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There are two versions of Ndebele in South Africa, they both belong to the Nguni group of Bantu Languages. The Northern Ndebele or Nrebele and the Southern Ndebele otherwise known as Amandebele. There is also a separate language called Ndebele that is spoken primarily in Zimbabwe (but also in Botswana).
The first group of Ndebele speakers are found in the Limpopo Province (formerly Northern Transvaal or Northern Province) of South Africa around the Towns of Mokopane (Potgietersrus) and Polokwane (Pietersburg). Unfortunately this language was never taken seriously, so it was never taught at school and neither did anyone sit down and compile a proper orthography. The language is sometimes mistakenly grouped under the Northern Sotho group of dialects. This language is becoming extinct. The new generation mostly speaks Northern Sotho.
One of the Ndebele people’s famous achievements is that they caught the Afrikaners by surprise and killed one of their leaders Piet Potgieter. The Afrikaners built a monument and called it “Moorddrift”. As revenge the Ndebele King was killed in his cave refuge, together with a few of his followers.
This group is sometimes called BaTlou. If this language were to be further grouped it would be grouped with Swazi, because of their use of the root ti- as opposed to izi- for example:
nkxomo -singular tinkxomo -plural (Nrebele)
inkomo – singular tinkomo -plural (Swazi)
inkomo – singular izinkomo -plural (Zulu)
The second group of Ndebele speakers is found in the Mpumalanga and Gauteng Province of South Africa. This group’s language was not taken seriously, and for years the children were taught Zulu instead. They were lucky because the apartheid government created a Bantustan for them called Kwandebele, and with this came the radio station, Radio Ndebele. In the new South Africa the name of the station was changed to Ikhwekhwezi, meaning Star. This station has funnily enough expanded its footprint to include the Northern Ndebele region. The language luckily still retains most of its flavour with a few Northern Sotho and Afrikaans words trickling in.
The Ndebele people have recently become famous for their colourful wall paintings and traditional garb. Their paintings are used for instance to attract tourists and have been used to decorate tails of South African Airways Jumbo jets etc.
The Zimbabwean Ndebele is closer to Zulu than it is to the two South African Ndebele languages