Tribes Of South Africa: Meet The Ndebele People

South Africa is a country with one of the richest cultures in Africa and this earned it the name, “rainbow nation,” as christened by the South-African cleric, Desmond Tutu. Let’s take a walk through time into the journey of one of its many tribes, the Ndebele people.

The Origin and Culture of The Ndebele

Comprising over 700,000 people, the Ndebele are grouped in three: Northern, Southern, and the Ndebele of Zimbabwe.

Ndebele women in South Africa!
Ndebele women in South Africa.

Four centuries ago,  Chief Muzi, a ruler migrated from present-day KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng, and Ndebele came to be. To date, the Ndebele live primarily within the Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa.

A typical family setting, called the Umuzi, usually comprises the head of the family (Umnumzana), his wife, and his children.

With time, the children grow and establish their own Umuzi within the community, and the cycle continues.

What Fashion Means To The Ndebele


You will always find the best cultural expressions in fashion and art, and the Ndebele is no exception!

A remarkable one is the colourful and intrinsic geometric patterns that the Ndebele women paint on the exterior of their houses.  This skill, only done by hand,  is passed from mother to daughter and generations after.

Likewise, these colourful patterns are a popular fashion trend among women. After marriage, the Ndebele woman will adorn herself with more vibrantly-coloured clothing and accessories as this introduces her growing status within the community as well as represents fidelity. Thus, expect to see numerous brass rings (called idzila) around their arms, legs, and neck. 


The Ndebele’s prominent and artistic designs have gone on to influence designers around the world. French footwear designer, Christian Louboutin, designed a pair of stilettos inspired by motifs from Ndebele culture. Esther Mahlangu, a Ndebele artist recognized internationally, has had her work commissioned by South African Airways and BMV. In 1991, she painted a BMW 525i in the traditional style of Ndebele mural work.

Take a peek into the typical life of Ndebele people in this video: 

When next you are planning your vacation to South Africa, you shouldn’t miss cultural experiences such as this one!

Also Read: 8 Beautiful Words You Will Love From The Swahili Language 

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