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The Nguni people are a group of Bantu peoples who primarily speak Nguni languages and currently reside predominantly in Southern Africa. The Nguni people are Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swazi people. They predominantly live in South Africa. Swazi people live in both South Africa and Swaziland. While Ndebele people live in both South Africa and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, the historic Nguni kingdoms of the Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swazi lie on the present provinces of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga. The most notable of these kingdoms is the Zulu Kingdom which was ruled by Shaka kaSenzangakhona, a powerful warrior king whose conquest took place in the early nineteenth century.



Most of what is known about ancient Nguni history comes from oral history and legends. Traditionally, they are said to have migrated to Africa's Great Lakes region from the north. According to archeology they migrated from what is now Cameroon.[1] Some groups split off and settled along the way, while others kept going. Thus, the following settlement pattern formed: the southern Ndebele in the north, the Swazi in the north east, the Zulu towards the east and the Xhosa in the south. Owing to the fact that these people had a common origin, their languages and cultures show marked similarities.[citation needed]

After diverging from the Sotho-Tswana and Tsonga, the Nguni eventually met with San hunters, which accounts for their use of "click" languages.[1]

Though in today's history, the Nguni Ndebele are known to have come from the Zulus, this is partially untrue. The Ndebeles (Southern-South Africa based) were the first group to separate from the Nguni nation after they had entered the South African borders and they settled in the Transvaal region from around the year 1500. The remaining Nguni nation moved further south, with those who moved south west ended calling themselves Xhosas, and those who moved south east remained calling themselves Zulus. That was until when Shaka defeated the Ndwandwes,( The Swazis and Ndwandwes were separate groups. Before their defeat by Shaka they lived in the area north of the Umhlathuze river and south of the Pongola. After there defeat they moved to the headwaters of the Mkomati river.Sikunyana, the son of Zwide who lost to Tsaka, made an attempt to return to their old territory, but was defaeted again) who ran away from south east coming back northwards, that led to the formation of the Swazis, and the formation of the Zulus by the clans who remained. Dinizulu was not Shakas grandmother, he was an ancient ancestor from which the Zulus took their name), Shaka then named the new nation by the name ZULU. Also, the Khumalo clan, being led by Mzilikazi,( Mzilikazi was a Khumalo and became one of Shaka's generals. Returning from a raid with his impi, he kept some of the stolen cattle for himself rather than giving it to Shaka. This was punishable by death and Mzilikazi had to flee Zululand with his impi when he was found out.) that ran away from Shaka, coming towards were the weak Manala Ndebeles were in the present day Pretoria. The weakening of the Manala Ndebeles, was as a result of the separation of the Ndebele nation after almost two to three centuries of their settlement in the Transvaal region. The separation led to the majority of the nation to go with Nzunza and the minority with Manala. The Nzunza Ndebele moved north and the Manala Ndebele, who were predominantly composed of women remained in the present day Pretoria. When Mzilikazi arrived, he then killed the Manala ndebele king, king Silamba, who was ruling, and they settled for a while before moving further north. This established them as a new form of Ndebele(Northern Ndebele). This is also evident from the differences in the north and the southern Ndebele.[citation needed]

Many tribes and clans are said to have been forcibly united under Shaka Zulu. Shaka Zulu's political organisation was efficient in integrating "conquered" tribes, partly by the age regiments, where men from different villages bonded with each other.[citation needed]

Many versions in the historiography of Southern Africa state that during the southern African migrations known as Mfecane, the Nguni peoples spread across a large part of southern Africa, absorbing, conquering or displacing many other peoples. However, the notion of the mfecane/difaqane has been disputed by some scholars, notably, Julian Cobbing.[2] The Mfecane was initiated by Zwide and his Ndwandwe's. They attacked the Hlubi and stole their cattle leaving them destitute. The remnants of the Hlubi under their chief Matiwane fled into what is now the Free State and attacked the Batlokwa in The Harrismith Vrede area. This displaced the Batlokwa under Mantatese and she and her people spread death and destruction further into the central interior. Moshoeshoe and his Bakwena sought the protection of Shaka and sent him tribute in return. When Matiwane settled at Mabolela, near present day Clocolan, Moshoeshoe complained to Shaka that this prevented him from sending his tribute whereupon an impi was sent which drove Matiwane from this area. He fled south and was eventually killed in a battle with British troops in what used to be the Transkei. Mantatese and her Batlokwa settled near what is now Ficksburg and was followed by her son, Sekonyela, as chief of the Batlokwa. It was he who had stolen Zulu cattle that Piet Retief in his dealings with Dingane, Tsdaka's successor, had to retrieve. After the defeat of Zwide and his Ndwandwes by Shaka, two of his commanders Shoshangane and Zwengendaba fled with their followers northwards creating havoc as they went. Shoshangane eventually founded the Shangane nation in Mocambique and Zwengendaba moved all the way to what is now Tanzania. Mzilikazi in his flight from Tsaka depopulated the eastern highveld and Norther Free State, killing the men and capturing the women to form his Matabele nation. Initially, he settled near what is now Pretoria, then moved to Mosega, near present day Zeerust, but after his defeat by the Voortrekkers he moved to Zimbabwe where he founded his capital Bulawayo.[3]

