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isiNdebele

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ISINDEBELE

MRS NJ MALELE

The amaNdebele are found in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Before the new dispensation, the amaNdebele in South Africa were known as the “Transvaal Ndebele”. The name “Transvaal Ndebele” was initially used by Van Warmelo in the 1930s to distinguish the Ndebele living in the then Transvaal from the Zimbabwean Ndebele. The Transvaal Ndebele included the Northern Ndebele, who are concentrated in Limpopo, and the Southern Ndebele, who are concentrated in Mpumalanga and are loosely scattered in Gauteng.

According to Van Warmelo (1930:7), the Transvaal Ndebele arrived in the former Transvaal long before the incursion of those under Mzilikazi, who originated from KwaZulu-Natal. According to Fourie (1921) and Van Warmelo (1930), the Transvaal Ndebele originated from the main Nguni group. The Northern Ndebele are classified by Ziervogel (1969:13) under the Tekela sub-group, whilst the Southern Ndebele are classified under the Zunda sub-group. However, according to Statistics South Africa (2012), no distinction is made between the two Ndebele groups. Linguistically, Southern isiNdebele is classified as a Zunda sub-group of the Nguni language. The Southern Ndebele people now comprise two clans, namely the Manala and Nzunza. The Manala is the senior clan according to Van Vuuren (1983:130) and Hambrock (1981:5). The two clans maintain their traditions, language and culture; they speak the Southern isiNdebele of the Republic of South Africa.

While the Ndebele trace their origins to KwaZulu-Natal, according to the 2009 census approximately 1 090 223 people now speak isiNdebele in all nine provinces of South Africa. Approximately 37% of the amaNdebele are found in Mpumalanga and only 3% are found in Gauteng.

On 1 January 1985, Southern isiNdebele became an official language of tuition in all primary schools in Mpumalanga (Taljaard, 1993:229). Southern isiNdebele, being the youngest developed language, was never developed into a written form by the early missionaries for teaching, learning and for spreading the gospel, as was done with Setswana, Sesotho sa Leboa, isiXhosa and isiZulu. The assumption by some scholars and speech community members that the history of the Southern Ndebele was not truly recorded has still to be investigated.

Today, isiNdebele is taught in many schools in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng and the language is offered at three universities: the University of Pretoria since 1997, the University of Venda since 2011 (Southern isiNdebele), and the University of South Africa since 2014. A translation of the Bible into Southern isiNdebele was completed and launched in both print and digital form in November 2012.