South Africa Diversity – People, Race, Culture and Language

It becomes one of the most difficult questions to answer. That is why most people here have stopped asking it – who or what is the typical South African? Most countries have a stock of comfortable national stereotypes to fall back on when faced with this question. In South Africa, the cultural clichés change from suburb to suburb, never mind city to city. Cultural life here is that diverse.

For many, the stock image of Africa starts with the colonial stereotype of the “noble savage” – people and cultures both primitive and vibrant, still magically in touch with the ways of the natural world. And let’s not forget that the sense of rhythm, honed after generations of dancing around ceremonial fires.

As everyone knows, South African has an extra element – the whites. White settlers, the people responsible for inventing apartheid, live here too. They are described as the burly, bearded folk in khaki bush suits, wearing veldt hats and clutching rifles to keep marauding lions, rhinos and the occasional restless native at bay. It is the image most people have of the Afrikaner, and it is the way many people imagine all white South Africans to be.

But these stereotypes have little basis in reality. South Africa is an extraordinary tapestry of race and culture like no other place anywhere in the world. And despite the problems of the past, it is a society that is beginning to find great strength in its diversity.

Diversity – culture, race, language

Diversity was definitely what the country’s first democratic election was all about. No less than 19 different parties, representing practically every aspect of the political, religious and social spectrum, presented themselves to the public voting. And seven of them found enough support among this public to gain representation in parliament.

Diversity of language and culture was further recognized by the newly elected government in giving equal official status to 11 of the languages spoken throughout the country – English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhoso, Sohto, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Pedi, Shangaan and Ndebele.

Switch on the television in South Africa today and you will find news broadcasts coming at you in each of the four main language groups – Englist, Nguni (Zulu and Xhosa), Afrikaans and Sotho. Switch over to a local soccer math and you will get your commentary broken up into 15 minute slots, alternating between Zulu and Xhoso, English and Sotho. Diversity? I think South Africa invented the term.

So the one thing first-time visitors should not pack is the preconception of a nation divided into two basic groups of blacks and whites. Nothing is simple in South Africa. It is a far more fascinating place that that.

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