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Mother Tongue – the 11 official languages of SA – Part 2

mother tongue languagesApart from English, sign language is the other international language recognized as an official means of communication in South Africa.

In part 1 of this series we focussed on the languages you are likely to come across during your stay at self-catering accommodation in Cape Town. This time, we’re travelling further afield to discover what the rest of the country has to say.


You will come across the Tswana people if you travel to the North West province. Although Setswana is the native tongue of the Botswana tribe, it is very like the other Sotho languages and widely understood in the Northern Cape, Gauteng and Free State.

Key phrases in Tswana include’’dumela’ which means ‘hello’ and ‘’le kae’’ for ‘’how are you?’”.

Northern Sotho

This language is also known as Sesotho sa Leboa and comprises about 30 different dialects. Tswana and Southern Sotho are among these. If you come across a native northern Sotho speaker in Limpopo, Gauteng or Mpumalanga, you can greet them with “Thobela” which is pronounced ‘Tawbella’ and means hello.


Although Venda has many similarities with Northern Sotho and the Nguni languages, Tshivenda speakers have more cultural ties with the Shona tribes of Zimbabwe. You will mainly come across this language in the Limpopo province and sometimes in Gauteng.

When greeting, men say ‘Ndaa’ and ladies say ‘’Aa’.


Most of South Africa’s Ndebele speakers live in Mpumalanga although the tribe originally hails from KwaZulu Natal. Only 2% of South Africa’s population speak Ndebele but they are one of the best-known tribes – famous worldwide for their colourful beadwork and painted huts.

“Salibonani” means ‘’hello’ in Venda and you can wish your new acquaintance a good day by saying – “Ube lelanga elihle”.


One of the last people to put down roots in South Africa, the Tsonga people are mainly settled in the Limpopo River Valley. A few Tsonga speakers are found in Mpumalanga and Gauteng as well. The language is very similar to Shangaan which is widely spoken in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

If you do come across a Tsonga-speaker while on a safari in Mpumalanga, you can say ‘Avuxeni’, Ku njhani?’ which means ‘Hello, how are you?’.


Another one of Mpumalanga’s local lingos is siSwati, which is only spoken by 3% of the South African population. It is the native tongue of people hailing from the Kingdom of Swaziland, which is a small country close to the Kruger National Park.

This language is very similar to isiZulu and the greeting, ‘Sawubona’’ is the same.

Explore the Diversity of South Africa

During your travels around South Africa you could also come across dialects like Hindi, Portuguese and the language of the Khoi, San and Nama people.

Get in touch with us to book your self-catering accommodation in Cape Town and start exploring the Rainbow Nation with a spattering of mother tongue phrases to try out on the locals.

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