Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the term the Rainbow Nation to refer to his country of South Africa, a term that was brought about due to the vast cultural diversity one can experience in this small nation with huge culture. It may surprise a first-time visitor to experience such cultural diversity, perhaps not expecting a small country in Africa to have so much to offer. Here are five things you should know before you pack your bags for South Africa.
1. There is vast cultural diversity among the South African people
While over 80% of South Africans are black, there is a vast cultural diversity just among that group. Just to name a couple, there are the Nguni, San, Sotho Sana, Tsonga, and the Venda peoples. Each of these groups brings its own unique cultural flavor to the melting pot that is South Africa.
Of course, in addition to the native African population, there are people of European descent making up most of the remaining 20% of people. These people hail from a variety of European cultures, and over the years, some Asian ancestry has been interwoven as well.
2. Their food is also a melting pot
South African food is a blend of the cuisines of many different world cultures, some you might not even expect. Indian curry, for example, is a major favorite among locals. A bobotie is a local favorite minced meat dish that is Malay in origin. Perhaps one of the most must-try foods is braai, a regional type of barbecue that will make any meat lover’s mouth water. Maize porridge is also a local staple and is hugely recommended for those that want to eat how the locals do.
3. Their music scene is really worth checking out
The South African music scene, influenced by the Rainbow Nation’s cultural diversity, is a beautiful mix of modern and traditional. For example, one of the most popular types of import music, jazz, has a local flavor and has been infused with tribal sounds and instruments. Kwela is a popular offset of jazz played with a penny whistle. In addition, mbube (Zulu music) and kwaito (house music) are quite popular. You can hear interesting renditions of gospel and rock music as well. Even a portion of their national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, is an excellent example of their diversity, as it is sung in a mix of languages. In fact, you probably know a ridiculously popular mbube song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which was used in Disney’s “The Lion King”.
4. There is a huge diversity of languages
South Africa has 11 official languages, which have been officially recognized since 1997. These are English, Ndebele, Afrikaans, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Zulu, Venda, and Xhosa. Xhosa and Afrikaans are the most popular languages spoken regularly in the household. Due to the country’s colonial history, European languages like Portuguese, German, Greek, and French are also spoken by certain groups. English is the official language used in corporations and politics, but most South Africans actually don’t speak it regularly.
5. There are some amazing Cultural Heritage sites to check out
South Africa is certainly also famous for natural beauty, and there are some great places to check out. Of course, Table Mountain is probably the most famous, offering a majestic view of Cape Town and Table Bay. It’s also very easily accessible for tourists via cable car.
The Cradle of Human Kind, also called Maropeng, is perhaps the most important fossil site in the world, and may be worth checking out if you’re into archaeology. You can actually tour some parts of the area, including the Sterkfontein Caves. It is considered to be the birthplace of humanity, so it may be awesome to return to your roots.
Finally, consider checking out Robben Island, home of a famous prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years. The island now houses multiple tourist destinations, including the prison, which can be toured by a combination of ferry and bus.
Contributed by Nick Bartholomew