 million; another 4.6 million were added to compensate for acknowledged undercounting, resulting in a nationwide population of 28.4 million. The figures excluded those living in the three homelands that were nominally independent in 1980--an estimated 2.7 million in Transkei, 1 million in Bophuthatswana, and about 350,000 in Venda. A fourth homeland, Ciskei, with a population of 678,000, became "independent" in 1981.

The next census, in 1991, took place amid unprecedented political violence. For the first time, the government used aerial photography and sample surveys to enumerate residents in eighty-eight "unrest" areas, which were otherwise inaccessible to government officials. After being adjusted for underenumeration, the 1991 census yielded a count of 30,986,920 citizens, excluding the four "independent" homelands. Residents of the other six non-independent ("self-governing") homelands--10,746,504 people--were included in the nationwide count.

In 1992 the United States Bureau of the Census estimated that 48 percent of all black South Africans, and about 1 percent of all other racial groups, lived in the ten homelands--which made up only about one-seventh of the total land area of the country. On this basis, the bureau estimated the total population of South Africa at 40.6 million.

In 1994 the South African government estimated the total nationwide population at 40.4 million, after all ten homelands had been reincorporated into South Africa. In that year, the United States Bureau of the Census estimated the total population of South Africa at 43.9 million. Relying on the South African government's enumeration and legal categories, the South African Institute of Race Relations estimated that the population was 76.4 percent black, 12.6 percent white, 8.5 percent coloured, and 2.5 percent Asian.

Population growth rates declined from about 2.9 percent per year in the early 1980s to 2.4 percent in 1995, according to the Development Bank of Southern Africa, a South African economic research and lending organization. Again, racial groups varied; population growth was about 2.6 percent per year for blacks, 2.2 percent for coloureds, 1.9 percent for Asians, and 1.0 percent for whites. The government estimated that the population would double by the year 2025.

Life expectancy at birth was 62.7 years for males and 68.3 years for females in 1996, placing South Africa just below the global median. These figures, too, varied considerably by race; for black males, life expectancy was about nine years less than for white males. About 50.5 percent of the population is female and 49.5 percent is male, according to the South African Central Statistical Service. In some rural areas and the former homelands, labor policies that draw men into urban areas have resulted in strongly skewed gender ratios. For example, in the early 1990s, the population of QwaQwa was estimated to be 56 percent female; in KwaZulu, 54 percent female.

In 1995 overall fertility was 4.1 births per adult female, down from 5.6 a decade earlier. The crude birth rate was 27.1 births per 1,000 people, according to official estimates. Twelve percent of all births in the early 1990s were to women aged nineteen or younger. Infant mortality was estimated at 45.8 deaths within the first year, per 1,000 live births. The average annual death rate for the entire population was 7.6 per 1,000. Until 1994, these statistics had been reported by racial group, and both birth and death rates were higher among blacks than among whites.

The median age was 19.2 years in 1995, according to official estimates. Roughly 37 percent of all South Africans were fifteen years of age or younger. Nearly 13 percent were above the age of fifty. Racial disparities in age composition were large, however; for example, 52 percent of blacks and only 31 percent of whites were under age nineteen.

The age dependency ratio, or the ratio of the combined population of children and the aged (those less than fifteen years of age and those more than sixty-four years of age) compared to the number between age fifteen and sixty-four, was 70.6 percent in 1995. This measurement is often used to estimate the burden of "economic dependence" on the economically active population. Variations among provinces are great, in part because of the uneven job concentration across the country. For example, in the Northern Province, the age dependency ratio is more than 100; while in Gauteng, the age dependency ratio is less than 50.0, according to the Central Statistical Service.


Population density averaged 34.4 persons per square kilometer in 1995, although distribution is uneven nationwide. The eastern half of the country is more densely populated than the western half, primarily because of the aridity of much of the west and the concentration of minerals in the east. The most densely populated areas of the country until 1994 were the homelands--where average densities sometimes exceeded 300 people per square kilometer--and Gauteng, which includes Pretoria, Johannesburg, and the mining region of Witwatersrand. More than 7 million people, nearly 17 percent of the population, live in Gauteng, which constitutes less than 2 percent of the land area of South Africa. The population of Gauteng is expected to double by the year 2010.

Population distribution by racial group is also uneven. In 1995 black South Africans formed a majority in all provinces except the Western Cape, where they made up only 20 percent of the population. Cities were predominantly white, and the townships and squatter areas that ringed the cities were overwhelmingly black. The racial composition of cities and of formerly white neighborhoods began to change in the early 1990s as apartheid-related laws were rescinded or ignored, and the pace of change accelerated in the mid-1990s.

The Johannesburg-based Urban Foundation and other researchers have estimated that the urban population was approximately 57 percent of the total in 1995. Rates of urbanization varied widely by province. The most highly urbanized provinces were Gauteng (nearly 96 percent), Western Cape (86 percent), and Northern Cape (73 percent). The population of Northern Province, in contrast, was only about 9 percent urban, according to the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

<>Ethnic Groups and Language

Updated population figures for South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - Ethnic Groups and Language

South Africa

South Africans represent a rich array of ethnic backgrounds, but the idea of ethnicity became highly explosive during the apartheid era, when the government used it for political and racial purposes. Whites in South Africa often attributed the recent centuries of warfare in the region to the varied origins of its peoples, rather than to the increasing economic pressures they had faced. Government officials, accordingly, imposed fairly rigid ethnic or tribal categories on a fluid social reality, giving each black African a tribal label, or identity, within a single racial classification.

Apartheid doctrines taught that each black population would eventually achieve maturity as a nation, just as the Afrikaner people, in their own view, had done. Officials, therefore, sometimes referred to the largest African ethnic groups as nations. The government established language areas for each of these and, during the 1950s and 1960s, assigned them separate residential areas according to perceived ethnic identity. Over the next decade, portions of these language areas became Bantustans, and then self-governing homelands; finally, in the 1970s and the 1980s, four of the homelands--Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei--were granted nominal "independence". Although the independent homelands were not recognized as separate nations by any country other than South Africa, people assigned to live there were officially "noncitizens" of South Africa.

Apartheid policies also empowered the government to remove black Africans from cities and to preserve the "ethnic character"of neighborhoods in the African townships that were created, legally and illegally, around the cities. Many township neighborhoods were given specific "tribal" designations. Township residents generally ignored these labels, however, and reacted to the divisiveness of the government's racial policies by minimizing the importance of their ethnic heritage, or disavowing it entirely. A few South Africans embraced the notion that ethnicity was an outdated concept, a creation of governments and anthropologists, invoked primarily to create divisions among people of a particular class or region.

The word "tribe" assumed especially pejorative connotations during the apartheid era, in part because of the distortions that were introduced by applying this concept to society. Technically, no tribes had existed in South Africa for most of the twentieth century. The term "tribe," in anthropology, is often defined as a group of people sharing a similar culture--i.e., patterns of belief and behavior--settled in a common territory, and tracing their ancestry to a common--perhaps mythical--ancestor. But none of South Africa's black peoples shared a common, ancestral territory; they had been uprooted and relocated by warfare, by the search for new land, or by government action. Few rural residents could trace their descent from an ancestor shared with many of their neighbors.

Then in 1993 and 1994, as the country emerged from the apartheid era, many South Africans appeared to reclaim their ethnic heritage and to acknowledge pride in their ancestry. The new political leaders recognized the practical advantage of encouraging people to identify both with the nation and with a community that had a past older than the nation. So the interim constitution of 1993 reaffirmed the importance of ethnicity by elevating nine African languages to the status of official languages of the nation, along with English and Afrikaans.

Language Groups

The most widely spoken of South Africa's eleven official languages in the mid-1990s are Zulu (isiZulu), Xhosa (isiXhosa), Afrikaans, and English (for Bantu prefixes, see Glossary). The others--isiNdebele, sePedi (seSotho sa Leboa), seSotho, seTswana, siSwati, tshiVenda (also referred to as luVenda), and xiTsonga--are spoken in large areas of the country (see fig. 12). Each of the eleven includes a number of regional dialects and variants.

Despite the diversity of these language groups, it is nonetheless possible to begin to understand this complex society by viewing language groupings as essentially the same as ethnic groupings. This is possible because, in general, most South Africans consider one of the eleven official languages, or a closely related tongue, to be their first language; and most people acquire their first language as part of a kinship group or an ethnically conscious population.

Nine of South Africa's official languages (all except Afrikaans and English) are Bantu languages. Bantu languages are a large branch of the Niger-Congo language family, which is represented throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. Bantu languages are spoken by more than 100 million Africans in Central Africa, East Africa, and southern Africa. Four major subgroups of Bantu languages--Nguni, Sotho, Tsonga-Shangaan, and Venda--are represented in South Africa.

The largest group of closely related languages in South Africa is the Nguni. Nguni peoples in the country number at least 18 million. About 9 million Sotho (BaSotho) and 2 million Tswana (BaTswana) speak seSotho or a closely related language, seTswana. More than 2 million Tsonga and Shangaan peoples speak xiTsonga and related languages; at least 600,000 Venda (VaVenda) speak tshiVenda (luVenda).

Each of these language groups also extends across South Africa's boundaries into neighboring countries. For example, Nguni-speaking Swazi people make up almost the entire population of Swaziland. At least 1.3 million seSotho speakers live in Lesotho, and more than 1 million people in Botswana speak seTswana. Roughly 4 million speakers of xiTsonga and related languages live in Mozambique, and tshiVenda is spoken by several thousand people in southern Zimbabwe. Language boundaries are not rigid and fixed, however; regional dialects often assume characteristics of more than one language.

<>Tsonga and Venda
<>Afrikaans Speakers
<>English Speakers

More about the <>Population of South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - Nguni

South Africa

The Nguni peoples are classified into three large subgroups, the Northern Nguni, the Southern Nguni, and the Ndebele. The Zulu and the Swazi are among the Northern Nguni. The Xhosa are the largest Southern Nguni society, but the neighboring Thembu and Mpondo are also well known Southern Nguni societies, often described as subgroups of the Xhosa. Each of these groups is a heterogeneous grouping of smaller (also heterogeneous) ethnic groups.

Four of South Africa's official languages are Nguni languages; isiZulu, isiXhosa, siSwati, and isiNdebele are spoken primarily by the Zulu, the Xhosa, the Swazi, and the Ndebele peoples, respectively. Each of these languages has regional variants and dialects, which are often mutually intelligible.

Before the nineteenth century, the dominant Nguni settlement pattern was that of dispersed households, as opposed to villages. The typical household was centered on a patrilineage; it also included other relatives through a variety of kinship ties, and people who had attached themselves to the household--often as indentured laborers who were rewarded in cattle. Cattle were central to most Nguni economies, which ranged from almost complete dependence on herding to mixed pastoralism and crop cultivation, often supplemented by hunting.

Nguni political organization generally consisted of small chiefdoms, sometimes only a few hundred people loyal to a person chosen by descent, achievement, or a combination of factors. Until the eighteenth century or later, historians believe, these chiefdoms were not united under a king or monarch. Each chiefdom typically included a group of related patrilineal clans, or descent groups united by common ancestry only a few generations deep, and others who had chosen to attach themselves to a particular chief. A chief could demand support and tribute (taxes) from his followers, could reward those he favored, could form political alliances, and could declare war against his enemies. A chief's followers, in turn, usually had the right to leave and to join another chiefdom, if they wished. Larger chiefdoms sometimes exercised limited control over smaller ones, but such hegemony generally did not last for more than a generation or two.


An estimated 8 million South Africans consider themselves Zulu (amaZulu) or members of closely related ethnic groups in the 1990s. By the eighteenth century, Zulu society encompassed a number of Nguni-speaking chiefdoms north of the Tugela River (see fig. 4). The Zulu homestead (imizi ) consisted of an extended polygynous (see Glossary) family and others attached to the household through social obligations. This social unit was largely self-sufficient, with responsibilities divided according to gender. Men were generally responsible for defending the homestead, caring for cattle, manufacturing and maintaining weapons and farm implements, and building dwellings. Women had domestic responsibilities and raised crops, usually grains, on land near the household.

Zulu chiefs demanded steadily increasing tribute or taxes from their subjects, acquired great wealth, commanded large armies, and, in many cases, subjugated neighboring chiefdoms. Military conquest allowed men to achieve status distinctions that had become increasingly important. In the early nineteenth century, the large and powerful Mthethwa chiefdom, led by Dingiswayo, dominated much of the region north of the Tugela River (see The Rise of African States, ch. 1). Shaka, a Zulu warrior who had won recognition in 1810 by skillfully subduing the leader of the warring Buthelezi chiefdom, took advantage of Dingiswayo's military defeat by the neighboring Ndwandwe armies to begin building the Zulu empire in 1817.

