South Africa Culture, Language & Cuisine

South Africans are very warm and accommodating, very much like the country’s climate. Even though there are 11 official languages in reality English is most citizens’ second or third language, so visitors are able to get along fine if they are proficient in that language. The word “Mzansi” is a Xhosa slang word, used to indicate South Africa.

South Africa’s culture isn’t homogenous; rather it’s a collection of different cultures, with different ones being predominant in different regions. Among the Bantu/African cultures the largest two groups are the Zulu (their homeland being in Kwazulu-Natal) and Xhosa (originating from the Eastern Cape). Among the other African cultures of the country are the Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Ndebele, and Pedi.

The population of South Africa is made up of people form a wide range of backgrounds, including people that are of mixed African, Asian and European descent. The first languages spoken by the particular group are Afrikaans (a version of Dutch) or English, and they are mainly found in the Western Cape and Northern Cape.

White South Africans (people of predominantly European descent) are divided in two groups: English South Africans and Afrikaners. English South Africans are white people who are first language English speakers, whereas the Afrikaners speak Afrikaans and are predominantly of French/Dutch/German descent (settlers from the Dutch East India Company rule 1652-1795).

There is also a significant Indian population in South Africa, who were brought to Kwazulu-Natal to work the sugar cane fields by the British in the 1800s, and most of them are still living in this very province. Mahatma Gandhi in actual fact spent 21 years in South Africa, working for the promotion of civil rights for the Indian population.

South African cuisine is a fusion of African, European, Indian, and Malay influences. What brings everyone together though is the practice of braai, which is similar to barbeque. What sets braai apart is that purists only do it on open wood fires, feeling that it is more authentic. It is a communal event, where South Africans come together to talk and be merry while the meat, usually lamb or beef, is sizzling on the fire. On these occasions people take the opportunity to enjoy some wine, beer or the South African cream liqueur Amarula. An inexpensive staple food in the country is pap (the Afrikaans word for porridge), which is made from ground maize and has a thick consistency, being enjoyed as a breakfast dish while it is also eaten as a side/main dish with chakalaka (spicy vegetable relish).

A sticky treat that is well known in the country is koeksisters. It is fried dough, worked into distinctive knots, which are submerged in a cold syrup that makes it very gluey. Also in the sweet category there is the melktert – a tart that has a light crust with a custard filling.


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