Cultural Overview of South Africa


With a dynamic fusion of African, European and Asian influences, on South African holidays you will have a unique experience of culture, food, language, music, art and theatre. With a population of over 45 million, South Africa is shaping a nation from 11 official languages and colourful heritage.

South African Diversity

Although South Africans treasure their varied and diverse cultural heritages, post-apartheid South Africa doesn't focus on them too much. Indigenous Africans fall roughly into two broad groups - those of Khoi-San descent, and those of Bantu descent.

The Khoi-San people lived all over Southern Africa prior to the arrival of the first European settlers in 1652, either as hunter-gatherers or as pastoralists. Today, many people of Khoi-San descent live in the cities and have become totally integrated with urban South African life, but a few still live out in the desert regions and have preserved their language and culture.

The Bantu-speaking peoples can also be divided into two broad groups - Nguni speaking people, and speakers of other African languages. The isiZulu and isiXhosa speaking peoples are of the Nguni group, originate mostly from the coastal areas KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, now popular destinations for South African holidays.

Most of the speakers of other languages, such as seSotho, seTswana, seTsonga and tshiVenda, live in the interior of the country. Of course, these divisions are historical and you will find that the differences between people tend to blur - especially in cities where people speak a number of languages.

The rest of the population's roots are in the waves of immigration over the past 400 years. The largest group is of European origin. Some of the older families are descended from the early British, Dutch, German or French settlers. And many South Africans of Portuguese origins may have originally settled in Mozambique or Angola generations ago and only recently moved down to South Africa.

The Jewish community came largely from eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Other immigrant  populations include the many people of Asian descent. Of these the major groups are the Cape Malays (who are actually of Javan descent, but what's in a name?), the many Indians who have settled mostly around Durban and a large Chinese population. The Javanese/Malays were brought out as slaves to the Cape. While the Indians were brought out as indentured labourers to work on the sugar plantations of KwaZulu Natal. Others came out to South Africa as traders.

So, the best way to appreciate the cultural diversity on South African holidays is to arrive without too many preconceptions, as South Africa is very likely to surprise you. All South Africas no matter what their ethnic backgrounds share aspects of each other's cultures and use phrases and words from each other's languages.

South African Religions

South Africans are proud to say that their constitution enshrines freedom of religion and there are adherents of many different faiths in the country. Not surprisingly, many of the citizens follow one of the world's major religions - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

South Africa also has adherents of smaller faiths, such as Bahai, Rastafarianism and others. The concrete evidence of these religions is to be found in the many beautiful places of worship. Lovely old stone cathedrals, beautiful temples, attractive synagogues and magnificently decorated mosques attest to the celebration of religious diversity.

And, of course, South Africa does have some indigenous religions. The Zionist Christian Church, usually called the ZCC, has its headquarters in Moria in Limpopo province. Combining elements of traditional African beliefs with Christian values, this church is the biggest in South Africa.

Very similar, but confined to KwaZulu-Natal, the Shembe Church is also an eclectic mix of Christian beliefs and traditional Zulu rituals. Combining charismatic Christian beliefs is the home-grown Rhema Church, which is based in Johannesburg, draws its many adherents mostly from the affluent northern suburbs of that city.

Languages Spoken in South Africa

South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, North Sotho, South Sotho, seSwati, seTsonga, seTswana, tshiVenda, isiXhosa and isiZulu. However, English is the lingua franca that dominates politics, business and the media, so  Englishspeaking clients will have no trouble being understood.

Other languages, which are widely spoken by South African citizens, but are not official, include Arabic, German, Greek, Gujerati, Hebrew, Hindi and Portuguese. The Nama and Khoi-San people speak languages that are not widely recognised outside their own communities.

South African Heritage

The diverse heritage has endowed South African holidays with a very interesting material culture. The cuisine celebrates influences from three continents and the wine inherited the best traditions from the Old World while imbuing it with the freshness of New World influences. 

The languages are colourful and borrow freely from each other in both vocabulary and sentence structure. The art and music displays a wild blend of the classical with the innovative, of the tried and tested with the environment is treasured as jealously as they guard their precious natural resources.

South African Unity

South Africa is a multi-cultural nation. They speak more than eleven different languages, eat a range of different foods and worship in widely differing ways. South Africans dress differently, do business in different ways and spend their leisure time differently. 

They read different newspapers, watch different TV programmes and tune their car radios to different stations. But they are one nation and, despite their differences, South Africans continue to develop as a unified people. And they are doing this by living the principles of what is called Ubuntu.


The crux of the concept of Ubuntu is that as people our destinies are related: I am human through my acknowledgement of another person's humanity. It is the belief that we are human only because we interact with other people.

If we ignore the rest of humanity and try to live in a vacuum, we would be less than human. It is the mind-set that has sustained South Africans through their turbulent history. Today, South Africa is a society striving for a better life for all. And it is in that spirit that we invite you to come on South African holidays. And when you leave, you can take a little of the magic with you.

South Africa Culture and Customs

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Religious Sites and Shrines in South Africa

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