As king, Shaka Zulu (r. 1817-28) defied tradition by adopting new fighting strategies, by consolidating control over his military regiments, and by ruthlessly eliminating potential rivals for power. Shaka's warrior regiments (impis ) eventually subjugated the powerful Ndwandwe, and decimated or drove from the area the armies of Shaka's rivals. Spreading warfare--exacerbated by pressures from Europeans--drove thousands of Africans north and west, and the ensuing upheaval spawned new conflicts throughout the region (see fig. 5).

The Zulu empire weakened after Shaka's death in 1828 and fragmented, especially following military defeats at the hands of the Afrikaners in 1839 and the British in 1879. Zululand, the area north of the Tugela River, was incorporated into the British colony, Natal, in 1887. The last Zulu uprising, a poll tax protest led by Chief Bambatha in 1906, was ruthlessly suppressed. The Zulu population remained fragmented during most of the twentieth century, although loyalty to the royal family continued to be strong in some areas. Leaders of Zulu cultural organizations and Zulu politicians were able to preserve a sense of ethnic identity through the symbolic recognition of Zulu history and through local-level politics.

Zulu men and women have made up a substantial portion of South Africa's urban work force throughout the twentieth century, especially in the gold and copper mines of the Witwatersrand. Zulu workers organized some of the first black labor unions in the country. For example, the Zulu Washermen's Guild, Amawasha, was active in Natal and the Witwatersrand even before the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910. The Zululand Planters' Union organized agricultural workers in Natal in the early twentieth century.

The KwaZulu homeland was carved out of several unconnected plots of land in Natal in the 1960s. In 1976 Mangosuthu (Gatsha) Buthelezi, a member of the Zulu royal family, was named chief minister of KwaZulu, and the government declared KwaZulu a self-governing territory a year later. Buthelezi established good relations with the National Party-dominated government and, in the process, severed his former close ties to the African National Congress (ANC).

During the 1980s, Buthelezi refused repeated government offers of homeland independence; he preferred to retain the self-governing status that allowed the roughly 4 million residents of KwaZulu to be citizens of South Africa. Zulu solidarity was enhanced by Buthelezi's intellectually powerful and dominant personality and by his leadership of the Zulu cultural organization, Inkatha Yenkululeko Yesizwe (National Cultural Liberation Movement--usually called Inkatha), which became the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) during the 1990s.

During the apartheid era, many people in areas officially designated as Zulu were descendants of nineteenth-century Zulu warriors or subjects of the Zulu royal family, who retained a strong ethnic consciousness and pride in their Zulu identity. Others in these areas, however, traced their descent to those who resisted Shaka's domination or celebrated his death at the hands of his own relatives in 1828. Some viewed their association with Zulu royalty as little more than an artificial political creation. A substantial minority within the diverse Zulu society in the 1980s and the 1990s supported the rival ANC.

Military prowess continued to be an important value in Zulu culture, and this emphasis fueled some of the political violence of the 1990s. Zulu people generally admire those with physical and mental agility, and those who can speak eloquently and hold a crowd's attention. These attributes strengthened Buthelezi's support among many Zulu, but his political rhetoric sometimes sparked attacks on political opponents and critics, even within Zulu society.

Buthelezi's nephew, Goodwill Zwelithini, is the Zulu monarch in the 1990s. Buthelezi and King Goodwill won the agreement of ANC negotiators just before the April 1994 elections that, with international mediation, the government would establish a special status for the Zulu Kingdom after the elections. Zulu leaders understood this special status to mean some degree of regional autonomy within the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Buthelezi was appointed minister of home affairs in the first Government of National Unity in 1994. He led a walkout of Zulu delegates from the National Assembly in early 1995 and clashed repeatedly with newly elected President Nelson (Rolihlahla) Mandela. Buthelezi threatened to abandon the Government of National Unity entirely unless his Zulu constituency received greater recognition and autonomy from central government control.


About 1.6 million Swazi people live in the region in the 1990s--almost 900,000 in Swaziland and the remainder in South Africa, especially in the area of the former homeland, KaNgwane. Until the late eighteenth century, Swazi society consisted of a group of closely related Nguni chiefdoms organized around patrilineal descent groups. At that time, a powerful chief, Ngwane I, seized control over several smaller neighboring chiefdoms of Nguni and Sotho peoples to strengthen his own army's defense against the Mthethwa forces led by Dingiswayo. The greatest rival of the Mthethwa, the Ndwandwe, later subjugated the Mthethwa and killed Dingiswayo. Ngwane I, under pressure from the Ndwandwe, then withdrew into the mountainous territory that would later become Swaziland.

Ngwane I was able to resist incorporation into the Zulu empire during the reign of Shaka, and the Swazi maintained generally peaceful relations with Shaka's successors. Some Swazi clans were forced to move north, however, as regional upheaval spread, and together with displaced Zulu clans, they established aristocratic dynasties over herdsmen and farmers as far north as areas that would later become Malawi and Zambia.

In the twentieth century, the Swazi kingdom retained its autonomy, but not total independence, as the British protectorate of Swaziland in 1903 and as a British High Commission territory in 1907. In 1968 Swaziland became an independent nation led by King Sobhuza II. Swaziland has pressured Pretoria for the return of Swazi-occupied areas of South Africa since the 1960s. In 1982 Pretoria agreed, but that decision was reversed by the South African Supreme Court.

KaNgwane was carved out of land adjacent to Swaziland during the 1960s and was declared a "self-governing" territory with a population of about 400,000 in 1984. KaNgwane's Chief Minister Enos Mabuza tried to build an agricultural and industrial economy in the small, segmented territory, and he became the first homeland leader to grant full trade union rights to workers in his jurisdiction. Mabuza also led the fight against the incorporation of KaNgwane into Swaziland. During the late 1980s, he clashed with Pretoria by expressing strong support for the ANC, although many KaNgwane residents remained uninvolved in South African politics.


The Xhosa (amaXhosa) people in South Africa in the mid-1990s number roughly 6 million, according to official estimates, including the Pondo (Mpondo), Thembu, and several other small ethnic groups, which have been assimilated, to varying degrees, into Xhosa society over several centuries. Each of these is also a heterogeneous grouping of smaller populations.

Most Xhosa people speak English, and often several other languages, but they also take great pride in speaking Xhosa (isiXhosa), an Nguni language closely related to Zulu. Unlike most other African languages, Xhosa has more than a dozen "click" sounds, probably assimilated from Khoisan speakers over long periods of acculturation between Xhosa and Khoisan peoples.

Some ancestors of twentieth-century Xhosa arrived in the eastern Cape region from the north before the fifteenth century, and others moved into the area during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Xhosa history tells of settlement east of the Sundays River by the early eighteenth century. The Xhosa eliminated or enslaved some of the Khoisan speakers they encountered, but many Khoikhoi were peacefully assimilated into Xhosa society. Khoikhoi workers were often entrusted with the care of cattle for a generation or two before being accepted as equal members of Xhosa society. The Xhosa generally incorporated newcomers who recognized the dominance of the Xhosa chief. In fact, until the twentieth century, the term Xhosa was often used to designate territorial affiliation rather than common descent. The resulting Xhosa society was extremely diverse.

Most Xhosa lived by cattle herding, crop cultivation, and hunting. Homesteads were normally built near the tops of the numerous ridges that overlook the rivers of the area, including the Fish River, the Keiskama River, the Buffalo River, and the Kei River. Cattle, serving as symbols of wealth, as well as means of exchange, pack animals, and transportation, were central to the economy. Crops such as corn, sorghum, and tobacco thrived in years with adequate rainfall. Woodworking and ironworking were important men's occupations.

Xhosa homesteads were organized around descent groups, with descent traced through male forebears. These lineages, and the large clans formed by groups of related lineages, provided the center of Xhosa social organization. These descent groups were responsible for preserving ancestral ties and for perpetuating the group through sacrifices to the ancestors, mutual assistance among the living, and carefully arranged marriages with neighboring clans or lineages. Political power was often described as control over land and water. A powerful chief may be praised in oral histories by the claim that he had power over the land close to a large river, and a lesser chief, by the claim that he had power over land near a smaller river or tributary.

Xhosa oral histories tell of installing a royal lineage, probably by the early seventeenth century. This family, the Tshawe, or amaTshawe (people of Tshawe), continued to dominate other Xhosa clans for more than a century; only the Tshawe could be recognized as chiefs over other Xhosa, according to historical accounts in The House of Phalo: A History of the Xhosa People in the Day of Their Independence , by Jeffrey B. Peires. The Xhosa also experienced a rapid increase in population, and they divided several times over six or seven generations. The resulting dominant chiefdoms, the Gcaleka and the Rharhabe (Rarabe), formed distinct sections of Xhosa society throughout the twentieth century.

Xhosa people had extensive contact with Europeans by the early nineteenth century, and they generally welcomed European missionaries and educators into their territory. A Xhosa grammar book--the first in a southern African language--was published in 1834. Their early and sustained contact with Christian missionaries and educators led the Xhosa to distinguish between "school people," who had accepted Western innovation, and "red people," who were identified with the traditional red ocher used to dye clothing and to decorate the body. By the twentieth century, the Xhosa school people formed the core of South Africa's emerging black professional class and included lawyers, physicians, and ministers.

The South African government recognized the split between the Gcaleka Xhosa and the Ngqika (a subgroup of Rharhabe) Xhosa in the twentieth century by establishing two Xhosa homelands. Transkei, a segmented territory in eastern Cape Province bordering Lesotho, was designated for the Gcaleka Xhosa, and Ciskei--just west of Transkei--was for the Ngqika Xhosa. Transkei became an independent homeland in 1976, and Ciskei, in 1981.

Xhosa language speakers also include the Thembu (Tembu), the eastern neighbors of the Xhosa during much of their history. The Thembu represent a number of clans that managed to exert their dominance over neighboring clans. The Thembu had long and varied contacts with the Xhosa. These were often peaceful and friendly--for example, Xhosa history says that the Great Wife of each chief was a Thembu--but they sometimes erupted into war. The Thembu recognize their own royal clan, the Hala, who led many Thembu into battle against the Xhosa during the late eighteenth century.

Also closely related to the Xhosa are the Pondo (Mpondo), the eastern neighbors of the Thembu. The Pondo royal clan, the Nyawuza, struggled to establish and to preserve its dominance over neighboring clans well into the nineteenth century, when some of the Pondo and their neighbors were displaced and subjugated by the Zulu.

Another population often described as a Xhosa subgroup is the Mfengu, consisting of descendants of small remnants of clans and chiefdoms that were displaced during the early nineteenth-century upheaval of the mfecane (or crushing--see Glossary). Survivors of the mfecane attached themselves to Xhosa society, which was relatively stable, often in Xhosa villages located near Christian missions. After an initial period of clientship, or social inferiority that eroded as generations passed, the Mfengu were generally accepted as equals in the diverse Xhosa population.


The term Ndebele, or amaNdebele, in the 1990s refers primarily to about 800,000 South Africans whose forebears have inhabited areas of the northern Transvaal (now Northern Province) for more than a century. The Ndebele language, isiNdebele, is classified among the Nguni languages, although Sotho influences are strong enough in some areas that isiNdebele is sometimes also classified as a variant of seSotho.

Most Ndebele trace their ancestry to the area that became Natal Province, later KwaZulu-Natal. Some began moving northward well before the early nineteenth-century mfecane , and many of these settled in the northern Transvaal. Others, subjects of the Zulu leader Mzilikazi, fled north from Natal after his defeat by Shaka in 1817. Ndebele peoples throughout the region were forced to move several times after that, so that by the end of the nineteenth century, the Ndebele were dispersed throughout much of Natal, the Transvaal, and adjacent territory.

Many Ndebele became formidable warriors, often subjugating smaller chiefdoms and assimilating them into Ndebele society, and Ndebele clashed repeatedly with Voortrekker militias around Pretoria. The late nineteenth-century Afrikaner leader Paul Kruger jailed or executed many of their leaders, seized their land, and dispersed others to work for Afrikaner farmers as indentured servants. Some of the land was later returned to a few Ndebele, often as a reward for loyalty or recognition of status.

Under apartheid, many Ndebele living in the northern Transvaal were assigned to the predominantly seSotho-speaking homeland of Lebowa, which consisted of several segiments of land scattered across the northern Transvaal. Others, mostly southern Ndebele, who had retained more traditional elements of their culture and language, were assigned to KwaNdebele. KwaNdebele had been carved out of land that had been given to the son of Nyabela, a well-known Ndebele fighter in Kruger's time. The homeland was, therefore, prized by Ndebele traditionalists, who pressed for a KwaNdebele independence through the 1980s.