Social organizationEdit

Within the Nguni nations, the clan, based on male ancestry, formed the highest social unit. Each clan was led by a chieftain. Influential men tried to achieve independence by creating their own clan. The power of a chieftain often depended on how well he could hold his clan together. From about 1800, the rise of the Zulu clan of the Nguni and the consequent mfecane that accompanied the expansion of the Zulus under Shaka, helped to drive a process of alliance between and consolidation among many of the smaller clans.

For example, the kingdom of Swaziland was formed in the early nineteenth century by different Nguni groups allying with the Dlamini clan against the threat of external attack. Today, the kingdom encompasses many different clans who speak a Nguni language called Swati and are loyal to the king of Swaziland, who is also the head of the Dlamini clan.

"Dlamini" is a very common clan name among all documented Nguni languages (including Swati and Phuthi), associated with AbaMbo cultural identity.


Ngunis may be Christians (whether Catholics or Protestants), practitioners of African traditional religions or members of forms of Christianity modified with traditional African values (such as the Shembe Church of Nazarites).

Constituent peoplesEdit

The following peoples are Nguni:

People Language Population Distribution
Swazi Swazi 2,258,000 Swaziland, but also in South Africa around the Swazi border. Their homeland was KaNgwane.
Phuthi Phuthi 49,000 Near the Lesotho-South Africa border in the Transkei region.
Lala Lala Kranskop, Harding, KwaZulu-Natal, INanda, UMngeni Reserve,
Bhaca Bhaca Northeastern part of the Eastern Cape
Northern (Transvaal) Ndebele Sumayela Ndebele Primarily in Mokopane, but also in Hammanskraal and around Polokwane
Hlubi Hlubi KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and North West provinces, with an original settlement on the Buffalo River
Zulu Zulu 10,964,000 Originally Zululand, but Blacks now identify themselves as Zulus all over Natal and as a minority in Eastern Transvaal and Gauteng. Their homeland was KwaZulu.
Xhosa Xhosa 8,478,000 Their homelands were the Ciskei and the Transkei.
Thembu[n 1] Xhosa 750,000 Thembuland. Their homeland was in the Transkei (they are often considered a Xhosa sub-group)
Pondo[n 1] Xhosa Pondoland. Their homeland was in the Transkei (they are often considered a Xhosa sub-group)
Southern Ndebele Southern Ndebele 659,000 Central Transvaal
        Zunda 2nd generation[n 2]
Northern Ndebele (Matabele) Northern Ndebele 1,599,000 Matabeleland Zimbabwe
Ngoni They do not have a language of their own but speak Tumbuka, Chewa, or Zulu. 2,044,000 Malawi Zambia
Total Nguni languages 26,801,000


  1. ^ a b They are often amalgamated with the Xhosas since their language is Xhosa as well.
  2. ^ Original Zunda-speaking groups joined by fleeing populations after and during the Mfecane.

Ngoni people by ethnicity are found in Malawi (under paramount Chief Mbelwa and Maseko Paramouncy), Zambia (under paramount chief Mpezeni), Mozambique and Tanzania. In Malawi and Zambia, they speak a mixture of languages of the people they conquered such as Chewa, Nsenga and Tumbuka.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b ALFRED: The ALlele FREquency Database
  2. ^ "The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo" (PDF). The Journal of African History, Volume 29, Issue 3, Cambridge University Press. 1988. Retrieved 2015-09-16. 
  3. ^ Bryant: Olden Times in Zululand and Natal. Ritter: Shaka Zulu