Southern Ndebele language

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The Southern Ndebele language (isiNdebele or Nrebele in Southern Ndebele) is an African language belonging to the Sotho-Tswana group of Bantu languages, and spoken by the amaNdebele (the Ndebele people of South Africa). There are two dialects of Southern Ndebele in South Africa:

  • the Northern Transvaal Ndebele or Nrebele. It is untrue to declare that this language is extinct and that no one has compiled an orthography.[citation needed] There are speakers of this language in both rural and urban areas. Sindrebele language, as it is affectionately called by its speakers, orthography was compiled in 1959 by Mr. D. Ziervogel. There are various writers including Mr. J. L. Rafapa (the author of the Northern Sotho book Lerato Sello) amongst many who are prepared to write Sindrebele. Much of the history of the speakers of this language has not been written, but that does not necessarily mean that it does not exist. This language falls under the Tekela Nguni languages.
  • and the Southern Transvaal Ndebele.

There is also another, separate dialect called Northern Ndebele or Matabele spoken in Zimbabwe and Botswana – see Sindebele language. The Zimbabwean Ndebele is closer to Zulu than it is to the two South African Ndebele languages.



The history of the amaNdebele can be traced to Musi, the last monarch of the tribe as a single nation. Researchers still disagree on specific times of the tribe's separation from their main Nguni Group(which include the Xhosa, Zulu and the Swazi).It is estimated that the migration took place as early as 1200 A.D. AmaNdebele are known to be the first Nguni group to enter the hinterland of the southern tip of the African continent, later to be called Transvaal(today's Gauteng Province). AmaNdebele lived as one nation at Emhlangeni (today's Randfontein area) under King Mhlanga approximately between 1550-1580. The name of EMhlangeni is today being translated to the Sotho language, Mohlakeng. Most archeologists and historians agree that the amaNdebele settled for a longer period peacefully at Kwamnyamana and Emarula (Wonderboompoort). These areas are in the north and northwest of present day Pretoria. The tribe arrived in this area with Musi, the son of Mhlanga who is in turn the son of Mafana. The tribe can still be found in that area to day.
See also "The Ndebele People of South Africa".
One unverified source mentions that the word Matebele/Matabele is a corruption of the Setswana phrase "Mathebe Telele," meaning "those with long shields." This refers to the Zulus and Ndebeles who made their way through to the northern parts of Southern Africa's innovations, including the use of short spears and long shields as opposed to the javelin-type spears and small shields used by other local peoples.


Ndebele is one of the eleven official languages in the Republic of South Africa. The language is a Nguni or Zunda classification (UN) spoken mostly in the Mpumalanga Province, Gauteng, Limpopo and the Northwest.

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