KwaNdebele was declared a "self-governing" territory in 1981. Very few of its 300,000 residents could find jobs in the homeland, however, so most worked in the industrial region of Pretoria and Johannesburg. At least 500,000 Ndebele people lived in urban centers throughout South Africa and in homelands other than KwaNdebele through the 1980s.

During the 1980s and the early 1990s, many Ndebele recognized a royal family, the Mahlangu family, and the capital of KwaNdebele was called KwaMahlangu. The royal family was divided, however, over economic issues and the question of "independence" for the homeland. These disputes were overridden by the dissolution of the homelands in 1994. At that time, in addition to the estimated 800,000 Ndebele people in South Africa, nearly 1.7 million Ndebele lived in Zimbabwe, where they constituted about one-sixth of the population and were known as Matabele; about 300,000 lived in Botswana.

More about the <>Ethnic Groups of South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - Sotho

South Africa

At least 7 million Sotho (also BaSotho) people who speak seSotho and related languages live in South Africa. Another 3 million Sotho and closely related people live in neighboring countries. The diverse Sotho population includes the Northern Sotho (Pedi), the Southern Sotho, and the Tswana (BaTswana), each of which is itself a heterogeneous grouping.

Ancestors of today's Sotho population migrated into the region in the fifteenth century, according to historians, probably from the area of the northern Transvaal. Like many neighboring Nguni peoples, the Sotho traditionally relied on a combination of livestock raising and crop cultivation for subsistence. Most Sotho were herders of cattle, goats, and sheep, and cultivators of grains and tobacco. In addition, the Sotho were skilled craftsmen, renowned for their metalworking, leatherworking, and wood and ivory carving.

Also like the Nguni, most Sotho lived in small chiefdoms, in which status was determined in part by relationship to the chief. Unlike the Nguni, Sotho homesteads were grouped together into villages, with economic responsibilities generally shared among village residents. Villages were divided into wards, or residential areas, often occupied by members of more than one patrilineal descent group.

The village chief--a hereditary position--generally appointed ward leaders, whose residences were clustered around the chief's residence. Sotho villages sometimes grew into large towns of several thousand people. Farmland was usually outside the village, not adjacent to the homestead. This village organization may have enabled the Sotho villagers to defend themselves more effectively than they could have with dispersed households, and it probably facilitated control over ward leaders and subjects by the chief and his family.

Sotho villages were also organized into age-sets, or groups of men or women who were close in age. Each age-set had specific responsibilities--men organized for warfare and herding, depending on age-set, and women for crop cultivation and religious responsibilities. An entire age-set generally graduated from one task to the next, and the village often celebrated this change with a series of rituals and, in some cases, an initiation ceremony.

Sotho descent rules were important, even though descent groups did not form discrete local groups. Clans were often totemic, or bound to specific natural objects or animal species by mystical relationships, sometimes involving taboos and prohibitions. Major Sotho clans included the Lion (Taung), Fish (Tlhaping), Elephant (Tloung), and Crocodile (Kwean) clans.

Both Nguni and Sotho peoples reckoned descent through patrilineal ties, but their marriage rules differed markedly. Sotho patrilineages were usually endogamous--i.e., the preferred marriage partner would be a person related through patrilineal descent ties. Nguni patrilineages, in contrast, were exogamous--marriage within the descent group was generally forbidden.

By the early twentieth century, Sotho villages were losing their claims to land, largely because of pressure from whites. Cattle raising became more difficult, and as Western economic pressures intensified, Sotho people living in Lesotho and in South Africa increasingly turned to the mines for work. By the early 1990s, an estimated 100,000 BaSotho worked in South Africa's mines, and many others were part of South Africa's urban work force throughout the country.

Northern Sotho

The heterogeneous Northern Sotho are often referred to as the Pedi (or BaPedi), because the Pedi make up the largest of their constituent groups. Their language is sePedi (also called seSotho sa Leboa or Northern Sotho). This society arose in the northern Transvaal, according to historians, as a confederation of small chiefdoms some time before the seventeenth century. A succession of strong Pedi chiefs claimed power over smaller chiefdoms and were able to dominate important trade routes between the interior plateau and the Indian Ocean coast for several generations. For this reason, some historians have credited the Pedi with the first monarchy in the region, although their reign was marked by population upheaval and occasional military defeat.

During the nineteenth century, Pedi armies were defeated by the Natal armies of Mzilikazi and were revived under the command of a Pedi chief, Sekwati. Afrikaner Voortrekkers in the Transvaal acquired some Pedi lands peacefully, but later clashed with them over further land claims. By the 1870s, the Voortrekker armies were sufficiently weakened from these clashes that they agreed to a confederation with the British colonies of Natal and the Cape that would eventually lead to the South African War in 1899.

The smaller Lobedu population makes up another subgroup among the Northern Sotho. The Lobedu are closely related to the Shona population, the largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe, but the Lobedu are classified among the Sotho primarily because of linguistic similarities. The Lobedu were studied extensively by the early twentieth-century anthropologist J.D. Krige, who described the unique magical powers attributed to a Lobedu female authority figure, known to outsiders as the rain queen.

The Northern Sotho homeland of Lebowa was declared a "self-governing" (not independent) territory in 1972, with a population of almost 2 million. Economic problems plagued the poverty-stricken homeland, however, and the population was not unified by strong ethnic solidarity. Lebowa's chief minister, Cedric Phatudi, struggled to maintain control over the increasingly disgruntled homeland population during the early 1980s; his death in 1985 opened new factional splits and occasioned calls for a new homeland government. Homeland politics were complicated by the demands of several ethnic minorities within Lebowa to have their land transferred to the jurisdiction of another homeland. At the same time, government efforts to consolidate homeland territory forced the transfer of several small tracts of land into Lebowa.

Southern Sotho

The Southern Sotho peoples are a diverse group that includes almost 2 million South Africans, many of whom live in the area surrounding Lesotho, and 1.6 million residents of Lesotho. The Southern Sotho were unified during the reign of King Moshoeshoe I in the 1830s. Moshoeshoe established control over several small groups of Sotho speakers and Nguni speakers, who had been displaced by the mfecane . Some of these communities had established ties to San peoples who lived just west of Moshoeshoe's territory. As a result, Southern Sotho speech, unlike that of Northern Sotho, incorporates a number of "click" sounds associated with Khoisan languages.

Southern Sotho peoples were assigned to the tiny homeland of QwaQwa, which borders Lesotho, during the apartheid era. QwaQwa was declared "self-governing" in 1974, but Chief Minister Kenneth Mopeli rejected independence on the grounds that the homeland did not have a viable economy. Only about 200,000 Sotho people lived in QwaQwa during the 1980s.

A community of more than 300,000 people, Botshabelo, was incorporated into QwaQwa in 1987. Officials in the homeland capital, Phuthaditjhaba, and many homeland residents objected to the move, and the South African Supreme Court returned Botshabelo to the jurisdiction of the Orange Free State a short time later. The homeland continued to be an overcrowded enclave of people with an inadequate economic base until the homelands were dissolved in 1994.


The Tswana (BaTswana), sometimes referred to as the Western Sotho, are a heterogeneous group, including descendants of the once great Tlhaping and Rolong societies, as well as the Hurutshe, Kwena, and other small groups. Their language, seTswana, is closely related to seSotho, and the two are mutually intelligible in most areas. About 4 million Tswana people live in southern Africa--3 million in South Africa and 1 million in the nation of Botswana. In South Africa, many BaTswana live in the area that formed the numerous segments of the former homeland, Bophuthatswana, as well as neighboring areas of the North-West Province and the Northern Cape. Tswana people are also found in most urban areas throughout South Africa.

By the nineteenth century, several Tswana groups were politically independent, loosely affiliated chiefdoms that clashed repeatedly with Afrikaner farmers who claimed land in the northern Transvaal. In the late nineteenth century, Afrikaner and British officials seized almost all Tswana territory, dividing it among the Cape Colony, Afrikaner republics, and British territories. In 1910, when the Cape and the Transvaal were incorporated into the Union of South Africa, the Tswana chiefs lost most of their remaining power, and the Tswana people were forced to pay taxes to the British Crown. They gradually turned to migrant labor, especially in the mines, for their livelihood.

Tswana culture is similar to that of the related Sotho peoples, although some Tswana chiefdoms were more highly stratified than those of other Sotho or the Nguni. Tswana culture was distinguished for its complex legal system, involving a hierarchy of courts and mediators, and harsh punishments for those found guilty of crimes. Tswana farmers often formed close patron-client relationships with nearby Khoisan-speaking hunters and herdsmen; the Tswana generally received meat and animal pelts in return for cattle and, sometimes, dogs for herding cattle.

Bophuthatswana was declared "independent" in 1977, although no country other than South Africa recognized its independence. The homeland consisted primarily of seven disconnected enclaves near, or adjacent to, the border between South Africa and Botswana. Efforts to consolidate the territory and its population continued throughout the 1980s, as successive small land areas outside Bophuthatswana were incorporated into the homeland. Its population of about 1.8 million in the late 1980s was estimated to be 70 percent Tswana peoples; the remainder were other Sotho peoples, as well as Xhosa, Zulu, and Shangaan. Another 1.5 million BaTswana lived elsewhere in South Africa.

Bophuthatswana's residents were overwhelmingly poor, despite the area's rich mineral wealth. Wages in the homeland's industrial sector were lower than those in South Africa, and most workers traveled to jobs outside the homeland each day. The poverty of homeland residents was especially evident in comparison with the world's wealthy tourists who visited Sun City, a gambling resort in Bophuthatswana.

The non-Tswana portion of the homeland population was denied the right to vote in local elections in 1987, and violence ensued. Further unrest erupted in early 1988, when members of the Botswana Defence Force tried to oust the unpopular homeland president, Lucas Mangope. Escalating violence after that led to the imposition of states of emergency and government crackdowns against ANC supporters in Bophuthatswana, who were often involved in anti-Mangope demonstrations. Mangope was ousted just before the April 1994 elections, and the homeland was officially dismantled after the elections.

More about the <>Ethnic Groups of South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - Tsonga and Venda

South Africa


The Tsonga are a diverse population, generally including the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga (unrelated to another nearby Tonga population to the north), and several smaller ethnic groups. Together they number about 1.5 million in South Africa in the mid-1990s, and at least 4.5 million in southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

In the eighteenth century, the ancestors of the Tsonga lived in small, independent chiefdoms, sometimes numbering a few thousand people. Most Tsonga relied on fishing for subsistence, although goats, chickens, and crop cultivation were also important. Cattle were relatively rare in their economies, probably because their coastal lowland habitat was tsetse-fly infested. The Tsonga maintained a tradition of inheritance by brothers, in preference to sons, which is common in many Central African societies but not among other South Africans.

During the mfecane and ensuing upheaval of the nineteenth century, most Tsonga chiefdoms moved inland. Some successfully maintained their independence from the Zulu, while others were conquered by Zulu warriors even after they had fled (see The Rise of African States, ch. 1). One Zulu military leader, Soshangane, established his command over a large Tsonga population in the northern Transvaal in the mid-nineteenth century and continued his conquests farther north. The descendants of some of the conquered populations are known as the Shangaan, or Tsonga-Shangaan. Some Tsonga-Shangaan trace their ancestry to the Zulu warriors who subjugated the armies in the region, while others claim descent from the conquered chiefdoms. The Tsonga and the Zulu languages remain separate and are mutually unintelligible in some areas.

The Tsonga-Shangaan homeland, Gazankulu, was carved out of northern Transvaal Province during the 1960s and was granted self-governing status in 1973. The homeland economy depended largely on gold and on a small manufacturing sector. Only an estimated 500,000 people--less than half the Tsonga-Shangaan population of South Africa--ever lived there, however. Many others joined the throngs of township residents around urban centers, especially Johannesburg and Pretoria.

In the 1980s, the government of Gazankulu, led by Chief Minister Hudson Nsanwisi, established a 68-member legislative assembly, made up mostly of traditional chiefs. The chiefs opposed homeland independence but favored a federal arrangement with South Africa; they also opposed sanctions against South Africa on the grounds that the homeland economy would suffer. In areas of Gazankulu bordering the seSotho-speaking homeland of Lebowa, residents of the two poverty-stricken homelands clashed frequently over political and economic issues. These clashes were cited by South African officials as examples of the ethnic conflicts they claimed would engulf South Africa if apartheid ended.


The Venda (also VaVenda) population of about 600,000 people coalesced into an identifiable social unit in the area of the northern Transvaal and in Zimbabwe over several centuries. The Venda language, tshiVenda or luVenda, emerged as a distinct tongue in the sixteenth century, according to scholars. In the twentieth century, the tshiVenda vocabulary is similar to seSotho, but the grammar shares similarities with Shona dialects, which are spoken in Zimbabwe.

