Exploring South African Cultures

South Africa includes many ethnic groups, each proud of its language, traditions, and religious beliefs. It is approximately twice the size of the state of Texas, and its landscape primarily savannah and semidesert. Diversity among plants and wildlife contributes to the country’s natural beauty.

Eighty percent of South Africa’s population is comprised of black Africans, mostly from nine ethnic groups. The Zulus are the largest, followed by the Xhosas. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first post-apartheid president, was a firm believer in the Bantu word ubuntu, which can be defined as “humanity,” and derives from the Zulu phrase Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, literally meaning “A person is a person through other people.”

Host a South African student in the U.S.

People and Community

South Africa Kids

South African families are generally affectionate, protective, and expressive. Politeness is an important aspect of South African culture. Religion plays a significant role in most South African families and attendance at some form of religious gathering is very common on a weekly basis. South African families tend to be small and close-knit, though some may live with extended family members. Extended family members are expected to help and support each other in times of crisis. In urban areas, both women and men work outside the home, but women are often responsible for household duties and raising their children.

Language and Communication Styles

South African road

There are 11 official languages in South Africa and some people speak all 11 fluently: Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and Afrikaans are the four most common home languages.


South African Food

Meat is a staple of the South African diet, although cuisine varies widely according to ethnicity. South Africans love to barbecue, or braais, slowly grilling steaks, chops and spicy sausages (boerewors) over hot charcoal. Wild game meats are also commonly eaten among many South Africans. Many also enjoy a dried meat snack called bilton or a corn porridge (pap) with meat or vegetables. The milk tart, a custard-like pie, is a favorite dessert among South Africans.

Additional Resources