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Traditional location of Tsonga people with dialectical differences and before the borders between South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were erected and the people separated.
|5,370,000 (late 20th-century estimate)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Tsonga, Portuguese, English|
|African Traditional Religion, Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Other Bantu peoples|
Tsonga people (Tsonga: Vatsonga) are a Bantu ethnic group native mainly to South Africa and southern Mozambique. They speak Xitsonga, a Southern Bantu language which is closely related to neighbouring Nguni, Basotho, and Vhavenda. A very Small number of Tsonga people are also found in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The Tsonga people of South Africa share a common history with the Tsonga people of southern Mozambique, however they differ culturally and linguistically from the Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Tsonga people originated from Central and West Africa somewhere between AD 200 and 500, and have been migrating in-and-out of South Africa for over a thousand (1000) years. Initially, the Tsonga people settled on the coastal plains of Southern Mozambique but finally settled in the Transvaal Province in South Africa from as early as the 1300s. One of the earliest reputable written accounts of the Tsonga people is by HP Junod titled "Matimu ya Vatsonga 1498-1650" which was formally published in 1977 by his son, and it speaks of the earliest Tsonga kingdoms. The son of HP Junod, Henri Alexandri Junod carried on where his father left off and further released his own work titled "The life of a South African Tribe" which was officially published in 1927.
Within apartheid South Africa, a Tsonga "homeland", Gazankulu Bantustan, was created out of part of northern Transvaal Province (Now Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga) during the 1960s and was granted self-governing status in 1973. This bantustan's economy depended largely on gold and on a small manufacturing sector. However, only an estimated 500,000 people—less than half the Tsonga population of South Africa—ever lived there. Many others joined township residents from other parts of South Africa around urban centres, especially Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The Constitution of South Africa stipulates that all South Africans have a right to identify with their own language, and points out that tribal affiliations or "ethnicity" is identifiable mostly through a common language; hence the recognition of groups such as, for example the Xhosas who are united by isiXhosa; Zulus who are united by isiZulu; Vendas who are united by Tshivenda; and the Sothos who are united by Sesotho. The various groups who speak the Xitsonga language or one of its dialects are therefore also united by the language and take its name from it, hence Constitutionally they are the Tsonga people (Vatsonga). The name 'Tsonga' itself is only applied within the South African context. Groups outside of South Africa who are ancestral or related to the South African Tsonga people go by various tribal names (e.g., Tonga, Rhonga, Chopi, Tswa) but they are sometimes classified within the heritage and history of the Tsonga people of South Africa.
In South Africa the name "Shangaan" or "Machangane" is regularly applied to the entire Tsonga population; however, this is a common misconception and others even take offense to it with regards to tribal affiliation. What can be identified as the Shangaan tribe only forms a small fraction of the entire Tsonga ethnic group, meaning that the term "Shangaan" should only be applied to that tribe which is directly related to Soshangane ka Zikode (a Ngoni general from the Ndwandwe tribe) who came to existence during the 1800s, as well as those tribes which were founded or assimilated directly by him. In contrast, the Tsonga ethnic group comprises of various tribal identities, some of which have been recognised and well established in Mozambique and South Africa even back around 1350 all the way through the 1600s to 1900s, namely the Varhonga, Vaxika, Vahlengwe, Van'wanati, Vacopi, Valoyi, and others. On the other hand, the double barrel term "Tsonga-Shangaan" is often applied in a way similar to Sotho and Tswana; Pedi and Lobedu; or Xhosa and Mpondo. Historical research shows that a substantial number of Tsonga tribes have been living together in South Africa during the 1400s to 1700s at a time where the name "Shangaan" had not yet existed. Back during the 1640s-1700s the Tsonga people of South Africa were already integrated and living together established under their own traditional leaderships (such as the kingdoms led by Gulukhulu, Xihlomulo of the Valozyi, Maxakadzi of the Van'wanati, and Ngomani of the Vaxika).
