The culture of South Africa is one of the most diverse in the world. These cultures blend beautifully to give the country its unique identity on the globe.
South Africa has been famously referred to as the rainbow nation because it is made up of so many diverse cultures and religions. Contained within South Africa’s borders are Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Tswana, Ndebele, Khoisan, Sotho, Venda, Hindu, Muslim, and Afrikaner people to name but a few. All of these people are united by calling South Africa home, and therefore their lives all contribute to forming a part of the country’s heritage, identity and culture. Understanding that South Africa is composed of all these various influences is essential for helping South Africans to understand and respect each other and to learn from each other’s cultural practices. This is part of the healing that democracy has brought after culture was used to divide South Africans in the past.
The Zulus are known for their shield-bearing warriors under the leadership of Shaka. They are also famous for their beadworks, grass huts, and basketry. The belief of the Zulu people is based on ancestral spirits which appear mainly in dreams and a supreme being who is rarely involved in the activities of the mortal. Use of magic is common among the Zulus and any tragedy or illness is blamed on the evil spirit.
Xhosa culture is popular for the complex dressing that portrays a person’s social status, position in the society, and whether they are married or not. They also have a strong oral tradition with stories of ancestral heroes. Ancestral worship is a common practice and young men have to undergo a rite of passage. Stick fighting is a common sport among the Xhosa among the young men looking after the cattle. Women mainly tend the crops and look after the home.
Ndebele are known for the skilled women who decorate their houses in beautiful geometric designs. The skills are hereditary and women are tasked with the responsibility of teaching their daughters. The shapes used in the decoration are inspired by their fashioned beadwork. Ndebele women are distinguished from other South African women by the neck rings and the striking traditional blankets.
The culture of the Sotho people differs from those of the Ndebele, Xhosa, and Zulus in several ways, especially on how they organize their villages. The Sotho homes are organized into villages rather than scattered settlements. The villages are further organized into age-sets. Each of the age-set is given a specific responsibility and the age-set graduate from one responsibility to another. They also allow their sons to marry from their kin, especially from the maternal side. Their traditional folk art includes pottery making, beadwork, decoration of houses, and weaving.
The Venda culture and tradition is built on mythical beliefs and water. They believe that lakes and rivers are sacred and that rains are controlled by Python God. Lake Fundudzi is one of the sacred places among the Venda and hosts the annual rites. Traditional healers known as Sangoma are believed to have access to the spirits and ancestors. Venda’s art has also been influenced by the belief in the spirit world. Cattle are considered a sign of wealth while agriculture is the main economic activity.
Modern Day South African Tradition
The younger generation from the above cultures is relocating to the city in search of a “better” life. However, in the city, they tend to abandon their traditions and culture for the western culture and lifestyle. Over time, a unique culture that combines the western culture and the traditional cultures have been developed. This new culture is evident in art, music, and food.
Heritage and the South African Constitution
A constitution is the guiding law on a country’s values and rules. A constitution directs the government and all the people who live in a country on the rules for how citizens should be treated and how they should treat others. A constitution supports and protects a country and the heritage and culture of its peoples. South Africa is widely considered to have one of the fairest and most progressive constitutions in the world.
In South Africa the vision of the constitution is for everybody to be equal. This means that nobody should be permitted to discriminate against anyone else because of things like skin colour, age, religion, language or gender. South Africans have human rights that are protected. For example, some schools have turned away children who have AIDS. However, the law protects these children’s rights to an education. In the same way the right to practice different religious beliefs is protected. Every person has the right to be part of any religion and to use the language of their choice. For this reason South Africa has 11 official languages so that all the major languages used in the country are given recognition. These languages are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu. Languages used by smaller groups such as the Khoi, Nama, San and sign language must also be respected under the constitution. Other languages used in South Africa include Shona, French, Swahili, Lingala, Portuguese, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Portuguese, Telegu and Urdu. Other languages like Arabic, Hebrew and Sanskrit, used in certain religions, must also be respected.