South Africa Overview: People

The population of South Africa is about 80% black (African) and 10% white (European), with about 9% people of mixed white and black descent (formerly called Coloured ), and a small minority of South and East Asian background. Although these ethnic divisions were rigidly enforced under the policy of apartheid [Afrikaans,=apartness], racial distinctions are often arbitrary. People of African descent fall into several groups, based on their first language.

South Africa has 11 official languages, nine of which are indigenous—Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, Swazi, Venda, Ndebele, Pedi, and Tsonga. Many blacks also speak Afrikaans (the first language of about 60% of the whites and the majority of those of mixed race) or English (the first language of most of the rest of the nonblacks). A lingua franca called Fanagalo developed in the mining areas, but it is not widely used today. About 80% of the population is Christian; major groups include the Zionist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Dutch Reformed, and Anglican churches. There are small minorities of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and followers of traditional African religions.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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