African Cultures By Young Africans: Tsonga Ethnic Group


The Tsonga Ethnic Group – “Royalty of the East”

By @FanaThePurp

VaTsonga are a coastal people that Inhabits South-East Africa,spread out in Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. There are over 12 million Tsonga speakers in the world of all Xitsonga variants; majority is in Mozambique, then followed by South Africa.

Tsonga means East, it is the Southern pronunciation of the word Rhonga, which means East. The Tsonga people are also known as Tonga or Thonga. The Tsonga ethnic group is a combination of various groups of different origins such asMbai, Karanga (Rozwi, Ndau etc.) and Nguni and Sotho (Arrived eVutsonga around the 1800s). These groups came to eVutsonga for different reasons; Vutsonga was set up different to their Kingdoms and surrounding Kingdoms. Vutsonga was an economic hub and was less hostile, and international with Persia and Asia was booming. New Chiefdoms and Kingdoms were established, but these identities were formed on cultural assimilation and not conquest or war. Language linked the people of the East, cultural customs separated them from people on the other side of Save, the people of BuKaranga, and the Ngoni on the South.

Xitsonga is part of the Tswa-Ronga/Tshwa-Rhonga language family.

The Tsonga ethnic group is made of the following tribes and language groups:

  • VaHlengwe
  • VaN’wanati
  • VaNdau
  • VaRhonga
  • VaNhlave
  • VaKhosa
  • VaLenge
  • VaHlanganu
  • VaDzonga
  • VaXika
  • Valoyi
  • VaBila
  • Machangani

Linguistically, Xitsonga has the following main variants:

  • Xitshwa
  • Xihlengwe
  • Xikhambani
  • Xirhonga
  • Xihlanganu
  • Xidzonga
  • Xibila
  • Xin’walungu
  • Xiluleke
  • Xihlave
  • Xilenge
  • Gitonga

Tsonga people did not have a single political entity. Different Tsonga tribes had their own political power. Places or areas were named after the geographic direction or the people who inhabitant the land. Varhonga are the most easterners, inhabitant by the Tembe in Northern KZN and Maputo, in the coast. Then you had eHlengweni, the land of wealth and the land of the Hlengwe tribe. The Vahlanganu are the rainbow nation of the Tsonga people, they are made up of different Tsonga groups, hlangani means mixture. And some areas were named after its soil type, such as Bileni, which is a dark rich soil.
The Tsonga people don’t have a King. Mutsongaahiwarimhondzo, Tsonga is not a lineage. But various Tsonga tribes have Kings, Chiefs natindhuna who rule their respective people.

Unlike in Mozambique,VaTsongava South Africa use their ethnic identity instead of their tribal identities like in Mozambique. This is because in South Africa, the Tsonga people are a minority and are made out to be foreigners and reduced to animals on land they inhabitant long before majority of Bantu groups in present day South Africa. The major ethnic group in South Africa is the Nguni, then followed by the Sotho and Tsonga is third. The economic and political segregation of the Tsonga people forced Tsonga tribes to come together in solidarity for survival. The Tsonga tribes in South Africa stood as an ethnic group while the other ethnic group stood as individual tribes, as it is to this day.

But the creation of Gazankulu reduced the Tsonga ethnic group to a tribe, feeding into the Shangaan agenda to Shangaanize the Tsonga ethnic group to revive its Kingdom. The South African government used the Shangaan against the Tsonga people to divide them. Pop culture popularized the word Shangaan to mean Tsonga. The mines used Shangaan to refer to VaTsonga and Gazankulu officiated Shangaan to Tsonga.

And that’s how Tsonga became Shangaan.

Shangaan is Tsonga, but Tsonga is not Shangaan.

The Tsonga has survived over a thousand years, this is due to the very nature of the Tsonga identity; it is not about conquering people. It is about culture, heritage, language and wealth as means of unity, and not as reasons for war.

Ancient Facts about VaTsonga:

  • International traders/Merchants
  • Advance Farmers
  • Artisans
  • Fishing (First people in Southern African to fish)
  • Organized Labor & Mining
  • First Bantu group to interact with the Portuguese and the first people to defeat a European army in an arms war in Southern Africa.

Popular Tsonga Surnames:

Cawuke, Mavasa, Maluleke, Khosa, Baloyi, Ndlhovhu, Nkuna, Mathevula, Ngoveni  etc..

The Tsonga people are also known for the high tempo, known as Tsonga Electro and traditional, with legendary artists such as Dr. Thomas Chauke, Paul Ndlovu, Peta Tenet and Penny Penny. The Tsonga people have produced a number of prominent political leaders in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa such as SamoraMachel, and Eduardo Mondlaneetc… Including the legendary JomoSono and Irvin Khoza, and notorious Collins Chauke.


For more on Tsonga people go to

Published by Afrikan Princess

I am an avid traveler with a background in copywriting, social media management, art exhibition and music festival curation. I am a huge bookworm who not only enjoys getting lost in books, but I also enjoy writing on topics such as travel, art and fashion. I am interested in working in any projects relating to copywriting for small businesses, fiction writing, curating exhibitions for visual artists in Africa. I am also keen to work with small businesses in developing their social media strategies. Africa is my first love and I am currently having a great time exploring her.

2 thoughts on “African Cultures By Young Africans: Tsonga Ethnic Group

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: