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Tinxaka ta Vutsonga

Is Shangaan Nguni or Tsonga or Both?

The Shangaan (Machangani) identity is very much confusing, especially within the Tsonga ethnic group. There is an identity crisis, and Vatsonga as a whole avoid addressing it because it causes divisions. The division is mainly over the interpretation of Shangaan – is it Tsonga or Nguni or a ruling group of Vatsonga or a Nguni group with a shared history with Vatsonga?

Whether in Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe or South Africa – people are confused and in a way divided on the Tsonga-Shangaan dynamics. The sad truth is that in this modern age, Shangaan is an integral part of a diverse ethnic group struggling with identity.

For example; if you walk up to a Hlengwe (Cawuke/Mavasa) person and say “Ahee Ndwandwe”, they won’t reply, but if you say “Ahee Muchangani” they will reply.

So, is Shangaan Nguni or Tsonga or Both? Well…

The Shangaan are Nguni, Ndwandwe to be specific. This Ndwandwe unit established itself eVutsonga (Tsonga Country), and has co-existed with Vatsonga for over 190 years to date. The Shangaan are the last major group to assimilate into the Tsonga Ethnic Group (through language & culture), and the last entrants of present day South Africa.

Vatsonga are a second group to occupy present day South Africa after Bathwa (Khoi & San people).

Read Tsonga Arrival in Southern African from 200 AD

Read Difference between Tsonga & Shangaan in 500 words

Confusing, right? Let us break it down for you…

Amashangaane = Ndwandwe clans within the Tsonga ethnic group (another group is under the Swati Kingdom).

Machangani = Tsonga people who identify as Shangaan with the understanding that Tsonga is Shangaan.

Vatsonga-Machangani = Political identity created in 1961 to unite Vatsonga and their Ndwandwe counterparts as a means to avoid being assimilated into Pedi, Swati and Venda homelands.

Read 1961 – The Year Tsonga became Shangaan


#1 – Amashangaan generally identify as Nguni (Westerners) and not Tsonga (Easterners), this is because they came into Vutsonga as invaders, and people generally view the Tsonga Ethnic Group as a tribe. But Tsonga is a rainbow nation, every group within the Tsonga ethnic group maintains its own origin – The Baloyi are Karanga, the Khosa are Mbai, the Sithole are Ndau etc.

#2 – As much as Amashangaan don’t identify as Tsonga, they don’t mind at all when Vatsonga claim & identify as Shangaan; they even claim Vatsonga and their land through courts. The contradiction is funny though, Tsonga masses that identify as Shangaan don’t identify as Ndwandwe.

#3 – Majority of Vatsonga have internalized Shangaan as Tsonga, and generally reject its Nguni origins because it’s now their (Tsonga) identity. On the other hand, Vatsonga who wish and claim to be Nguni use amashangaan to forge a link, even though they don’t originate from KwaNongoma or anywhere in KZN.

#4 – The Vatsonga who refuse to be identified as Shangaan because they are not of Nguni origin or Ndwandwe subjects, tend to not know which group they fall under within the ethnic group; all they know is that they are Tsonga.

#5 – Xitsonga is known as Xichangani; however, Xichangani is not a language. The Chief (Eric Nxumalo) of the amashangaan admitted on radio that there is no language called Xichangani. What people mistaken for Xichangani (also known as Xibush) is a Tsonga variant called Xihlanganu; the Shangaan adopted this variant when they arrived in Mhala (Bushbuckridge).

#6 – The anti-Shangaan brigade hates suppressing the pain caused by amashangaan over the years in the name of unity, which benefits only one group. The anti-Tsonga brigade is pushing for the Nxumalo’s to rule Vatsonga of South Africa while undermining the history and independence of Tsonga Royal Houses. The Tsonga-Shangaan brigade agrees to a united front, but looks away when the anti-Tsonga brigade claims Vatsonga are Shangaan and only speak out when the anti-Shangaan brigade retaliates out of anger.

The Tsonga-Shangaan identity dynamics are complex, even more in Mozambique where Tsonga groups identify using their variants instead of the ethnic label. Unlike in South Africa, there is a negative connation of Shangaan in Mozambique.

Until people understand that Tsonga is an ethnic group made up of pieces of other groups such as Karanga, Ndau, Nguni, Lambya, Nyai, Nkomati, Mbai, Rozwi etc – the Tsonga identity crisis will remain. Mutsonga a hi wa rimhondzo (Tsonga is not a lineage like Shangaan, Nhlave, N’wanati). Machangani are one of the Nguni groups that make up the Tsonga ethnic group, but this group has been elevated to the status of the ethnic group in a corrupt way – thus the identity crisis and constant in-fighting.

Image: worldcometomyhome

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