The Venda People

The Venda (also VaVenda) population of about 600,000 people coalesced into an identifiable social unit in the area of the northern Transvaal and in Zimbabwe over several centuries. The Venda language, tshiVenda or luVenda, emerged as a distinct tongue in the sixteenth century, according to scholars. In the twentieth century, the tshiVenda vocabulary is similar to seSotho, but the grammar shares similarities with Shona dialects, which are spoken in Zimbabwe .

Venda culture is similarly eclectic; it appears to have incorporated a variety of East African, Central African, Nguni, and Sotho characteristics. For example, the Vendaforbid the consumption of pork, a prohibition that is common along the East African coast. They practice male circumcision, which is common among many Sotho, but not among most Nguni peoples.

Early Venda social organization consisted of small kinship groups, often dispersed among several households. These were organized into chiefdoms, and some were ruled by chiefly dynasties in the eighteenth century. Smaller chiefdoms often served as vassal states to larger and stronger chiefdoms, but they were neither entirely incorporated into them nor administered directly by a paramount chief. Venda traditional religious beliefs, like other aspects of culture, appear to have combined elements from several neighboring religious systems and Christianity. The homeland of Venda became nominally independent in 1979 but was not recognized by any country except South Africa . Unlike other homelands, Venda actually drew most of the 700,000 people assigned to live there. Its economy depended on agriculture and small industry, and coal mining began in the late 1980s. Nearly 70 percent of the men worked elsewhere in South Africa , however, and at least 40 percent of the homeland's income was migrant labor wages. Facing economic collapse, Venda authorities applied for readmission into South Africa in 1991. Their petition was essentially overtaken by the political negotiations and constitutional reforms of the early 1990s, which led to the dissolution of the homelands in 1994.