Venda culture is similarly eclectic; it appears to have incorporated a variety of East African, Central African, Nguni, and Sotho characteristics. For example, the Venda forbid the consumption of pork, a prohibition that is common along the East African coast. They practice male circumcision, which is common among many Sotho, but not among most Nguni peoples.

Early Venda social organization consisted of small kinship groups, often dispersed among several households. These were organized into chiefdoms, and some were ruled by chiefly dynasties in the eighteenth century. Smaller chiefdoms often served as vassal states to larger and stronger chiefdoms, but they were neither entirely incorporated into them nor administered directly by a paramount chief. Venda traditional religious beliefs, like other aspects of culture, appear to have combined elements from several neighboring religious systems and Christianity.

The homeland of Venda became nominally independent in 1979 but was not recognized by any country except South Africa. Unlike other homelands, Venda actually drew most of the 700,000 people assigned to live there. Its economy depended on agriculture and small industry, and coal mining began in the late 1980s. Nearly 70 percent of the men worked elsewhere in South Africa, however, and at least 40 percent of the homeland's income was migrant labor wages. Facing economic collapse, Venda authorities applied for readmission into South Africa in 1991. Their petition was essentially overtaken by the political negotiations and constitutional reforms of the early 1990s, which led to the dissolution of the homelands in 1994.

More about the <>Ethnic Groups of South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - Afrikaans Speakers

South Africa


Roughly 3 million people, or 7 percent of the people of South Africa, trace their roots to Dutch, German, Belgian, and French forebears (see Early European Settlement, ch. 1). Their language, Afrikaans, and membership in the Dutch Reformed Church are the most widespread common features of this population. Afrikaans, a seventeenth-century African variant of Dutch, differs from its parent language in that it has eliminated grammatical gender and many inflected verbs. Afrikaans was recognized as a separate language in the nineteenth century, after a significant literature began to develop.

Many of the Afrikaners' forebears arrived in southern Africa in search of independence from government oppression. They settled the region by fighting a series of wars, first with Khoikhoi and Xhosa peoples who had preceded them in the area, and then with Zulu and British armies, who also hoped to defend their territorial claims. The Afrikaners' defeat in the South African War was a crucial turning point in their history; their greatly outnumbered troops suffered a military defeat, and more than 26,000 Afrikaners--including many women and children--died in British concentration camps. The two formerly independent Afrikaner republics, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (later the Transvaal), were incorporated into the Union of South Africa within the British empire in 1910.

The war left much of the Afrikaners' farm land devastated, the result of the British "scorched earth" policy. Farmers had also been hard hit by cyclical occurrences of drought and rinderpest fever. This desperate rural poverty drove many Afrikaners into urban areas for the first time, to seek jobs in the growing industrial sector and particularly the flourishing mining industry. But many Afrikaners lacked educational credentials and urban work experience, and they were threatened by competition from the large black population in the cities. Africans had, in some cases, become accustomed to the work and lifestyle changes that were new to Afrikaners at the time. Afrikaner mineworkers, nonetheless, demanded superior treatment over their black counterparts, and they organized to demand better wages and working conditions through the 1920s.

During the 1920s and the 1930s, Afrikaner cultural organizations were important vehicles for reasserting Afrikaners' pride in their cultural identity. The most important of these was the Afrikaner Broederbond, also known as the Broederband (Brotherhood), an association of educated elites. The Broederbond helped establish numerous other Afrikaner social and cultural organizations, such as the Federation of Afrikaner Cultural Organisations (Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge--FAK), and a variety of Afrikaner social service organizations. Most of these groups represented people of different classes and political persuasions, but Afrikaner leaders worked hard in the 1930s and the 1940s to forge a sense of unity and pride among them.

By the 1940s, the National Party (NP) had gained widespread appeal among Afrikaners by emphasizing racial separation and Afrikaner nationalism. Its narrow election victory in 1948 brought apartheid into all areas of social and economic life in South Africa. The force of the government's commitment to apartheid, and the popularity of the Dutch Reformed Church among Afrikaners, contributed to the impression of Afrikaner unity during the decades of National Party rule. But numerous rifts divided the community, and heated debates ensued. Some believed that the basic assumptions of apartheid were flawed; others, that it was being applied poorly. A small number of Afrikaners worked to end apartheid almost as soon as it was imposed.

Most Afrikaners strongly supported the government's 1960s and 1970s campaign to stem the spread of communist influence in southern Africa--the Total Strategy--based in part on their suspicion of strong centralized government and on their religious beliefs. But many were critical of South Africa's military intervention in neighboring states during the 1980s, and of escalating military costs in the face of the receding threat of what had been called the communist "Total Onslaught." By the late 1980s, enforcing apartheid at home was expensive; the unbalanced education system was in disarray and could not produce the skilled labor force the country needed. Most Afrikaners then welcomed the government's decision to try to end apartheid as peacefully as possible.


Roughly 3.2 million South Africans of mixed-race (Khoikhoi and European or Asian) ancestry were known as "coloureds" in apartheid terminology. About 83 percent of them speak Afrikaans as their first language, and most of the remainder speak English as their first language. Almost 85 percent of coloureds live in Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces, and a sizable coloured community lives in KwaZulu-Natal.

The largest subgroup within the coloured population is the Griqua, a largely Afrikaner-Khoikhoi population that developed a distinct culture as early as the seventeenth century. Their community was centered just north of the area that later became the Orange Free State. Growing conflicts with Afrikaner farmers and, later, diamond diggers, prompted Griqua leaders to seek the protection of the British, and later, to relocate portions of their community to the eastern Cape Colony and Natal. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century demands for land and the implementation of apartheid forced Griqua communities to move repeatedly, and many eventually settled north of Cape Town. They number at least 300,000 in the 1990s. Most speak a variant of Afrikaans as their first language and are members of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Another large subgroup, the Cape Malays, number about 180,000, primarily in the Western Cape, in the 1990s. Most are descendants of Afrikaners, indigenous Khoikhoi, and slaves brought to South Africa from the Dutch East Indies. The Cape Malays have retained many cultural elements from their diverse origins, but they are recognized as a distinct community largely because most are Muslims.

The coloured population suffered many indignities under apartheid, such as eviction from homes and neighborhoods preferred by whites. But the limited political reforms of the 1980s gave them political rights that were denied blacks, such as a separate house of parliament in the tricameral legislature and the right to vote in national elections. Coloured politicians took advantage of their status to improve life for their constituents, but at the same time, many were active in the antiapartheid movement.

In April 1994, the coloured community in the Western Cape gave the NP its only provincial victory in the national elections. Coloured voters outnumbered black voters by three-to-one, and white voters by two-to-one, according to local estimates. The population voted for the NP by a large margin, in part out of fear that its interests would be sidelined by a provincial government dominated by the ANC, and in part because conservative members of the coloured community had distanced themselves from the ANC's revolutionary rhetoric over the years. Another important consideration for many was their desire to preserve their first language, which is Afrikaans.

More about the <>Ethnic Groups of South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - English Speakers

South Africa


Although most of the English spoken in South Africa is spoken by nonwhites, the term "English speakers" is often used to identify non-Afrikaner whites in particular, largely because this group shares no other common cultural feature. Some of South Africa's roughly 2 million English-speaking whites trace their forebears to the large influx of British immigrants of the 1820s and the 1830s. Many more Europeans arrived in the late nineteenth century, after the discovery of gold and diamonds. Almost two-thirds of English speakers trace their ancestry to England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland, but a few arrived from the Netherlands, Germany, or France and joined the English-speaking community in South Africa for a variety of social and political reasons. During the late 1930s and the 1940s, East Europeans arrived in substantial numbers. Unlike the Afrikaners, the English-speaking community has not worked to forge a common identity. During the apartheid era, non-Afrikaner whites held relatively little political power, but they maintained their superior wealth, in many cases, through their activities in commerce and business.

Also among South African whites are about 49,000 Portuguese immigrants, and 13,000 Greeks. South Africa's Jewish population of about 100,000 has been a relatively cohesive community, in comparison with other non-Afrikaner whites. Many South African Jews trace their ancestry to Eastern Europe or to the United Kingdom, and many others fled from Nazi Germany during the 1930s and the 1940s. In general, Jewish South Africans opposed apartheid, in part because of its emphasis on racial purity derived from National Socialist (Nazi) thought. Many Jews have also experienced religious discrimination in South Africa.


Of the roughly 1 million people of Asian descent in South Africa in the mid-1990s, all but about 20,000 are of Indian descent. Most speak English as their first language, although many also speak Tamil or Hindi, and some speak Afrikaans as a second or third language. Many South Africans of Indian descent trace their ancestry to indentured agricultural laborers brought to Natal in the nineteenth century to work on sugar plantations. But almost all Indians in South Africa in the 1990s were born there, because the South African government curtailed immigration from India in 1913.

Asians have endured racial and ethnic pressures throughout the past century. In the late nineteenth century, they were prohibited from living in the Orange Free State; a few settled in the Pretoria-Johannesburg area, but in the 1990s almost 90 percent of the Asian population live in KwaZulu-Natal--especially in Durban and other large urban centers. Only about 10 percent live in rural areas.

In the nineteenth century, Indians were divided by class, between those who had arrived as indentured laborers or slaves, and wealthier immigrants who had paid their own passage. The latter were given citizenship rights, in most cases, and were not bound by the labor laws applied to indentured workers. This class difference was reinforced by the origins of the immigrants--most of the wealthier Indian immigrants had arrived from northern and central India, and a substantial number were Muslims, while many indentured laborers were Hindus.

By the 1990s, these differences were narrowing; more than 60 percent of all Indians in South Africa are Hindus. About 20 percent are Muslims and 8 percent, Christians, and a few are members of other religions. Most are merchants or businessmen, but significant numbers are teachers or artisans. Caste differences based on Indian custom continue to have some influence over social behavior but are of decreasing importance.

More about the <>Ethnic Groups of South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - Khoisan

South Africa

Khoisan languages, characterized by "click" sounds not found elsewhere in Africa, have almost disappeared from South Africa in the 1990s. All remaining Khoisan speakers are believed to be San, living in the Kalahari Desert region in the Northern Cape and North-West Province. The government has no accurate count of their numbers, although it is generally believed that larger numbers of San live in Botswana and Namibia.

The closely related Khoikhoi, who were living in coastal areas of the southwest in the seventeenth century, have been entirely destroyed or assimilated into other cultures. No Khoikhoi peoples remain in South Africa in the 1990s, although many so-called coloureds and others can trace their ancestry through Khoikhoi and other lines of descent.

The San hunters and gatherers who occupied southern Africa for several thousand years organized their society into small kinship-based villages, often including fewer than fifty people. The San economy developed out of the efficient use of the environment; their diet included a wide array of birds, animals, plants, and, among coastal populations, fish and shellfish. The San espoused generally egalitarian values and recognized few leadership roles, except that of religious specialist, or diviner. The culture of the Khoikhoi was similar to that of the San, but the Khoikhoi acquired livestock--mainly cattle and sheep--probably from Bantu speakers who moved into the area from the north.

Some South Africans of mixed-race descent and Khoikhoi residents of Namibia have preserved Khoikhoi oral histories that tell of a time when their ancestors quarreled and split apart. Ancestors of the Namaqua (Nama) moved to the Atlantic Ocean coastline and south toward the Cape of Good Hope; other Khoikhoi moved toward the Kalahari and the Namib deserts and farther north. Seventeenth-century European immigrants enslaved hundreds of Khoikhoi around Cape Town, and many died in smallpox epidemics that swept southern Africa in 1713 and 1755. Others were absorbed into the dominant societies around them, both African and European, and into the populations of laborers who were brought from Malaya, China, and from other region of Africa.

More about the <>Ethnic Groups of South Africa.

South Africa

South Africa - Religion

South Africa

Almost all South Africans profess some religious affiliation, according to the official census in 1991. Attitudes toward religion and religious beliefs vary widely, however. The government has actively encouraged specific Christian beliefs during much of the twentieth century, but South Africa has never had an official state religion nor any significant government prohibition regarding religious beliefs.

About 80 percent of all South Africans are Christians, and most are Protestants. More than 8 million South Africans are members of African Independent churches, which have at least 4,000 congregations. The denomination generally holds a combination of traditional African and Protestant beliefs. The other large Protestant denomination, the Dutch Reformed Church, has about 4 million members in several branches. Most are whites or people of mixed race.

Other Protestant denominations in the mid-1990s include at least 1.8 million Methodists, 1.2 million Anglicans, 800,000 Lutherans, 460,000 Presbyterians, and smaller numbers of Baptists, Congregationalists, Seventh Day Adventists, and members of the Assembly of God and the Apostolic Faith Mission of Southern Africa. More than 2.4 million South Africans are Roman Catholics; about 27,000 are Greek or Russian Orthodox. More than 7,000 are Mormons. Adherents of other world religions include at least 350,000 Hindus, perhaps 400,000 Muslims, more than 100,000 Jews, and smaller numbers of Buddhists, Confucians, and Baha'is.

