African Ethnic Groups: The Ndebeles Of Southern Africa


The Ndebeles are an ethnic group in southern Africa that are particularly popular for their artwork.

They are also known as the Amandebele, Matabele, Ndzundza Ndebele and so on.

The Ndebeles can be categorized into three main groups; the Southern Transvaal Ndebele (now Gauteng and Mpumalanga), The Northern Transvaal Ndebele (now Limpopo Province), and the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, who were called the Matabele by the British colonials.

There are many legends regarding the origin of the Ndebeles of southern Africa. They are part of a larger ethnic group called the Nguni in southern Africa and speak the isiNdebele language.

The Transvaal and Zimbabwean groups, however,  speak slightly different languages due to being separated geographically and adopting similar languages to their new neighbors.

For example, Zimbabwean Ndebeles would refer to the month of July as uNtulikazi while their Transvaal (South African) counterparts refer to it as uVelabahlinze.

SEE ALSO: 10 Famous South African Tribes

Republic of South African Ndebeles

The Ndebeles in South Africa can be categorized as the Southern Transvaal and the Northern Transvaal. These groups like all Ndebeles originated from the Ngunis. They are Bantu-speaking and live primarily in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.

They trace their history to King Musi, a descendant of King Ndebele who made the son (Ndzundza) of his second wife King while he was still alive instead of giving it to the first son(Manala) from the Great wife.

Zimbabwean Ndebeles

king lobengula of ndebele

The Ndebeles of Zimbabwe primary live in the western region of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. It is believed that this group was formed when an Nguni military commander, Mzilikazi had contentions with Shaka, King of Zulu.

The result of the conflicts saw him flee to present-day Lesotho and ultimately settling in Matabeleland– what the British called present-day Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean Ndebeles were ruled by Mzilikazi and then by his son, the popular King Lobengula.

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Art Work

ndebele house painting

The Ndebeles are popular for their house paintings which are precise and perfectly done. This form of artwork is said to have begun in the aftermath of the Boer war, which saw the Dutch-speaking settlers win.

They were forced into oppression and slavery and learned to use the painting as  a way to communicate with each other. Differentent painting patterns, as well as colors, are said to have varied meanings.

The Boers saw it as a decorative art instead of a secret way of communicating and therefore allowed it to foster. These paintings were primarily carried out by women and passed on to their daughters.

They are also known for making sculpted figurines, pottery, beadwork, woven mat, and so on.

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Did You Know?

ndebele esther

Esther Mahlangu an Ndebele was commissioned to paint her designs on BMW’s and South African Airways’ jets.