The Shangaan (Vatsonga or Vitsonga) are a large group of people living mainly in southern Mozambique in Maputo and in Gaza Province; there is also a large Shangaan grouping in Limpopo Province in South Africa. In South Africa the Shangaan are often called the Tsonga.


The Shangaan speak Tsonga, and European languages Portuguese, Afrikaans, and English. Shangaan are mostly Christians, divided into Catholics or Protestants in both Mozambique and South Africa generally, though some are in the Gaza Province and some in Mozambique.


The Shangaans once ruled the Gaza Empire, created by Soshangane, whose capital was based in Mossurize on the present-day border with Zimbabwe. The Gaza Empire comprised parts of what is now south-eastern Zimbabwe, as well as extending from the Save River down to the southern part of Mozambique, covering parts of the current provinces of Sofala, Manica, Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo in Mozambique; and parts South Africa. Soshangaane moved the capital from Mossurize to Gaza Province. After his death, his son, Muzila came into power and after Muzila came Ngungunhane, who was imprisoned by the Portuguese in Mandlakazi (now Gaza Province) in 1895.

Popular culture

This history was adapted by John Buchan in his 1910 novel about an African uprising, Prester John.

The term "shangaan" is not indigenous to those to whom it is referred today. The original "Shangaans" took their name from the Zulu warrior Soshangane. Initially, the Shangaans, all Zulus, conquered the Tsonga people as they moved northward. Soshangane at his zenith established a large empire known as the Gaza empire which stretched from as far north as the Chipinge area in modern day Zimbabwe, southward to modern day Gaza province in Mozambique. With time, the Tsonga subjects became known as "mashangane" or "machangane". With the arrival or the Europeans, and more so with the initiative to divide the various bantu ethic groups during Apartheid, the Tsonga were referred to primarily as Shangaan. The Tsonga themselves did not object to this as the Tsonga people were not a homogenous ethic group and hence did not have a word in their language to designate either themselves or their language. The term "Tsonga" to designate the Tsonga people is a more recent phenomenon and has gained much wider acceptance among the people


  • Junod, Henri Alexandre. (1927). The Life of a South African Tribe. London (second edition).

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