top of page
Featured Posts

The Tsonga People

The Tsonga people in South Africa live predominantly in the north eastern parts of the country: below the Mozambique/South Africa border in Northern KwaZulu Natal; Mumalanga Province and Limpopo Province. The Tsonga also reside in Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The Tsonga group consists of the Shangaan, Tonga, Thonga and sometimes Tsa and Ronga people of Mozambique and other languages and dialects, even though some of the individual languages are quite different.

Prior to the period of wars and expansionist campaigns of King Shaka of the Zulu's in the 1800's, the Tsonga lived peacefully along the north eastern shores of South Africa. Fishing, raising crops and living in harmony with nature. The tradition of using fish traps is still practised today and can be seen in the lakes along the coast line. not only were the Zulu making trouble, the Europeans were arriving, and the Boers were moving around the country as well.

With the ensuing chaos the Tsonga were forced to flee from their idyllic life in order to escape the power of the Zulu empire. They dispersed into Limpopo, Mpumalanga and other nearby areas. In the apartheid years they lived in Gazankulu, a 'homeland' (a 'homeland' was an area designated for Africans under the Apartheid government) west of Kruger National Park. Gazankulu is now part of Limpopo Province. The Tsonga are about 5 million strong today and over 6 million speak the Tsonga langauge across the borders.

A traditional Tsonga village or homestead is a collection of round huts with conical grass thatched roofs. The homsestead is surrounded by crop fields and grazing land. Men are dominant in Tsonga culture and have many wives and many children. The woman and children are responsible for keeping the fields and providing food. The men are in charge of social, family and community matters. The woman also have an important role of passing on stories and legends to the children.

Tsonga religion

Like most African cultures, the Tsonga believe in communicating with their ancestors, some of the new generation have converted to Christianity. The traditional ancestral belief involves pleasing the spirits. As the spirits bring good crop yields and in general a peaceful existence. There is also a tradition of scarring, which is thought to be started as a deterrent to Arab slave traders in previous centuries, but is now seen as an essential tradition.

Swiss efficiency: Swiss create the Tsonga language in 1857

Tsonga people speak Tsonga, originating from the Bantu language group. A very interesting fact though is that the Tsonga spoken today was developed by combining all of the similar sounding dialects and languages of the diverse Tsonga group. This was achieved by Swiss missionaries Paul Berthoud and Reverent Ernest Creux officialy in 1857 at the Valdezia/Watervall/Elim Mission Stations in the Gazankulu, Limpopo Province. (At that time it was not a homeland)

Obviously this was done to enable an efficient way of spreading the Gospel in this part of Africa. Some of the smaller languages were lost in the process and not all of the languages they combined were related, but today it is the Spoken by about 6 million people.

A recent study being conducted by the Swiss Network for International Studies is researching the history of Swiss Mission Hospitals and Rural Health Delivery in Africa to get a better understanding of sustainable health development strategies for developing countries.

The entrepreneurial Tsonga

As early as 1550's the Tsonga had started to move from the east coast into the interior of South Africa establishing trade routes and setting up 'trade stations' in Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces. They traded fabric, beads, guns, soap, shoes and maize with the Venda and Pedi's. These goods they obtained from the Portuguese trader Lorenco Marques, who had arrived on the east coast. They traded for iron goods and ivory. The Venda were good lock smiths. They also introdced maize to the area, as the Venda and Pedi ate sorgham previously. The maize came from the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1497 who had recently discovered it in South America.

As time passed and trade increased, the Tsonga needed 'trade-stations'. Trade-stations were a form of protection as the traders were often robbed of their goods. The trade-stations were staffed with armed Tsonga men who safe guarded the traders and their goods. These eventually developed into small settlements. Some of the armed guards and traders never returned to the coast and stayed in the Venda and Pedi villages.

Mass exodus into Mpumalanga and Limpopo

In the 1820's the Tsonga were forced to flea the coast under pressure from King Shoshanganeof the Gazankulu Empire, which stretched over Southern Mozambique and parts of Mpumalanga. The Tsonga had known the Limpopo and Mpumalanga areas and its peoples for over 250 years already, because of their trade relationships, and so they moved into the interior in their thousands, thereby unintentionally or internally colonising Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

Today, the town of Waterval, is the exact area of an almost 500 year old Tsonga trading station.

The Tsonga Finger

This is a piece of land that under Apartheid was considered a white area. The government tried unsuccessfully to remove the Tsonga from this area. Eventually they gave up their efforts to move the Tsonga, and the Tsonga Finger was annexed to the Gazankulu homeland area.

The Tsonga is a not so well known tribe in South Africa, most visitors to South Africa here about and talk of the Xhosa or the Zulu's. It seems the Tsonga may have had a far greater influence in the development of South Africa prior to this land receiving that name. The Tsonga definitely lived in an absolutely beautiful part of South Africa. An area of sub-tropical and coastal sand forests, vast wetland systems- full of hippopotamus and crocodiles - iSimangeliso Wetland National Park and St Lucia town where the wildlife walk the streets at night! The marine life is also a big attraction with turtles laying eggs and the beaches and the hatchlings racing into the ocean thereafter. The largest tuskers (elephants with big tusks) in Africa are now also found in this part of South Africa. Hluhluwe - iMfolozi Game Reserve is also found in this area and has the Big 5. This Northern part of KwaZulu Natal is also known as Maputaland, The Elephant Coast and Tsonga Land in the North, further South is the North Coast / Dolphin Coast and Durban City and Umhlanga Rocks

This entire areas makes for a fantastic African wildlife and marine life destination, with excellent lodges and hotels to overnight at. all attractions are close by and accessible by road or fly-in.

Visit to find out about visiting Tsongaland and the Elephant Coast in South Africa for a sub tropical wildlife adventure.

#Tracing the Tsonga

#Tsonga Fish Trap Tours

#Tours to Tsongaland

#Turtles on Thonga Beach

#Thonga Beach Lodge

#Dive Thonga Beach

#Swiss and the Tsonga Language

Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • Pinterest Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon
bottom of page