Who Are the Ndebele People?

Who Are the Ndebele People?

The Ndebele people are one of the inhabitants of South Africa who live in the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. They are comprised of three different groups: the Southern Transvaal Ndebele, known now as the Gauteng and Mpumalanga people; the Northern Transvaal Ndebele, known now as the Limpopo Province around the towns of Mokopane, Potgietersrus, and Polokwane, Pietersburg; and as the Ndebele of Zimbabwe, as named the Matabele by the British.

While being part of the Northern Province, the Ndebele people of the Northern Province borrowed many of the customs that the Bagalanga and BagaSalenka groups practiced, based off of the traditions practiced by the Sotho people. The southern Ndebele people speak a form of language related to isiNdebele.

The Ndebele people follow a highly patriarchal form of society. Chieftains often practice polygamy, while their wives are subject to ukuhlonipha, which means they must show respect not only to their parents-in-law, but toward all men generally.

Rites of passage amongst the Ndebele people include Ukuwela, in which knowledge of lore and history is passed down to boys in particular, and isikhethu, which is the girls' rite of passage, which occurs at puberty and is pronounced by extravagant clothing, emphasized by beaded and decorative clothes.

The beginnings and history of the Ndebele people are traced back to their first chief, known as Mafana. His son, Mhlanga, had a son named Musi, who inhabited the plains of Gauteng near Pretoria in the early 1600s.