About South Africa

An introduction to South Africa

Learn more about South African culture in this guide to the cultural makeup of the Rainbow Nation.

South Africa

By Erin Russell Thiessen

Updated 3-1-2024

Many refer to South Africa as the Rainbow Nation; the population comprises of many diverse groups.

The country has a vast and varied history that informs the culture and character of the nation. In fact, South Africa was a setting of the cradles of civilization to scenes of colonialist battles to more recent anti-apartheid struggles.

At 79%, Black Africans make up the majority ethnicity in the country. Some 9.6% of the population is white, 8.9% colored, as well as 2.5% Indian/Asian.


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Ethnic groups in South Africa

Among the Black population, there are four major ethnic groups: Nguni, Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga, and Venda.  There are also many subgroups of South African people; Zulu and Xhosa are the largest. Some 60% of the White population is of Afrikaans descent and most of the remaining 40% are of British descent.

The middle class is predominantly white. However, this is changing with increasing numbers of black, colored, and Indian people entering the middle class. Their lifestyles are similar to those in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia and they frequently travel or study abroad.

The first Indians came as indentured laborers in Natal to work the sugar cane fields; others later arrived as traders. A post-apartheid wave of South Asian (including Pakistani) immigration has also influenced this Indian culture.

There is also a small Chinese South African community that consists of early immigrants plus apartheid-era immigrants from Taiwan and post-apartheid immigrants from mainland China.

Official languages of South Africa

The official languages of South Africa include the following: IsiZulu (official) 23.8%, IsiXhosa (official) 17.6% Afrikaans (official) 13.3%, Sepedi (official) 9.4%, English (official) 8.2%, Setswana (official) 8.2%, Sesotho (official) 7.9%, Xitsonga (official) 4.4%, other 7.2%, isiNdebele (official), Tshivenda (official), siSwati (official).

Religion in South Africa

The religious makeup of the nation comprises: Zion Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Catholic 7.1%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%, Muslim 1.5%, other Christian 36%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1%.