IsiNdebele – Another Nguni Language

Written by Isabel Harmse

The isiNdebele language, of which there are variations, is part of the Nguni language group. IsiNdebele is one of the 11 official languages recognized by the South African Constitution and, similar to the country’s other African languages; isiNdebele is a tonal language, governed by the noun which dominates the sentence (

At 2% of the population, isiNdebele speakers make up the smallest official language group in South Africa. isiNdebele can be separated into two chief dialects: Southern Ndebele and Northern Ndebele. These should not be confused with the Ndebele speaking groups of Zimbabwe or Botswana, who speak a different language with the same name.

Most of the people who speak Southern Ndebele are situated in and around the Limpopo Province.  This dialect of the language is generally only spoken amongst people of the Ndebele culture and it is not taught at schools and as a result, it is dwindling in numbers. Many of the young children of the Southern Ndebele speak Sepedi because it is said to be a lot more adaptable and useful than any other.  The provinces of Mpumalanga and Gauteng are home to majority of the Northern Ndebele people ( 

As a written medium isiNdebele is one of the youngest indigenous languages in South Africa.  The language has a very small literature, most of which dates from 1984.  The most significant literary work is the Bible, which was translated in 1986.


Ndebele got its own radio station, which was simply named “Radio Ndebele” and then later renamed “Ikhwekhwezi” which means “star”.

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