South Africa Table Mountain
» » The Bantu

Brief history of the Bantu migration into South Africa

The great southward Bantu migration in Africa took place in sub-Saharan Africa (south of the Sahara Desert), over some 2,000 years. With the development of the iron blade, reaping became easier for the bantu people and agriculture took on a whole new meaning.


Populations grew faster than before and people were encroaching on each other's land.

This necessitated an enlargement of territory, which led to the migration of African black tribes from the Great Lakes in central Africa, to the south of Africa.

This was one of the largest human migrations in history. A linguistically related group of about 60 million people originating in west and equatorial Africa, gradually migrating down the continent into southern Africa.

The cause of this movement is uncertain, but is believed to have been related to population increase, a result of the introduction of new crops, such as the banana (native to south Asia), allowing more efficient food production.

Map showing origination and southward migration of the Black people in Africa
Map showing origination and southward migration of the black people in Africa
The Amazing Bantu Migration in Africa

Open air museum scene of a Tsonga kraal, showing the way of life of the early black settlers in South Africa
Open air museum scene of a Tsonga kraal, showing the way of life of the black settlers in South Africa
The Amazing Bantu Migration in Africa
copyright © South African tourism

Societies typically depended on subsistence agriculture or, in the savannas, pastoral pursuits. Political organization was normally local, although large kingdoms would later develop in western and central Africa.

Early in their history, they split into two major linguistic branches, the Eastern and Western language branches. The Eastern branch migrated through present-day Zimbabwe and Mozambique, down to South Africa. The Western branch moved into what is now Angola, Namibia, and north-western Botswana.

Map showing the distribution of African language families and some major African languages
Map showing the distribution of African language families and some major African languages
The amazing Bantu migration in Africa

Today, among the different black language groups, the most widely spoken language is Arab-influenced Swahili, which is used as a lingua franca (a language used in common by different peoples to facilitate commerce and trade) by up to 50 million speakers on the eastern coast of Africa.

Ethnic groups descended from the Black settlers include the Shona, the Xhosa, the Kikuyu, and the Zulu, of the Eastern Bantu language branch; and the Herero and Tonga peoples, of the Western language branch.

Map showing the distribution of the population in South Africa by language group

Map showing the distribution of the population in South Africa by language group
The Amazing Bantu Migration in Africa

Some 2 000 years ago, when the first waves of black settlers began arriving in southern Africa, they brought with them the advantages of an Iron Age culture, farming skills and domesticated crops.

After they had settled in the eastern parts of South Africa, they eventually spread out across the highveld some 1 000 years ago, because of their need for more land on which to practise their growing cattle culture. The first African settlements in South Africa were mainly in the Transvaal and Natal areas.

Ndebele women showing off the traditional decoration of her home
Ndebele women showing off the traditional decoration of her home
The Amazing Bantu Migration in Africa
copyright © South African tourism

In the African culture, chiefdoms were based on control over cattle, which gave rise to social systems of protection (patronage) and hierarchies of authority within communities. The exchange of cattle formed the basis of polygamous marriage arrangements. This system operated on the basis of social power built through control over the labour of kin groups and dependants.

The development of metalworking skills promoted specialisation of products and trade between regions followed. The different chiefdoms settled in different patterns; dispersed homesteads were found in the fertile coastal regions to the east, and concentrated in towns in the desert fringes to the west.

Zulus ploughing their land like they did in the old days
Zulus ploughing their land like they did in the old days
The Amazing Bantu Migration in Africa
copyright © South African tourism

In the western half of the country, rainfall was low and desert conditions prevailed and the African farmers were not interested in settling there. These dry regions remained a safe haven of the Khoi and the San.

The African settlement patterns had the effect that, for the first century and a half of European settlement, the African farmers were hardly affected by the white presence at all. The black population of South Africa is divided into several ethnic groups, of which the Nguni forms a major part. Other main groups are the Sotho, the Venda and the Shangaan-Tsonga.





Top of Page

» » The Bantu



Beautiful mountain scenery in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa

The Hartebeespoort dam in the Magaliesberg mountains near Pretoria, South Africa

Endless maize fields in the Free State province of South Africa

Breathtaking Drakensberg mountain scenery in Kwazulu-Natal province, South Africa







Copyright: 2005-2017 South-Africa-Tours-and-Travel.com
Return to top