A person’s culture is an integral part of the fabric of their being, shaping many facets of their lives and informing their understanding of the world. South Africa is home to a wide array of vibrant, rich cultures, each with their own deep history. Perhaps one of the most outstanding things about South African culture is that it is not one single culture, but rather a range of different cultures representing every level of a very stratified community.
South Africa is the Rainbow Nation! This title captures our country’s cultural and ethnic diversity. The population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world. Of the 51.7 million South Africans, over 41 million are black, 4.5 million are white, 4.6 million are coloured, and about 1.3 million Indian or Asian. About 51.3% are female, and 48.7% male.
There are eleven official languages in South Africa. These are English (9.6%), Afrikaans (13.5%), Ndebele (2.1%), Sepedi (9.1%), Xhosa (16%), Venda (2.4%), Tswana (8%), Southern Sotho (7.6%), Zulu 22.7%), Swazi or SiSwati (2.5%) and Tsonga (4.5%). Much of the country’s media has been tailored to include as many of these languages as possible. Of course, many other languages from all over the world are spoken here too, including Portuguese, Greek, Italian, French, Chinese, and so on.
Culture and tradition are profound parts of our lives. They allow us to come together to mark life’s milestones and celebrate our heritage. For many, they provide a sense of home, of history and identity. Culture and tradition belong to everyone. Each of us gets to interpret, adapt and practice the beliefs, customs and rituals that are meaningful to us as individuals. These are basic cultural rights – guaranteed to everyone without discrimination.
We asked a few people to tell us what they loved about their culture, and here are some of the responses we received:
Growing up in South Africa is a kaleidoscope of cultures, being an Indian South African I get the best of both. My culture is filled with colour, music, dancing and incredibly tasty food. The vast range of spices not only add flavour but are aromatic. Our traditional attire is beautiful, sewn from raw silk and worn by many Indian women. My culture is family orientated and many celebrations begin at home and spread to neighbours and other loved ones. Diwali is one of the most celebrated Hindu festivals with over a million Hindus across the globe celebrating with fireworks and feasting on our traditional sweetmeats/desserts.
It’s been incredibly difficult to define the aspects of Coloured Culture when it appears to be non-existent. We are a combination of ethnicities, who have adopted Eastern and Western
Cultures. However, we’ve added our own distinct flavour to these beliefs.
We are often identified with bad stereotypes of what “Coloured Culture” is. But my definition is its people. We have a sense of duty, always working hard. Our family and traditions are very important to us. Food, like koeksisters, can warm up one’s soul on a Sunday morning. We are often unrecognised, but we continue to strive, we continue to fight.
I love my culture because we are unidentifiable, therefore we can be whoever we choose to be. We are raised hard and we continue to conquer.
Respondent 1: What I love most about being Zulu is how my people have managed to preserve traditions, artefacts, clothing, dances, ways of living, being and connecting with God. I love how strong and connected Zulu people are as a nation; a nation that is connected by a simple, yet powerful thing called language.
When you meet other Zulu people in a group, wherever you are, you will automatically bond with them because you share deep meanings in language and traditions! I love how Zulu people are raising the bar, winning awards and walking with stars in Hollywood. There’s so much I love about my Zulu culture.
Respondent 2: The thing that makes my culture extra special is our traditional clothing. The beautiful, colourful patched up suits made from denim or khakis and the crowns made from cow skin are a good example of clothing that is only used in the Zulu culture, and that makes us even more proud of our people’s creativity.
Growing up in South Africa, and being privy to so many cultures, has always been great for me, and still is as an adult. But nothing was more awesome for me than how I grew up, having a heritage that was split between Portuguese and German, was a bit strange at first. That was until I realised how similar they were: from having massive family gatherings, to having specific dishes that were created (Portuguese Trinchado with brandy was my favourite and has become a specialty dish I now make) really was great for me. Their love of sports across the board was shared between both cultures, and the passion they had for their homeland on both sides was an incredible thing to grow up with.
Taking traditions to a new level and making sure that family was the most important thing for us on both sides of the German Portuguese wall, was the best.
My culture is centred on celebrating with family and close friends. We love music, the outdoors, festivals, and we also love sharing food with others. Our “traditional” go-to foods are braai vleis, boerewors and biltong, and there is never a bad day for a braai, even in the pouring rain.
You’ll usually be able to spot an Afrikaans person from miles away, because of our incredible fashion sense! Since many of us grew up either farming or being close to farms, khaki shirts, shorts and plakkies were the most comfortable things to wear in the summer. And the “uniform” kind of stuck with our people.
I love being part of a community that supports and loves everyone.