Gazankulu People

Gazankulu was one of the smaller of the “Black Homelands” designated by the previous Republic of South Africa (RSA) government during the “Apartheid era”. Gazankulu is made up of three separate sections, all of which were surrounded by RSA.

The Tsonga-Shaagaan people, who currently make up 88% of the population of Gazankulu, derived from an empire that was ruled by Soshangana, a Nguni (one of the ancient ethnic-tribal groups, or nations, indigenous to Africa) Chief, who led his people into Mozambique in 1820 to escape the tyranny of a more powerful leader by the name of “Shaka the Zulu”. While in Mozambique, Soshangana subjugated the indigenous “Tsonga” tribes, who were also Nguni. This resulted in the Gaza Empire, named for the Chief’s grandfather. Subsequent internal struggles, led to a large number of Tsonga-Shangaan people escaping into the area called Gazankulu that would later become a part of RSA. Even though they are an amalgamation of a number of different groups, they now have an established identity as the “Gazankulu” people, and their first language is Xitsonga.

The remaining 12% of people in Gazankulu are primarily Venda and Sotho (or Pedi), which are two of the other ancient nations that populated the African continent. They have different first languages, but have little difficulty in communicating and living together, as all of their languages are from the “Bantu” family (300 languages spoken in Southern Africa).

Subsequent to the true independence of RSA in 1994, all of the “Black Homelands” have been reincorporated into RSA. However, many “rural regions” still retain their tribal systems and chiefs, which are recognized and supported by the central Government. There are a few developing towns and small cities, such as Giyani and Malamulele, within Gazankulu, where urban style governmental systems exist.

A demographic “snapshot” from the 1996 Census of the Limpopo (formerly Northern) Province illustrates the life style of the Gazankulu people. More than: 95% have lived their entire lives in the same area; 50% are under 19 years of age; 37% have little or no education; 46% are unemployed; only 15% have skilled jobs; 41% of the employed make less than $50 per month; five people live in the average household, 29% of whom live in two rooms, or less (this includes 8% who live in makeshift shacks, or worse); 64% cook with wood; 17% have running water; 7% have telephones; and, 13% have flush toilets, 64% have pit latrines, and 21% have no toilets.

The religious picture is grim as 27% claims to be Christians, however, our research indicates no more than 3.8% are “born again Christians”. Thirty seven percent (37%) claim membership in African Independent Churches (AICs), which purport to be indigenous churches, but usually have outside influences/sources, such as the Zionist Church. Most of them teach a combination of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and African Traditional Religion (animism and ancestor worship). Over 35% reported no religion, or would not respond. The South African Alliance for Saturation Church Planting (a group of cooperating evangelicals) issued a report in May 2000, in which they state “Gazankulu is one of the least reached regions within the Limpopo Province”.

IMB’s Southeastern Africa Cluster (SEAC) is not engaged with the Gazankulu people. We have done field surveys in the area, and believe God is working there because the people are very responsive to the Gospel. These conclusions are also based on experiential data, and interaction with other Great Commission Christians who are familiar with the area. We have requested that missionaries be assigned to this area, and are praying that God will send workers into this harvest field.

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