When Soshangane (whom the name "Shangaan" is taken from) and other Ngoni invaders raided Mozambique later during the 1820s, the Tsonga people who were already living prior under Dutch colonialism in South Africa did not form a part of the Ngoni Shangaan empire (and were often hostile to it) and they had already been speaking the Xitsonga language through dialects such as Xin'walungu, Xihlanganu, Xidzonga etc within the Transvaal. Such Tsonga tribes have never been subjects of the Gaza Shangaan empire and have always retained their senior traditional leadership even during the governance of the Apartheid homeland system. The misconception that they were all united by a single leader appears to be false as most of the people who organised the early Tsonga/Tonga groupings would still be integrated within South Africa even if the Mfecane Nguni wars did not happen. In short, the tribal identity of the Tsonga people is not simply reduced to the aftermath of the Mfecane and the name "Tsonga" therefore classifies the entire Xitsonga-speaking communities who share a common heritage within the Xitsonga language, customs, and traditions; whereas "Shangaan" classifies the Ngoni people (Amashangane) who assimilated into those communities between 1815 and 1920 but still largely identify with Nguni customs.
In modern South Africa, the integration of such tribes has led to a social cohesion drive where some of the Tsonga people believe they face an identity crisis as a result of perceived tribalism of the Ndwandwe Shangaan tribe against the original Tsonga tribes.
The Tsonga ethnic group has been united by the gradual assimilation of various nearing tribes found in abundance within Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa respectively. Historical research indicates that the development of a common language (Xitsonga) as well as cultural integration within the Tsonga ethnic group has been occurring ever since the 1200s (over 800 years ago). It is possible that different waring groups sought to establish protection alliances and thus integrated their tribes into a common establishment or to secure trade. Language appears to be the dominant factor in uniting the Tsonga tribes, similarly to the Venda people who are also comprised of various tribes that are united by the Venda language. It is apparent that the Tsonga people have never been united by a single leader but by various tribal kingdoms that fought for dominance over time, who were eventually overcame by internal conflicts as well as the impact of colonial rule. However there is evidence to suggest that the most dominant Tsonga kingdom within South African territory from the 1600s to the late 1900s was the Maluleke Dynasty (Van'wanati), who founded Malamulele (the Rescuer) and further formed the leadership of the Gazankulu territorial authority around the 1960s in what is today the eastern parts of the Limpopo province. The Van'wanati clan according to Henry A. Junod (1912) are also the ones who assimilated the Baloyi and Vanyayi clans who left the Kalanga country and became Tsonga-speaking. The Tsonga people themselves still recognize their respective tribal origins and have also embraced the Tsonga national identity, which unites them linguistically and culturally within South Africa.
Xitsonga-speaking communities after 1890 (through a related dialect or sub dialect):
In total, there were 5, 3 million Tsonga speakers in 2011, divided mainly between South Africa and Mozambique. South Africa was home to 2,3 million Tsonga speakers in the 2011 population census, while Mozambique accounted for 3 million speakers of the language. A small insignificant number of speakers included 15 000 Tsonga speakers in Swaziland and roughly 18 000 speakers in Zimbabwe.
In South Africa, Tsonga people were concentrated in the following municipal areas during the 2011 population census: Greater Giyani Local Municipality (248,000 people), Bushbuckridge Local Municipality (320,000 people), Greater Tzaneen Local Municipality (195,000 people), Ba-Phalaborwa Local Municipality (80,000 people), Makhado Local Municipality (170,000 people), Thulamela Local Municipality (220,000 people), City of Tshwane (280,000 people), City of Johannesburg (290,000 people), and Ekurhuleni (260,000 people). In the following municipalities, Tsonga people are present but they are not large enough or are not significant enough to form a dominant community in their shere of influence, in most cases, they are less than 50,000 people in each municipality. At the same time, they are not small enough to be ignored as they constitute the largest minority language group. They are as follows: Greater Letaba Local Municipality (28,00 people), Mbombela Local Municipality (26,000) people, Nkomazi Local Municipality (28,500) people, Mogalakwena Local Municipality (31,400 people), Madibeng Local Municipality (51,000), Moretele Local Municipality (34,000), and Rustenburg Local Municipality (30,000). The provincial breakdown of Tsonga speakers, according to the 2011 census, are as follows: Limpopo Province (906,000 people, Mpumalanga Province (415,000 people, Gauteng Province (800,000 people and North West Province (110,000 people. Overall, Tsonga speakers constitutes 4.4% of South Africa's total population.
