South Africa

South Africa’s official languages

Learn more about South Africa’s official languages and their respective cultural groups.

South Africa’s charm lies in its rich history and cultural diversity. Learn any of South Africa’s eleven official languages and you peel back layers of history that help you understand the locals. Here’s a quick overview of South Africa’s official languages and their respective cultural groups.

English is widely used in business, government and the media. It was declared an official language of South Africa in 1910 and has retained its status ever since, even though English as a first language is chiefly confined to cities. 

Afrikaans evolved from a 17th-century dialect introduced by the Dutch that colonized the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. ‘Afrikaners are best known for their strong family views and legendary ‘braais’.

Good morning: Goeie more
Thank you: Dankie

isiNdebele is spoken by a small percentage of people in Mpumalanga and Gauteng. The Ndebele are known for their vibrant colours and gold plated neck rings. 

Hello: Lotjhani
Thank you: Ngiyabonga

IsiXhosa is characterised by its distinctive clicks and the Xhosa are known for the red and orange hues of their traditional wear
The Zulus are South Africa’s largest ethnic group. The famed King Shaka Zulu is known as the fiercest leader of the Zulu tribe. The Zulu are known for their spirited dances celebrating various life stages. 

Hello: Sawubona
Thank you: Ngiyabonga

Sepedi is the third largest language in South Africa and is predominantly spoken in Limpopo. The legendary Rain Queen Modjadji hails from the Bapedi tribe. 

Hello: Thôbêla
Thank you: Ke a leboga

Sesotho is predominantly spoken in the Free State by 7.6% of the South African population. The Basotho are known for their cone-shaped straw hats known as mokorotlo. 

Hello: Dumela
Thank you: Kea leboha

Setswana is spoken in the North West province and is famed for its complex legal system – involving a hierarchy of courts and mediators and harsh punishments for transgressors. 

Hello: Dumela
Thank you: Ke a leboga

siSwati is spoken mostly in Mpumalanga, which almost encircles the Kingdom of Eswatini (Swaziland).  The Swati are known for their ‘Reed Dance’ where maidens pay homage to the King and Queen Mother by offering them pruned reeds. 

Hello: Sawubona  
Thank you: Ngiyabonga

Tshivenda is predominately spoken in the Venda region of the Limpopo province. VhaVenda are known for their metal work and pottery.  

Good morning: Ndi matsheloni
Thank you: Ndo livhuwa

The Tsonga are a diverse group of people known for their vibrant and colourful traditional attire;  as well as their spirited, fast paced Xibelani dancing.   

Hello: Avuxeni
Thank you: Ndza khensa