South African Culture, the Zulu and Xhosa speakers are the two largest groups – accounting for nearly 40% of the population – with Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati/Swazi, Venda and Ndebele speakers making up the rest. The various tribal cultures have rich oral traditions. Stories, poems, and epics were learned by heart and recited out loud.
The culture of South Africa is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity. The South African majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people, however, those cultural traditions survive most strongly; as South Africans have become increasingly urbanized and Westernised, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Urban South Africans usually speak English or Afrikaans in addition to their native language. There are smaller but still significant groups of speakers of Khoisan languages, not included in the eleven official languages, but are one of the eight other officially recognised languages. There are small groups of speakers of endangered languages, most of which are from the Khoisan family, that receive no official status; however, some groups within South Africa are attempting to promote their use and revival.
Members of the middle class, who are predominantly white but whose ranks include growing numbers of people of colour, have lifestyles similar in many respects to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australia. Members of the middle class often study and work abroad for greater exposure to the markets of the world.
Indian South Africans preserve their cultural heritage, languages and religious beliefs, being either Christian, Hindu or Muslim and speaking English, with Indian languages like Hindi, Telugu, Tamil or Gujarati being spoken less frequently as second languages. The first Indians arrived on the Truro ship as indentured labourers in Natal to work the Sugar Cane Fields, while the rest arrived as traders. A post-apartheid wave of South Asian (including Pakistani) immigration has also influenced South African Indian culture. There is a much smaller Chinese South African community, made up of early immigrants, apartheid-era immigrants from Taiwan, and post-apartheid immigrants from mainland China.
While many foreign films have been produced about South Africa (usually involving race relations), few local productions are known outside South Africa itself. One exception was the film The Gods Must Be Crazy in 1980, set in the Kalahari. This is about how life in a traditional community of San (Bushmen) is changed when a Coke bottle, thrown out of a plane, suddenly lands from the sky. The late Jamie Uys, who wrote and directed The Gods Must Be Crazy, also had success overseas in the 1970s with his films Funny People and Funny People II, similar to the TV series Candid Camera in the US. Leon Schuster’s You Must Be Joking! films are in the same genre, and hugely popular among South Africans.
Arguably, the most high-profile film portraying South Africa in recent years was “District 9”. Directed by Neill Blomkamp, a native South African, and produced by Peter Jackson, the action/science-fiction film depicts a sub-class of alien refugees forced to live in the slums of Johannesburg in what many saw as a creative allegory for apartheid. The film was a critical and commercial success worldwide and was nominated for Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards.
There is great diversity in music from South Africa. Many black musicians who sang in Afrikaans or English during apartheid have since begun to sing in traditional African languages, and have developed a unique style called Kwaito. Of note is Brenda Fassie, who launched to fame with her song “Weekend Special”, which was sung in English. More famous traditional musicians include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, while the Soweto String Quartet performs classic music with an African flavour. White and Coloured South African singers are historically influenced by European musical styles.
South Africa has produced world-famous jazz musicians, notably Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Jonathan Butler, Chris McGregor, and Sathima Bea Benjamin. Afrikaans music covers multiple genres, such as the contemporary Steve Hofmeyr and the punk rock band Fokofpolisiekar. Crossover artists such as Verity (internationally recognised for innovation in the music industry) and Johnny Clegg and his bands Juluka and Savuka have enjoyed various success underground, publicly, and abroad.
The South African music scene includes Kwaito, a new music genre that had developed in the mid-1980s and has since developed to become the most popular socio-economic form of representation among the populace. Some may argue that the political aspects of Kwaito have diminished after Apartheid, and the relative interest in politics has become a minor aspect of daily life. Others argue that in a sense, Kwaito is, in fact, a political force that shows activism in its apolitical actions.
Today, major corporations like Sony, BMG, and EMI have appeared on the South African scene to produce and distribute Kwaito music. Due to its overwhelming popularity, as well as the general influence of DJs, who are among the top 5 most influential types of people within the country, Kwaito has taken over radio, television, and magazines.
South African rock music is a very popular subculture, especially within the Johannesburg region. The alternative rock band Seether gained international popularity in the early 2000s, with four of their albums achieving Gold or Platinum certification in the United States. Two other alternative bands, KONGOS and Civil Twilight, also achieved success abroad in the late 2000s.
Other notable exceptions are the film Tsotsi, which won the Academy Award for Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006 as well as U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, which won the Golden Bear at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival.
South African Culture – Cuisine
The cuisine of South Africa is heavily meat-based and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering known as a braai, or barbecue. Braai is widely popular, especially with all South Africans and includes meat, especially boerewors or spicy sausages, and mielies (maize) or Mielie-meal, often as a porridge, or pearl millet, a staple food of black South Africans. Pastries such as koeksisters and desserts like melktert (milk tart) are also universally popular. Vegetarianism is becoming widely accepted.
Indian food like curry is also popular, especially in Durban with its large Indian population. Another local Indian Durban speciality is the ‘bunny’ or bunny chow, which consists of a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with curry.
The Portuguese community has also made its mark, with spicy peri-peri chicken being a favorite. The South African Portuguese-themed restaurant chain Nando’s now has restaurants in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Malaysia, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.
South Africa has developed into a major wine producer, with some of the best vineyards lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, and Barrydale. The south African wine has a history dating back to 1659, and at one time Constantia was considered one of the greatest wines in the world. Access to international markets has unleashed a burst of new energy and new investment. Production is concentrated around Cape Town, with major vineyard and production centres at Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Worcester.
There are about 60 appellations within the Wine of Origin (WO) system, which was implemented in 1973 with a hierarchy of designated production regions, districts, and wards. WO wines must be made 100% from grapes from the designated area. “Single vineyard” wines must come from a defined area of less than 5 hectares. An “Estate Wine” can come from adjacent farms, as long as they are farmed together and wine is produced on site. A ward is an area with a distinctive soil type and/or climate and is roughly equivalent to a European appellation.