The Tsonga traditional economy is based on mixed agriculture and pastoralism. Cassava is the staple; corn (maize), millet, sorghum, and other crops are also grown. Women do much of the agricultural work,while men and teenage boys take care of domestic animals (a herd of cows, sheep, and goats) although some men grow cash crops. Most Tsongas now depend on wage labour for cash, many migrating to South Africa to find work.
Tsonga men traditionally attend the initiation school for circumcision called Matlala (KaMatlala) or Ngoma (e Ngomeni) after which they are regarded as men. Young teenage girls attend an initiation school that old Vatsonga women lead called Khomba, and initiates are therefore called tikhomba (khomba- singular, tikhomba- plural). Only virgins are allowed to attend this initiation school where they will be taught more about womanhood, how to carry themselves as tikhomba in the community, and they are also readied for marriage.
The Vatsonga people living along the Limpopo River in South Africa have recently gained a significant amount of attention for their low-tech, lo-fi electronic dance music Tsonga Disco, electro, and Tsonga ndzhumbha. Tsonga Disco was pioneered by the likes of General MD Shirinda and Thomas Chauke, while the experimental genres of Tsonga ndzhumbha have been popularized by Joe Shirimani and Benny Mayengani. The more westernized type of sound which includes a lot of English words, sampled vocals and heavy synthesizers is promoted as Shangaan electro in Europe and has been pioneered by the likes of Nozinja, the Tshetsha Boys, and DJ Khwaya. The Tsonga people are also known for a number of traditional dances such as the Makhwaya, Xighubu, Mchongolo and Xibelani dances.
Like most Bantu cultures, the Tsonga people have a strong acknowledgment of their ancestors, who are believed to have a considerable effect on the lives of their descendants. The traditional healers are called n'anga. Legend has it that the first Tsonga diviners of the South African lowveld were a woman called Nkomo We Lwandle (Cow of the Ocean) and a man called Dunga Manzi (Stirring Waters). A powerful water serpent, Nzunzu (Ndhzhundzhu), allegedly captured them and submerged them in deep waters. They did not drown, but lived underwater breathing like fish. Once their kin had slaughtered a cow for Nzunzu, they were released and emerged from the water on their knees as powerful diviners with an assortment of potent herbs for healing. Nkomo We Lwandle and Dunga Manzi became famous healers and trained hundred of women and men as diviners.
Among the Tsongas, symptoms such as persistent pains, infertility and bouts of aggression can be interpreted as signs that an alien spirit has entered a person's body. When this occurs, the individual will consult a n'anga to diagnose the cause of illness. If it has been ascertained that the person has been called by the ancestors to become a n'anga, they will become a client of a senior diviner who will not only heal the sickness, but also invoke the spirits and train them to become diviners themselves. The legend of the water serpent is re-enacted during the diviner's initiation, by ceremoniously submerging the initiates in water from which they emerge as diviners.
The kind of spirits that inhabit a person are identified by the language they speak. There are generally the Ngoni (derived from the word Nguni), the Ndau and the Malopo. The Ndau spirit possesses the descendants of the Gaza soldiers who had slain the Ndau and taken their wives.
Once the spirit has been converted from hostile to benevolent forces, the spirits bestow the powers of divination and healing on the nganga.
The following is a list of notable Tsonga people who have their own Wikipedia articles.