Historical Background

African Religions

The earliest southern African religions, those of the Khoisan peoples, were more complex than early missionaries often recorded. Their beliefs and practices were substantially eroded by contacts with Europeans. Exceptional records of Khoisan rituals were made by a German linguist, Wilhelm Bleek, during the 1870s and the 1880s. Some traditional Khoisan beliefs have been preserved through oral histories, and some religious practices are still observed in remote areas of Botswana and Namibia.

Many Khoisan peoples believe in a supreme being who presides over daily life and controls elements of the environment. In some Khoisan belief systems, this god is worshiped through rituals or small sacrifices. A second, evil deity brings illness and misfortune to earth. This dualism between good and evil pervades other areas of Khoisan thought about the nature of the universe. Some Khoisan belief systems maintain that a person should never attempt to communicate with the beneficent deity, for fear of provoking his evil counterpart, and some believe that spiritual beings simply ignore humanity most of the time.

Traditional Khoisan religion also included numerous mythic tales of gods and ancestor-heroes, whose lives provided examples of ways to cope with social conflicts and personal problems. Also important was the use of dance and altered states of consciousness to gain knowledge for healing an individual or remedying a social evil. Healing dances are still among the most widely practiced religious rituals in South Africa, even in the 1990s, and are used in some African Independent churches to heal the sick or eradicate evil.

For many Khoisan peoples, the sun and the moon were gods, or aspects of a supreme deity. The cycle of religious observance was, therefore, carefully adjusted according to the cycles of the moon. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century observers in the Cape Colony noted the importance of ritual dances and prayers during the full moon each month. Khoisan legends and myths also refer to a "trickster" god, who could transform himself into animal or human forms, and who could die and be reborn many times over. The praying mantis, a predatory insect with large eyes and other features characteristic of animal predators, figures in San myths and folktales in a role similar to the clever fox in European folktales. Khoisan herdboys still use mantises to "divine" the location of lost animals, and in Afrikaans, the mantis is referred to as "the Hottentot's god."

Bantu-speaking peoples brought an array of new religious practices and beliefs when they arrived in the first millennium A.D. Most believed in a supreme being, or high god, who could bestow blessings or bring misfortune to humans. More influential in their spiritual life, however, was a group of ancestral spirits--a different pantheon of spiritual beings in each community. These spirits could communicate with and influence the lives of the living, and they could sometimes be influenced by human entreaties. The male head of a homestead was usually the ritual leader, responsible for performing rituals, giving thanks, seeking a blessing, or healing the sick on behalf of his homestead. Rites of passage, or rituals marking major life-cycle changes such as birth, initiation, marriage, and death, were also important religious observances, and rituals were used for rainmaking, strengthening fertility, and enhancing military might.

Zulu and Xhosa religions generally sought to placate male ancestral spirits, often with libations of beer or offerings of meat, and to seek their guidance or intercession. Ancestral spirits were almost uniformly benevolent; evil was generally attributed to witches or sorcerers, who might overpower or bypass a spiritual protector or ancestor. Ancestral spirits occasionally caused minor illnesses, primarily as a warning against religious neglect or misdeeds.

Most Bantu religious systems had no priesthood, or officially recognized mediator between the material and the spiritual worlds. Rather, they believed that political leadership was accompanied by religious responsibility. For example, a chiefdom or kingdom relied on the chief or monarch for physical and spiritual survival. Particular importance was attached to the status of the diviner, or sangoma , however; the sangoma underwent rigorous training to acquire the extensive knowledge and skills necessary for divination and healing.

Bantu religions usually avoided any claim that rituals performed by human beings could influence the actions of the supreme deity, or high god; rituals were normally intended to honor or placate lesser spiritual beings, and sometimes to ask for their intervention. The high god was a remote, transcendent being possessing the power to create the Earth, but beyond human comprehension or manipulation. Ancestors, in contrast, were once human and had kinship ties with those on earth, and they were sometimes amenable to human entreaties.

Many Bantu societies have historical accounts or myths that explain the presence of human society on earth. In many cases, these myths affirm that human beings first emerged from a hole in the ground, that they were plucked from a field or a bed of reeds, or that they were fashioned from elemental substances through the efforts of a supreme deity. Death originated in the failure of human beings or their messengers, such as a chameleon who was sent to relay a divine message of immortality, but who delayed and was overtaken by the message of death.

Such widespread myths not only provide an account of the origins of the human condition, but they also describe appropriate behavior for coping with a complex world. For example, a Zulu myth tells of the creation of both black and white human beings, the assignment of the black people to the land and the white people to the sea, and the provision of spears for black people and guns for whites. Many of life's conflicts arise, it is believed, when people defy the divine plan.

Scholars have reported that during the rapid acculturation of the nineteenth century in southern Africa, new myths and legends arose, attributing greater and greater power to traditional gods. In this way, new events and displays of power were incorporated into existing belief systems. Others have suggested that the upheaval of the nineteenth century provided fertile ground for Christian and Muslim missionaries, whose teachings of a Supreme Being presiding over the entire world provided reassurance of a divine order in a changing environment. In this view, the new world religions drew converts based on their appeal as an explanation of changing circumstances.

The Arrival of Christianity

Religion and politics were inextricably interwoven as soon as the Portuguese navigator Bartholomeu Dias (Diaz) erected a limestone pillar and Christian cross at the Cape of Good Hope in the year A.D. 1488. Religious missionaries did not arrive in any significant numbers for more than a century, however. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a resupply station at the Cape, based largely on the experience of Jan van Riebeeck, who had survived a shipwreck off the coast of the Cape in 1648 and who later became the governor of the Cape Colony. Dutch Reformed Church missionaries reported in 1658 that Khoikhoi slaves in the area attended their mission services (and were rewarded with a glass of brandy after the sermon).

Religious reforms swept through the Netherlands in the early seventeenth century, and the Calvinist Synod ruled in 1618 that any slave who was baptized should be freed. In the Cape Colony, however, farmers who depended on their slaves refused repeated entreaties from the church authorities in Europe to free these slaves. Instead, the slaveowners banned religious instruction for slaves, so none could be baptized.

The London Missionary Society sent large numbers of missionaries to the Cape Colony in 1799, and soon after that, the Glasgow Missionary Society and the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society arrived, along with missionaries from the United States, France, Germany, and Scandinavia. Most missions placed a high priority on literacy and Biblical instruction, but as the Industrial Revolution swept through Europe and the United States, the evangelical message increasingly emphasized the spiritual benefits of productive labor. Missionaries also promoted European values and occupations as well as the possession of material goods unrelated to spiritual salvation, such as European clothing, houses, and tools.

Many Western missionaries mistakenly believed that southern Africans had no religion because of the differences in their faiths. Africans often denied the existence of a single, supreme being who could be influenced by prayer on behalf of humans. They appeared to confirm the missionaries' suspicions that they were "godless" by performing ritual oblations to lesser spiritual beings and ancestors. The absence of a priest or minister, or any type of church, was interpreted as further proof of the lack of spiritual beliefs, even among those who had strong beliefs in an array of spiritual beings and forces.

A few African leaders took advantage of the missionaries' presence to enhance or to reinforce their own political power. For example, the nineteenth-century Sotho King Moshoeshoe I claimed that Christian teachings only validated rules of behavior he had long advocated for his subjects. The Xhosa chief, Ngqika, rewarded local missionaries when their prayers appeared to bring much-needed rain. Sotho, Tswana, and others sought the protection of Christian missionaries during the mfecane and the related upheaval of the first part of the nineteenth century. The term Mfengu was originally applied to these displaced people who settled around Christian mission stations, but over time, the Mfengu came to be recognized as a relatively cohesive ethnic group.

The relationships among indigenous African leaders, missionaries, and European settlers and officials were always complex. Missionaries whose efforts were frustrated by local chiefs sometimes sought government intervention to weaken the chiefs' power. Government officials relied in part on the influence of missionaries in order to convince indigenous Africans of the validity of European customs. At times, however, missionaries objected to official policies that they considered harmful to their followers, and they were criticized by government officials, as a result, for interfering in official matters.

In the 1830s and the 1840s, British officials in the eastern Cape Colony tried to eliminate the Xhosa practice of witch hunts, which were increasing in response to the turmoil in the region and were spreading fear through many religious communities. The British also abolished traditional economic practices, such as the Xhosa custom of paying lobola , or bridewealth given by the family of a groom to that of his bride. But abolishing an element of traditional culture almost always resulted in an array of unforeseen cultural consequences, and this was especially true when the practices being eliminated were central to a group's social organization, as was the lobola .

By 1850, the Xhosa were enraged by the British presence. A leading Xhosa healer and diviner, Mlangeni, organized an army to confront the British and promised supernatural assistance in this effort, as long as the Xhosa people sacrificed all of their yellow and dun-colored cattle to counteract the evil spell that had engulfed them. A brutal frontier war ensued, and the rebellion was suppressed in 1853.

The Xhosa defeat was made even more bitter when a chiefly adviser, Mhlakaza, convinced many people of a prophecy brought by his niece, Nongqawuse, telling of an end to British domination and the redemption of the Xhosa if they would first kill all their remaining cattle and destroy their food stocks. In 1856 and 1857, thousands of Xhosa responded to the prophecy; more than 400,000 cattle were sacrificed. After the prophecy failed, more than 40,000 people died of starvation, and almost as many were forced to seek work in the colonial labor market.

<>Religion and Apartheid
<>Zion Christian Church

South Africa

South Africa - Religion and Apartheid

South Africa

Dutch Reformed Churches

Christianity became a powerful influence in South Africa, often uniting large numbers of people in a common faith. In the twentieth century, however, several Christian churches actively promoted racial divisions through the political philosophy of apartheid. The largest of these denominations was the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk--NGK), which came to be known as the "official religion" of the National Party during the apartheid era. Its four main branches had more than 3 million members in 1,263 congregations in the 1990s.

The Dutch Reformed Church arrived in South Africa in the seventeenth century, after Calvinist reforms in Europe had entrenched the idea of predestination, and the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands had proclaimed this church as the "community of the elect" in 1619. The church gained recognition as the state religion in 1651, and the Dutch East India Company, as an extension of the state in southern Africa, established the first Dutch Reformed Church at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652.

Church members in South Africa generally resisted liberal trends that arose in Europe in the nineteenth century, but rifts occurred in the church in 1853 with the formation of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk (also translated, the Dutch Reformed Church), and in 1859, with the formation of the Gereformeerde Kerk van Suid-Afrika (the Reformed Church of South Africa). The NGK is generally referred to as the Dutch Reformed Church, and these two newer churches are also referred to as Dutch Reformed churches.

All of the Dutch Reformed churches share similar Calvinist beliefs and presbyterial organization. Their doctrines assert that God is eternal, infinite, wise, and just, and the Creator of the universe. He has planned the life and the fate of each individual on earth; the "chosen" are saved, as long as they adhere to the church's teachings. The Bible--both the Old Testament and the New Testament--is the final authority on religious matters.

The presbyterial organization of the Dutch Reformed churches means that the functioning of each congregation is governed, in part, by that community, whereas decisions concerning policy and discipline are generally handled by regional synods. A general synod is responsible for the denomination as a whole. In South Africa, a national synod and nine regional synods oversee the operation of the Dutch Reformed congregations.

As black Africans and people of mixed race converted to the religion, church members debated the question of racial separation. Pressures grew for racially separate congregations, and the issue was complicated by the demands of some black church members for their own churches and congregations. In 1881 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (Sending Kerk) established a separate coloured church. In 1910, when black South Africans made up about 10 percent of the community, the synods established the NGK in Afrika, as it became known, for black Africans. (An Indian Dutch Reformed Church was formed in 1951.)

Racial separation was only widely accepted in the church in the early twentieth century, as many Afrikaners came to believe that their own survival as a community was threatened, and as the belief in racial separation was gaining acceptance among white South Africans in general. Social and spiritual survival became intertwined in church philosophy, influenced in part by the early twentieth-century persecution of the Afrikaners by the British (see British Imperialism and the Afrikaners, ch. 1). Church leaders refused to condemn Afrikaner rebellions against the British, and their followers gained strength by attributing divine origins to their struggle for survival.

As the system of apartheid was called into question throughout the country in the 1970s and the 1980s, church leaders were, in general, more committed to apartheid than many of their followers, and the church became an impediment to political reform. A few Dutch Reformed clergy opposed apartheid. The best known of these, Reverend Beyers Naude, left his whites-only church in the late 1970s and joined a black parish within the Dutch Reformed church. The efforts of other church leaders who worked to reduce the church's racist image were often constrained by the fact that parish finances were controlled by the church's highest authorities, who supported apartheid.

