South Africa Table of Contents
Khoisan languages, characterized by "click" sounds not found elsewhere in Africa, have almost disappeared from South Africa in the 1990s. All remaining Khoisan speakers are believed to be San, living in the Kalahari Desert region in the Northern Cape and North-West Province. The government has no accurate count of their numbers, although it is generally believed that larger numbers of San live in Botswana and Namibia.
The closely related Khoikhoi, who were living in coastal areas of the southwest in the seventeenth century, have been entirely destroyed or assimilated into other cultures. No Khoikhoi peoples remain in South Africa in the 1990s, although many so-called coloureds and others can trace their ancestry through Khoikhoi and other lines of descent.
The San hunters and gatherers who occupied southern Africa for several thousand years organized their society into small kinship-based villages, often including fewer than fifty people. The San economy developed out of the efficient use of the environment; their diet included a wide array of birds, animals, plants, and, among coastal populations, fish and shellfish. The San espoused generally egalitarian values and recognized few leadership roles, except that of religious specialist, or diviner. The culture of the Khoikhoi was similar to that of the San, but the Khoikhoi acquired livestock--mainly cattle and sheep--probably from Bantu speakers who moved into the area from the north.
Some South Africans of mixed-race descent and Khoikhoi residents of Namibia have preserved Khoikhoi oral histories that tell of a time when their ancestors quarreled and split apart. Ancestors of the Namaqua (Nama) moved to the Atlantic Ocean coastline and south toward the Cape of Good Hope; other Khoikhoi moved toward the Kalahari and the Namib deserts and farther north. Seventeenth-century European immigrants enslaved hundreds of Khoikhoi around Cape Town, and many died in smallpox epidemics that swept southern Africa in 1713 and 1755. Others were absorbed into the dominant societies around them, both African and European, and into the populations of laborers who were brought from Malaya, China, and from other region of Africa.
Almost all South Africans profess some religious affiliation, according to the official census in 1991. Attitudes toward religion and religious beliefs vary widely, however. The government has actively encouraged specific Christian beliefs during much of the twentieth century, but South Africa has never had an official state religion nor any significant government prohibition regarding religious beliefs.
About 80 percent of all South Africans are Christians, and most are Protestants. More than 8 million South Africans are members of African Independent churches, which have at least 4,000 congregations. The denomination generally holds a combination of traditional African and Protestant beliefs. The other large Protestant denomination, the Dutch Reformed Church, has about 4 million members in several branches. Most are whites or people of mixed race.
Other Protestant denominations in the mid-1990s include at least 1.8 million Methodists, 1.2 million Anglicans, 800,000 Lutherans, 460,000 Presbyterians, and smaller numbers of Baptists, Congregationalists, Seventh Day Adventists, and members of the Assembly of God and the Apostolic Faith Mission of Southern Africa. More than 2.4 million South Africans are Roman Catholics; about 27,000 are Greek or Russian Orthodox. More than 7,000 are Mormons. Adherents of other world religions include at least 350,000 Hindus, perhaps 400,000 Muslims, more than 100,000 Jews, and smaller numbers of Buddhists, Confucians, and Baha'is.
Data as of May 1996