Other Religious Organizations

In the 1990s, black South Africans form a majority in all large Christian churches in South Africa, except the Dutch Reformed churches, and this was true throughout the apartheid era. In these churches, many people became involved in efforts to reverse or to ameliorate the effects of apartheid policies, but with varying degrees of militancy. Again, there were often significant differences between church leaders and their followers concerning race and politics. For example, senior officials within the Roman Catholic Church in South Africa opposed apartheid, but a group of Catholics formed the South African Catholic Defence League to condemn the church's political involvement and, in particular, to denounce school integration.

Leaders of the Church of the Province of South Africa, the Anglican Church, spoke out in opposition to apartheid, but church members disagreed about tactics for expressing their views. Some white Anglicans vigorously opposed their church's involvement in politics, while many black Anglicans became leaders in the antiapartheid movement. The Methodist Church, which was overwhelmingly black, adopted openly antiapartheid stands on many public issues, but its leaders' activism cost it support among those who feared public scrutiny on this politically sensitive issue.

Religious alliances provided a means of coordinating church opposition to apartheid while minimizing the public exposure of church leaders and parishioners. The South African Council of Churches (SACC) was the most active antiapartheid umbrella organization. The SACC not only opposed apartheid but also offered encouragement to those who contravened race laws. Under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the 1980s, the SACC also attempted to withhold cooperation with the state, as much as possible, in protest against apartheid. SACC leaders were outspoken in their political views, lodging frequent complaints with government officials and organizing numerous peaceful protests.

Countering the efforts of the antiapartheid community, the Christian League of Southern Africa rallied in support of the government's apartheid policies. The Christian League consisted of members of Dutch Reformed and other churches who believed apartheid could be justified on religious grounds. The group won little popular support, however, and was criticized both for its principles and for its tactic of bringing religious and political issues together in the same debate.

South Africa

South Africa - Zion Christian Church

South Africa

The largest and fastest-growing of the African independent churches in the 1990s is the Zion Christian Church. Its members, estimated to number between 2 million and 6 million in more than 4,000 parishes, live primarily in urban townships and rural communities. The church is well known by the abbreviation, ZCC, pronounced "zed-say-say." The ZCC was established in 1910 by Engenas Lekganyane, a farm worker in a rural area that later became Zion City, in the Northern Province. Lekganyane was educated by Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, and the church reflects some elements of that religion. The ZCC took its name from Biblical references to the Mount of Zion in Jerusalem, based in part on the inspiration of a similar community in Zion, Illinois.

The highlight of the ZCC religious calendar is the Easter celebration, which has drawn more than 1 million church members for several days of religious services at Zion City. Zionist beliefs emphasize the healing power of religious faith, and for this reason ZCC leaders sometimes clash with the traditional healers, or sangomas , who are important in many belief systems. Despite occasional conflicts, however, the ZCC respects traditional African religious beliefs, in general, especially those concerning the power of the ancestors to intercede on behalf of humans.

ZCC beliefs are eclectic, but the church's practices are often strict. The ZCC proscribes alcoholic beverages, smoking, and eating pork. It condemns sexual promiscuity and violence. As a result, church members have become known in the business community for their honesty and dependability as employees.

The growth of the independent churches was spurred by the antiapartheid movement. Nevertheless, because devout ZCC members place their spiritual agenda ahead of earthly politics, they generally avoided antiapartheid demonstrations and organizations. As a result, ZCC members were often shunned, and some were even attacked, by antiapartheid militants. President Mandela is popular among ZCC members in the 1990s, however, in part because of his political moderation and antiviolent rhetoric.

South Africa

South Africa - Islam

South Africa

South Africa's small Muslim community of about 400,000 is gaining new members, especially among black South Africans, in the 1990s. The majority of Muslims are of Indian descent, however, and a small minority are Pakistanis or people of mixed race. Most live in or near Cape Town, Durban, or Johannesburg. The Africa Muslim Party won 47,690 votes, less than 1 percent of the total vote, in the April 1994 nationwide elections.

Most South African Muslims are members of the Sunni branch of Islam, although a small Shia sect is becoming more vocal in the 1990s. The Muslim Youth Movement, the Muslim Student Association, and several other Islamic organizations have small branches in South African universities. Diplomats and other visitors from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait have contributed to the building of mosques and other efforts to promote Islam. The desire to proselytize in the region was an important topic of discussion at the first southern African conference on Islam, which was held in Cape Town in April 1995.

South Africa

South Africa - Education

South Africa

Schools in South Africa, as elsewhere, reflect society's political philosophy and goals. The earliest mission schools aimed to inculcate literacy and new social and religious values, and schools for European immigrants aimed to preserve the values of previous generations. In the twentieth century, the education system assumed economic importance as it prepared young Africans for low-wage labor and protected the privileged white minority from competition. From the 1950s to the mid-1990s, no other social institution reflected the government's racial philosophy of apartheid more clearly than the education system. Because the schools were required both to teach and to practice apartheid, they were especially vulnerable to the weaknesses of the system.

Many young people during the 1980s were committed to destroying the school system because of its identification with apartheid. Student strikes, vandalism, and violence seriously undermined the schools' ability to function. By the early 1990s, shortages of teachers, classrooms, and equipment had taken a further toll on education.

South Africa's industrial economy, with its strong reliance on capital-intensive development, provided relatively few prospects for employment for those who had only minimal educational credentials, or none at all. Nationwide literacy was less than 60 percent throughout the 1980s, and an estimated 500,000 unskilled and uneducated young people faced unemployment by the end of the decade, according to the respected Education Foundation. At the same time, job openings for highly skilled workers and managers far outpaced the number of qualified applicants. These problems were being addressed in the political reforms of the 1990s, but the legacies of apartheid--the insufficient education of the majority of the population and the backlog of deficiencies in the school system--promised to challenge future governments for decades, or perhaps generations.

Early Development

Many African societies placed strong emphasis on traditional forms of education well before the arrival of Europeans. Adults in Khoisan- and Bantu-speaking societies, for example, had extensive responsibilities for transmitting cultural values and skills within kinship-based groups and sometimes within larger organizations, villages, or districts. Education involved oral histories of the group, tales of heroism and treachery, and practice in the skills necessary for survival in a changing environment.

In many Nguni-speaking chiefdoms of southern Africa, highly regimented age-groups of young men acquired knowledge and skills vital to their survival and prestige under the instruction of respected military, religious, or political leaders. The socialization of women, although sometimes done within age-groups, was more often in small groups of siblings or cousins, and it emphasized domestic and agricultural skills necessary to the survival of the family. In all of these settings, the transmission of religious values was a vital element of education.

The socialization of African youth was sometimes interrupted by warfare or political upheaval. More serious disruptions occurred in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century, when government policies drew large numbers of adult men away from their homes for long periods of employment in mines or urban industries. Women were heads of households for months or years at a time. And after apartheid became entrenched in the early 1950s, security forces sometimes removed entire villages from their land and relocated them to less desirable areas in the interest of white economic development.

The earliest European schools in South Africa were established in the Cape Colony in the late seventeenth century by Dutch Reformed Church elders committed to biblical instruction, which was necessary for church confirmation (see Early European Settlement, ch. 1). In rural areas, itinerant teachers (meesters ) taught basic literacy and math skills. British mission schools proliferated after 1799, when the first members of the London Missionary Society arrived in the Cape Colony.

Language soon became a sensitive issue in education. At least two dozen English-language schools operated in rural areas of the Cape Colony by 1827, but their presence rankled among devout Afrikaners, who considered the English language and curriculum irrelevant to rural life and Afrikaner values. Throughout the nineteenth century, Afrikaners resisted government policies aimed at the spread of the English language and British values, and many educated their children at home or in the churches.

After British colonial officials began encouraging families to emigrate from Britain to the Cape Colony in 1820, the Colonial Office screened applicants for immigration for background qualifications. They selected educated families, for the most part, to establish a British presence in the Cape Colony, and after their arrival, these parents placed a high priority on education. Throughout this time, most religious schools in the eastern Cape accepted Xhosa children who applied for admission, and in Natal many other Nguni-speaking groups sent their children to mission schools after the mid-nineteenth century. The government also financed teacher training classes for Africans as part of its pacification campaign throughout the nineteenth century.

By 1877 some 60 percent of school-age children in Natal were enrolled in school, as were 49 percent in the Cape Colony. In the Afrikaner republics, however, enrollments remained low--only 12 percent in the Orange Free State and 8 percent in the Transvaal--primarily the result of Afrikaner resistance to British education. Enrollments in these republics increased toward the end of the century, after the government agreed to the use of Afrikaans in the schools and to allow Afrikaner parents greater control over primary and secondary education.

By the late nineteenth century, three types of schools were receiving government assistance--ward schools, or small rural schools generally employing one teacher; district schools, providing primary-level education to several towns in an area; and a few secondary schools in larger cities. But during the last decades of that century, all four provinces virtually abolished African enrollment in government schools. African children attended mission schools, for the most part, and were taught by clergy or by lay teachers, sometimes with government assistance.

Higher education was generally reserved for those who could travel to Europe, but in 1829 the government established the multiracial South African College, which later became the University of Cape Town. Religious seminaries accepted a few African applicants as early as 1841. In 1852 British officials in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State acknowledged the right of Afrikaners to establish their own institutions of higher learning, and based on this understanding, Britain's incoming governor--Sir George Grey--allocated small sums of money to help fund Afrikaner institutions. The government established Grey College--later the University of the Orange Free State--in Bloemfontein in 1855 and placed it under the supervision of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Grey Institute was established in Port Elizabeth in 1856; Graaff-Reinet College was founded in 1860. The Christian College was founded at Potchefstroom in 1869 and was later incorporated into the University of South Africa and renamed Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.

Following the British victory in the South African War, the new representative of the Crown, Sir Alfred Milner, brought thousands of teachers from Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to instill the English language and British cultural values, especially in the two former Afrikaner republics. To counter the British influence, a group of Afrikaner churches proposed an education program, Christian National Education, to serve as the core of the school curriculum. The government initially refused to fund schools adopting this program, but Jan C. Smuts, the Transvaal leader who later became prime minister, was strongly committed to reconciliation between Afrikaners and English speakers, and he favored local control over many aspects of education. Provincial autonomy in education was strengthened in the early twentieth century, and all four provincial governments used government funds primarily to educate whites.

The National Party (NP) was able to capitalize on the fear of racial integration in the schools to build its support. The NP's narrow election victory in 1948 gave Afrikaans new standing in the schools, and after that, all high-school graduates were required to be proficient in both Afrikaans and English. The NP government also reintroduced Christian National Education as the guiding philosophy of education.

Education under Apartheid

The Bantu Education Act

The Bantu Education Act (No. 47) of 1953 widened the gaps in educational opportunities for different racial groups. Two of the architects of Bantu education, Dr. W.M. Eiselen and Dr. Hendrik F. Verwoerd, had studied in Germany and had adopted many elements of National Socialist (Nazi) philosophy. The concept of racial "purity," in particular, provided a rationalization for keeping black education inferior. Verwoerd, then minister of native affairs, said black Africans "should be educated for their opportunities in life," and that there was no place for them "above the level of certain forms of labour." The government also tightened its control over religious high schools by eliminating almost all financial aid, forcing many churches to sell their schools to the government or close them entirely.

Christian National Education supported the NP program of apartheid by calling on educators to reinforce cultural diversity and to rely on "mother-tongue" instruction in the first years of primary school. This philosophy also espoused the idea that a person's social responsibilities and political opportunities are defined, in large part, by that person's ethnic identity. The government also gave strong management control to the school boards, who were elected by the parents in each district.

Official attitudes toward African education were paternalistic, based on trusteeship and segregation. Black education was not supposed to drain government resources away from white education. The number of schools for blacks increased during the 1960s, but their curriculum was designed to prepare children for menial jobs. Per-capita government spending on black education slipped to one-tenth of spending on whites in the 1970s. Black schools had inferior facilities, teachers, and textbooks.

Soweto and Its Aftermath

Tensions over language in education erupted into violence on June 16, 1976, when students took to the streets in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. Their action was prompted by the decision of Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of the Bantu education system, to enforce a regulation requiring that one-half of all high-school classes must be taught in Afrikaans. A harsh police response resulted in the deaths of several children, some as young as eight or nine years old. In the violence that followed, more than 575 people died, at least 134 of them under the age of eighteen.

Youthful ANC supporters abandoned school in droves; some vowed to "make South Africa ungovernable" to protest against apartheid education. Others left the country for military training camps run by the ANC or other liberation armies, mostly in Angola, Tanzania, or Eastern Europe. "Liberation before education" became their battle cry.

The schools suffered further damage as a result of the unrest of 1976. Vandals and arsonists damaged or destroyed many schools and school property. Students who tried to attend school and their teachers were sometimes attacked, and administrators found it increasingly difficult to maintain normal school activities. Some teachers and administrators joined in the protests.

The National Policy for General Affairs Act (No. 76) of 1984 provided some improvements in black education but maintained the overall separation called for by the Bantu education system. This act gave the minister of national education authority to determine general policy for syllabuses, examinations, and certification qualifications in all institutions of formal and informal education. But responsibility for implementing these policies was divided among numerous government departments and offices, resulting in a bewildering array of educational authorities: For example, the Department of Education and Training was responsible for black education outside the homelands. Each of the three houses of parliament--for whites, coloureds, and Indians--had an education department for one racial group, and each of the ten homelands had its own education department. In addition, several other government departments managed specific aspects of education.

Education was compulsory for all racial groups, but at different ages, and the law was enforced differently. Whites were required to attend school between the ages of seven and sixteen. Black children were required to attend school from age seven until the equivalent of seventh grade or the age of sixteen, but this law was enforced only weakly, and not at all in areas where schools were unavailable. For Asians and coloured children, education was compulsory between the ages of seven and fifteen.

The discrepancies in education among racial groups were glaring. Teacher: pupil ratios in primary schools averaged 1:18 in white schools, 1:24 in Asian schools, 1:27 in coloured schools, and 1:39 in black schools. Moreover, whereas 96 percent of all teachers in white schools had teaching certificates, only 15 percent of teachers in black schools were certified. Secondary-school pass rates for black pupils in the nationwide, standardized high-school graduation exams were less than one-half the pass rate for whites.

As the government implemented the 1984 legislation, new violence flared up in response to the limited constitutional reforms that continued to exclude blacks (see Constitutional Change, ch. 4). Finally, the government began to signal its awareness that apartheid could not endure. By 1986 President P.W. Botha (1984-89) had stated that the concept of apartheid was "outdated," and behind-the-scenes negotiations had begun between government officials and imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela. The gap between government spending on education for different racial groups slowly began to narrow, and penalties for defying apartheid rules in education began to ease.

The School System in the 1990s

Reorganizing education was one of the most daunting tasks the government faced as apartheid laws were being lifted in the 1990s. President Frederik W. (F.W.) de Klerk, in a speech to Parliament in January 1993, stressed the need for a nonracial school system, with enough flexibility to allow communities to preserve their religious and cultural values and their home language. De Klerk established the Education Co-ordination Service to manage education during the political transition of the 1990s, and he charged it with eliminating the bureaucratic duplication that had resulted from apartheid education.

In August 1993, de Klerk gathered together leading experts on education in the National Education and Training Forum to formulate a policy framework for restructuring education. Anticipating rising education costs, the government earmarked 23.5 percent of the national budget in fiscal year (FY--see Glossary) 1993-94 for education. It established new education offices and gave them specific responsibilities within the reorganization plan. When the new school year began in January 1995, all government-run primary and secondary schools were officially integrated, and the first stage of the transformation in education had begun almost without violence.

The new policies were difficult to implement, however, and many policy details remained to be worked out. Education was compulsory for all children between age seven and age sixteen, for example, but there had not been enough time or resources to provide adequate schools and teachers for the entire school-age population. The schools received government assistance for teachers' salaries only; they had to charge fees for equipment and supplies, but pupils who could not pay school fees could not be expelled from school.

In 1995 South Africa had a total of 20,780 primary and secondary schools. Of these, 20,303 belonged to the government, and 477 were private. In addition, 226 specialized schools were in operation for gifted pupils or students with special needs (see table 3, Appendix). More than 11 million pupils were enrolled, about 6.95 million in primary school and 4.12 million in secondary schools. The number of teachers in the regular primary and secondary schools was 344,083, of whom 226,900 were black. Of the white teachers, more than 60 percent were Afrikaners. Men teachers were paid substantially more than women; women's salaries averaged 83 percent of men's salaries for the same job with equal qualifications.

Higher Education

University-level education suffered under apartheid. When the NP came to power in 1948, there were ten government-subsidized institutions of higher learning--four with classes taught in English; four with classes taught in Afrikaans; one bilingual correspondence university; and the South African Native College at Fort Hare, in which most classes were taught in English but other languages were permitted. The four Afrikaans universities and one of the English-language universities (Rhodes University) admitted white students only. Students of all races attended the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Natal, although some classes at these universities were segregated.

The Extension of University Education Act (No. 45) of 1959 prohibited established universities from accepting black students, except with the special permission of a cabinet minister. The government opened several new universities and colleges for black, coloured, and Indian students, and these students were allowed to attend a "white" university only if their "own" institutions became too overcrowded. The University of the North, established in 1959, for example, admitted students of Tsonga, Sotho, Venda, or Tswana descent only.

The 1959 law also gave the central government control over the South African Native College at Fort Hare (later the University of Fort Hare), and the government instituted a new policy of admitting Xhosa students only to that school. Several technikons (advanced-level technical schools) gave preference to students of one ethnic group. Overall, however, the 1959 legislation reduced opportunities for university education for blacks, and by 1978 only 20 percent of all university students in South Africa were black. During the 1980s, several university administrations, anticipating the dismal impact of the long-term racial biases in education, began admitting students from all racial groups.

As of the mid-1990s South Africa has twenty-one major universities, which are government-financed and open to students of all races. In addition, secondary-school graduates can attend one of fifteen technikons , 128 technical colleges, and seventy teacher-training colleges (which do not require high-school certificates for admission), or another in a wide array of teacher training institutions (see table 4, Appendix). Students in universities and teacher-training colleges numbered 362,000 in 1994, and the institutions themselves had 14,460 academic staff members. At technical colleges and technikons , students numbered 191,087, and teaching staff numbered 5,532.

Each university administration is headed by a government-appointed chancellor, the institution's senior authority; a vice chancellor; and a university council. The chancellor is often a civic leader or political figure whose primary function is to represent the university to the community. The university council, comprising members of the university and the community, names the vice chancellor or rector, who controls the administration of the institution. The vice chancellor generally holds office until age sixty-five.

The university senate manages academic and faculty affairs, under the vice chancellor's authority. Each university sets its own tuition costs and receives government funding based on student:faculty ratios and tuition receipts. The university academic year lasts thirty-six weeks; school terms and vacation periods are set by the university council. The government establishes general degree requirements, but the individual university's council and administration set specific requirements for each campus.

A variety of adult education opportunities are available. These include classes in basic literacy, in technical and vocational subjects, and in sports and leisure activities. Two universities, those of Cape Town and Witwatersrand, offer classes for instructors in adult education, and Witwatersrand has a course leading to a diploma for adult educators. Some of these programs are being reoriented in the 1990s to emphasize literacy training for the more than 8 million adults who cannot read.

South Africa

South Africa - Health and Welfare

South Africa

South Africa's population in general enjoys good health, compared with other African countries in the 1990s. Rural health care compares favorably with delivery systems in Kenya and in Nigeria, for example. The system reflects the biases of apartheid, in that superior care is available to wealthy urban residents, most of whom were white as of 1995, and inferior services are available to the poor, who are black. These differences began to narrow in the early 1990s, as apartheid was being dismantled. Under the government's 1994 blueprint for social and economic development, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), R14 billion (for value of the rand--see Glossary) was set aside for improvements in health care.

Incidence of Disease

Tuberculosis is the most prevalent disease reported to health officials in the 1990s. European settlers probably introduced this disease into southern Africa in the seventeenth or the eighteenth century, and it was perhaps reintroduced by nineteenth-century gold and diamond miners from Europe or China. Miners of all races lived in unhealthy and unsanitary conditions during the first decades of industrial development, and these conditions contributed to the spread of the disease in the early twentieth century. From the beginning, whites who became ill received better treatment than others. In 1955 tuberculosis reached epidemic proportions among black mineworkers, which prompted the South African Chamber of Mines to improve mineworkers' dwellings and health care services.

About 90 percent of tuberculosis cases reported after 1970 were among blacks. The rate of infection appeared to decline between 1970 and 1985, and the government, citing this decline, ended compulsory tuberculosis vaccinations in 1987. Although tuberculosis among blacks increased after that, health officials believed other causes were important. Overcrowding in urban housing projects increased in the late 1980s, and many tuberculosis patients discontinued treatment after only a few weeks, rather than the prescribed year. The South African National Tuberculosis Association reported that its case load increased from 88,000 cases in 1985 to more than 124,000 in 1990 and continued to increase after that. More than 6,000 people died of tuberculosis and related effects each year in the early 1990s. More than 47,800 new cases of the disease were reported in 1994.

Malaria ranked second among reported diseases, again affecting whites less than other racial groups. This disease reached epidemic levels in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, especially in the northern Natal and the lowveld areas of the northern and eastern Transvaal. During the 1960s, there were 2.7 cases of malaria per 100,000 nonwhites, compared with only 1.1 cases per 100,000 whites. As malaria increased during the 1970s and the 1980s, the gap between races widened and these rates rose to 40.5 cases per 100,000 among blacks, Asians, and people of mixed race, compared with six cases per 100,000 whites in the early 1990s. In 1994 health officials reported 4,194 cases of malaria nationwide.

Several factors probably contributed to the changing patterns in malaria incidence. The use of insecticides helped reduce the incidence of malaria temporarily in the 1950s. The 1972 worldwide ban on the insecticide, DDT, though only partially observed in South Africa, was followed by a steady increase in the incidence of malaria. At the same time, mosquitoes and other parasites became more resistant to chemicals and medicines. Residential patterns also changed, and several mosquito-infested areas of the country were permanently settled. For example, the black homelands of Venda, Gazankulu, and Lebowa were established in heavily malaria-infested areas of the northern Transvaal.

Most other diseases decreased between 1970 and 1990. In keeping with world trends, smallpox was virtually eradicated in South Africa by the 1970s. Diphtheria declined to almost negligible levels--fewer than 0.1 cases per 100,000 people--by 1990. Leprosy showed similar trends, diminishing to 0.5 cases per 100,000 in 1990.

Typhoid continues to appear in scattered areas of the country in the 1990s, and most typhoid cases are among blacks. In the early 1990s, between twenty-five and thirty-five cases of typhoid were reported per 100,000 blacks, per year, compared with fewer than eight cases per 100,000 whites, Indians, and coloureds. A total of 581 new cases were reported in 1994. Measles outbreaks remained fairly steady in the early 1990s, with thirty to seventy new cases per 100,000 whites, coloureds, and Indians, and sixty to 150 cases per 100,000 blacks, each year. In 1994 a total of 1,672 cases of measles were reported. Other common ailments, such as gastroenteritis, kill several hundred black South Africans each year, even though these diseases are easily treatable in South African hospitals.

Infectious and parasitic diseases cause roughly 12 percent of all deaths among blacks but only 2 percent of deaths among whites. Health officials attribute the high incidence of infectious diseases in poor areas to the lack of clean water and sewage disposal systems. As a result, these services are high priorities in the government's development plans for the late 1990s.

Heart disease and cancer, which are common in industrialized nations, affect whites more than other racial groups in South Africa. Heart disease accounts for about 38 percent of all deaths among whites in the 1990s, compared with only 13 percent of deaths among blacks. Cancerous tumors are responsible for 18 percent of deaths among whites, but for only 8 percent of deaths among blacks.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Although the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases had declined from 1966 through the 1980s, the overall rate of infection increased after 1990, and among these diseases, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) raised the greatest fears. South Africa's first recorded death from AIDS occurred in 1982, although the risks of AIDS were not widely publicized at the time. In 1985 health officials began testing blood to prevent AIDS transmission through transfusion.

By early 1991, 613 cases of AIDS had been reported nationwide, and 270 people were known to have died from the disease. Officials at the South African Institute of Medical Research estimated at that time that 15,000 people were infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 1,123 cases of AIDS in South Africa in 1992. By March 1996, the number of reported AIDS cases had reached 10,351.

Some health researchers estimated that between 800,000 and 1 million South Africans were HIV-positive in the mid-1990s. More than 500--perhaps as many as 700--people were becoming infected each day, according to these estimates, and the rate of infection was likely to double every thirteen months in the late 1990s. These figures suggested that between 4 million and 8 million people would be HIV-positive by the year 2000. Estimates of the number of likely deaths from AIDS in the early twenty-first century ranged as high as 1 million.

As in most of Africa, AIDS is primarily an urban phenomenon in South Africa, but it has spread rapidly into rural areas and has affected a disproportionate number of people between the ages of fifteen and forty. Recognizing the potential impact on the country's economic output, the South African Chamber of Mines, the nation's largest employer, began an aggressive campaign to educate workers and to curtail the spread of AIDS in the 1980s, after the chamber's health adviser warned that AIDS could be the country's most serious health problem by the late 1990s. The industry already had established treatment and counseling services for workers afflicted with sexually transmitted diseases, so it used this network to promote its campaign against AIDS. The Chamber of Mines found an incidence of only 0.05 percent of HIV infection among more than 30,000 mine workers in a baseline study in 1986. It then initiated random blood testing on 2,000 to 3,000 workers each month and found that the rate of HIV infection had risen to 6 percent by 1992.

The government was able to build on the early efforts of the Chamber of Mines to help stem the spread of HIV and AIDS in the 1990s. Government officials, health specialists from the ANC, and others established the National AIDS Convention of South Africa to coordinate the nationwide campaign emphasizing public education. In 1993 the National AIDS Convention, working with the Chamber of Mines, WHO, and other international experts, received financial assistance from the European Union (EU--see Glossary) for its efforts. In 1994 and 1995, however, the campaign became embroiled in funding disputes and was slowed by partisan political debate.

Although health officials were concerned about the spread of AIDS, some were still more concerned about the incidence of tuberculosis in the mid-1990s. They argued that tuberculosis caused as many as thirty-six deaths each day, on average, compared with less than one death per day from AIDS. Moreover, methods for preventing the spread of tuberculosis were already well known and could help in the fight against AIDS. Health officials had reported that people infected with tuberculosis are more susceptible to HIV infection and more likely to develop AIDS symptoms in a shorter time after being infected, and that these AIDS sufferers are likely to die sooner than those free of tuberculosis.

Health Care Services

Until 1990 apartheid was practiced in most hospitals, to varying degrees. Some admitted patients of one racial group only, and others designated operating rooms and special care facilities for patients of certain racial groups. This practice often led to expensive and redundant services and organizations, and, at times, unnecessary neglect. A few medical personnel, nonetheless, ignored apartheid-related restrictions, especially in emergency rooms and public clinics. By the early 1990s, deliberate racial distinctions were beginning to disappear from hospital care in general. Health care services continued to reflect the status of the communities in which they were found, however; wealthier people had easier access to health care and generally received better care.

South Africa's health care facilities include hospitals, day hospitals, community health care centers, and clinics. In 1995 about 25,600 doctors as well as 24,500 supplementary health professionals, 160,000 nurses and nurses' auxiliaries, and more than 5,100 dentists and dental specialists were registered with the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) and the South African Nursing Council. In the early 1990s, only about 1,500 doctors, nationwide, were black. Wealthy white areas averaged one doctor per 1,200 people; the poorest black homelands, one doctor for 13,000 people.

Seven universities have medical schools, and six provide dental training. Nurses are trained at several universities, hospitals, and nursing schools. More than 300 hospitals are managed entirely or in part by provincial governments, and 255 hospitals are privately operated. There are an estimated 108,000 hospital beds nationwide, and almost 24,800 beds in psychiatric hospitals.

The South African Red Cross renders emergency, health, and community services, and operates ambulance services, senior citizens' homes, and air rescue services across the nation, but primarily in urban areas. Some areas also have twenty-four-hour-a-day poison control centers, child-assistance phone services, rape crisis centers, and suicide prevention programs.

One of the interim government's highest priorities in the mid-1990s is the prevention of childhood death and disease through nationwide immunization programs. The incidence of tetanus, measles, malaria, and other communicable diseases is high, especially in the former African homelands. For this reason, one of President Nelson Mandela's first actions after assuming office in May 1994 was to implement a program of free health care for children under the age of six. By early 1996, officials estimated that at least 75 percent of all infants had been immunized against polio and measles.

Malnutrition and starvation also occur in a few, especially rural, areas. These problems are being addressed through other elements of the government's RDP of the 1990s (see Postapartheid Reconstruction, ch. 3). Minister of Health Nkosazana Zuma noted in December 1994 that only 20 percent of South Africans have any form of health insurance. The government plans to institute a program of free universal primary health care, but health officials estimated in early 1996 that it might take ten years to implement the plan fully.

Social Welfare

Disabilities and the Aged

Social welfare services in the 1990s include care for the disabled and the aged, alcohol and drug-rehabilitation programs, previous offenders' programs, and child care services. At least 1,742 private welfare organizations and numerous government agencies administer these programs.

The National Welfare Act (No. 100) of 1978 established a coordinating council, the South African Welfare Council, to help manage these diverse programs. Amendments to the act in 1987 signaled the government's growing awareness of the need to narrow differences in social welfare among racial groups. In the early 1990s, the government spent about R1 billion per year on welfare programs, excluding old-age pensions. About one-half of that amount was spent on whites. Government spending under the RDP in the mid-1990s was geared toward improving social services for other racial groups.

About 3.5 million South Africans are physically disabled in the mid-1990s. The government's approach is to encourage independent, although sometimes assisted, living for them. Assistance is sometimes available through outpatient rehabilitation centers, counseling services, workshops, and sheltered employment centers. Families and church groups are still important in assisting the handicapped, especially the mentally and psychologically impaired, although government-funded services are available for the blind and the deaf. Substance abuse programs, especially for alcohol abuse or marijuana dependence, are also available in some communities.

The government administers about 1.8 million old-age (nonmilitary) pensions in the 1990s that represent a total of about R4 billion. The government began narrowing the gap in pensions for different racial groups in 1992 and pledged to eliminate such disparities. But elderly black and other citizens continued to claim that they were disadvantaged because of their racial identity in the mid-1990s. Government welfare agencies also provide veterans' benefits, adoption and foster care services, services for alcoholics and drug addicts, and services for abused and neglected children.


Most refugees in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s were from Mozambique, fleeing that country's civil war. Estimates of their number varied widely, in part because many other Mozambican migrant workers were in South Africa during that time. The number of refugees was particularly difficult to estimate because until 1993, South African officials sometimes denied access to refugee camps for international observers trying to monitor the refugees' living conditions.

In early 1994, officials estimated that perhaps 1 million Mozambicans were working in South Africa, legally or illegally, and that perhaps as many as 500,000 were refugees. Although only a few took advantage of a repatriation program implemented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in April 1994, in early 1995 relief workers estimated the number of refugees at about 200,000. This number was reduced by half during 1995, although several thousand Mozambicans were entering South Africa each month in early 1995--some for the second or third time.

Internally displaced South Africans were believed to number at least 500,000 in 1995, according to the United States Committee on Refugees (USCR). Most of these had been uprooted by official apartheid-related policies in the past decade, and perhaps 10,000 or more were displaced by political violence in KwaZulu-Natal in the early 1990s. The new government established a Land Claims Court and planned to adjudicate several thousand of such claims by the late 1990s. By mid-1996 a few cases had been resolved by restoring lost land, and a small number of displaced South Africans had received compensation for their losses.


After South Africa's international isolation ended and border trade increased in the early 1990s, problems associated with narcotics trafficking and drug use increased dramatically, according to the South African Police Service (SAPS). In 1994 South African authorities confiscated more than 2.4 million ounces of cocaine; nearly 25,000 grams of heroin; more than 16,000 units of LSD; 27,000 ounces of hashish, and 7 million kilograms of cannabis (marijuana), according to police records, and most of these figures were expected to increase in 1995 and 1996. At the same time, officials at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reported an increase in problems related to substance abuse and addiction, and police officials reported that narcotics dealers often were involved in other forms of crime, such as arms smuggling, burglaries, or car hijackings.

South Africa

South Africa - Women in Society

South Africa

In general, all racial and ethnic groups in South Africa have long-standing beliefs concerning gender roles, and most are based on the premise that women are less important, or less deserving of power, than men. Most African traditional social organizations are male centered and male dominated. Even in the 1990s, in some rural areas of South Africa, for example, wives walk a few paces behind their husbands in keeping with traditional practices. Afrikaner religious beliefs, too, include a strong emphasis on the theoretically biblically based notion that women's contributions to society should normally be approved by, or be on behalf of, men.

Twentieth-century economic and political developments presented South African women with both new obstacles and new opportunities to wield influence. For example, labor force requirements in cities and mining areas have often drawn men away from their homes for months at a time, and, as a result, women have borne many traditionally male responsibilities in the village and home. Women have had to guarantee the day-to-day survival of their families and to carry out financial and legal transactions that otherwise would have been reserved for men.

Women and Apartheid

Apartheid imposed new restrictions on African women beginning in the 1950s. Many lived in squalor in the former homelands, where malnutrition, illness, and infant mortality were much higher than in urban areas. Other women who followed their husbands into cities or mining areas lived in inadequate, and often illegal, housing near industrial compounds. Women often left their own families to commute long distances to low-wage jobs in the domestic work force in white neighborhoods. Substantial numbers were temporary workers in agriculture; and a growing number of women joined the burgeoning industrial work force, as has been carefully researched in Iris Berger's Threads of Solidarity: Women in South African Industry, 1900-1980 .

Women became the major source of resistance to many race-related restrictions during the apartheid era, especially the pass laws, which required Africans to carry documents permitting them to be in white-occupied areas. The Women's Defence of the Constitution League, later known as the Black Sash, was formed in 1954, first to demonstrate against such laws and later to assist pass-law violators. Black Sash established pass-law advice centers in many cities and helped reduce sentences or assist violators in other ways.

The African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL), formed in 1943, was able to organize more than 20,000 women to march on government buildings in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws and other apartheid restrictions in 1955. Their protests eventually failed, however. In the early 1960s, pass-law restrictions were extended to women and new legislation restricted black women without steady employment to stays of no more than seventy-two hours in any urban area. Also in 1964, many senior ANC leaders were arrested, and others fled from South Africa or went underground, and the ANCWL became almost defunct.

Women continued to join the urban work force, and by the late 1980s, women made up at least 90 percent of the domestic work force and 36 percent of the industrial work force, according to labor union estimates. Women's wages were lower than men's even for the same job, however. In addition, positions normally held by women had long hours and few benefits, such as sick leave; women often were dismissed without advance notice and without any type of termination pay.

Conservative Afrikaner women have organized in support of Afrikaner cultural preservation and apartheid since the 1970s. The Kappiekommando was established in the late 1970s to demand a return to traditional Afrikaner values. This organization was named for its distinctive Voortrekker dress, which caused some young Afrikaners and others to ridicule its members' appearance and their militancy. The Kappiekommando's militant opposition to political reforms eventually contributed to its marginalization, even among staunchly conservative Afrikaners.

The Afrikanervroue-Kenkrag (AVK), another Afrikaner women's organization, was formed in 1983 and worked primarily to oppose racial integration in schools and other public places. AVK membership grew to about 1,000 during the mid-1980s. The group published a monthly newsletter and cooperated with other Afrikaner organizations, but like the Kappiekommando, the AVK lost support when mainstream Afrikaner political leaders began working toward racial inclusiveness in the 1990s.

Women in the 1990s

The ANCWL was resurrected in 1990, after the ban on the ANC was lifted, and women in more than 500 towns and cities organized to press for consideration of gender issues in the upcoming constitutional negotiations. At the insistence of its Women's League, the ANC accepted, in principle, the proposal that women should receive one-third of the political appointments in the new government. Other symbolic gains by the ANCWL have included strong policy stands on women's rights and protection against abuse and exploitation, but translating these standards into enforceable laws proved to be a difficult task.

Women are achieving new prominence in politics as a result of the sweeping political reforms of the 1990s. In 1994 women won election to eighty of the 400 seats in the National Assembly, the only directly elected house of parliament, and a woman, Frene Ginwala, was elected Speaker of the National Assembly. Women also were elected to almost one-third of the seats in the nine provincial assemblies.

President Mandela appointed two women cabinet ministers in May 1994, and a woman succeeded the late minister of housing, Joe Slovo, after his death in January 1995. Three women were deputy ministers in early 1995. One of these, President Mandela's former wife, Winnie Mandela, was appointed deputy minister of arts, culture, science, and technology.

Mrs. Mandela had been a courageous fighter for the rights of the downtrodden for more than two decades while her husband was in prison, and she had achieved high office within the ANC. But her association with violent elements of the ANC Youth League in the late 1980s and other accusations against her in the 1990s led many within the ANC to shun her. She was also outspoken in her criticism of the government in early 1995 for its failure to move more quickly to ease the extreme poverty of many citizens. Her defiance led to her removal from office in March of that year.

Eliminating violence against women and improving educational opportunities for women are almost universally supported goals in South Africa in the mid-1990s, but these goals receive only rhetorical support, in many cases. More urgent priorities are to eliminate the vestiges of apartheid legislation and to improve economic and social conditions for the very poor, for children, and for other groups that were especially disadvantaged in recent decades. Gender-related inequities appear likely to be decried, but relegated to secondary importance, well into the twenty-first century.

South Africa

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

TRY USING CTRL-F on your keyboard to find the appropriate section of text


what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright 2013 Mongabay.com