Venda People

The Venda (VhaVenda or Vhangona) are a Southern African Bantu people living mostly near the South African-Zimbabwean border.

The history of the Venda starts from the Kingdom of Mapungubwe (9th Century) where King Shiriyadenga was the first king of Venda and Mapungubwe. The Mapungubwe Kingdom stretched from the Soutpansberg in the south, across the Limpopo River to the Matopos in the north. The Kingdom declined from 1240, and power moved north to the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom. The first Venda settlement in the Soutpansberg was that of the legendary chief Thoho-ya-Ndou (Head of the Elephant). His royal kraal was called D'zata; its remains have been declared a National Monument. The Mapungubwe Collection is a museum collection of artifacts found at the archaeological site and is housed in the Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria. Venda people share ancestry with Lobedu people and Kalanga people. They are also related to Sotho-Tswana peoples Sotho-Tswana and Shona groups. All these tribes were under the Venda kingdom.


The Venda of today are Vhangona, Takalani (Ungani), Masingo and others. Vhangona are the original inhabitants of Venda, they are also referred as Vhongwani wapo; while Masingo and others are originally from central Africa and the East African Rift, migrating across the Limpopo river during the Bantu expansion, Venda people originated from central and east Africa, just like the other South African tribes.

The Venda of today are descendants of many heterogeneous groupings and clans such as:

    Dzindou dza Hakhomunala Mutangwe / Dzatshamanyatsha
    Dzindou dza Vharundwa / Dza Mitshetoni /Dza Manenzhe
    Vhadau vhatshiheni
    Vhadau Madamani
    Vha Ha-Ramavhulela (Vhubvo Dzimauli)
    Vha Ha-Nemutudi
    Runganani (marungadzi nndevhelaho)

Vhadau, Vhakwevho, Vhafamadi, Vhania, Vhalea, and Vhaluvhu were collectively known as Vhangona. The Vhangona and Vhambedzi are considered to be the original inhabitants of Venda and the first people to live there. The land of Vhangona was later settled by Karanga-Rodzvi clans from Zimbabwe: Vhatwanamba, Vhanyai, Vhatavhatsindi, and Vhalembethu. Masingo, Vhalaudzi, and Vhalemba are late arrivals in Venda.

According to one version of Vhangona oral history the capital of Vhangona was Mapungubwe with the Raphulu Royal House as the most senior royal house of the Vhangona. According to this version the Vhangona Kingdom had approximately 145 chiefdoms and a King (Thovhele). It is said that the Kingdom was divided into seven districts:

  • Dzanani
  • Mbilwi
  • Tswime
  • Tshiendeulu
  • Tshakhuma
  • Tshamanyatsha
  • Lwamondo

These districts were ruled by District Paramount Chiefs (Mahosi Mahulu), as follows:

  • MuDzanani/Nesongozwi (Dzanani)
  • Nembilwi (Mbilwi)
  • Netswime (Tswime)
  • Netshiendeulu (Tshiendeulu)
  • Netshakhuma (Tshakhuma)
  • Netshamanyatsha (Tshamanyantsha)
  • Makhahani (Thulamela)
  • Nelwamondo (Lwamondo)

Each district had Chiefs (Khosi) who paid tribute to Mahosi Mahulu (Paramount Chiefs), then there were Headmen (VhaMusanda) and then Petty Headmen (Vhakoma). This tradition states that one of the Vhangona kings was King Shiriyadenga whose royal kraal was at Mapungubwe. It is not clear if this Shiriyadenga is the same as Shiriyedenga of the Sanga dynasty, a Karanga-Rozvi branch. The Sanga dynasty, in Zimbabwe's eastern highlands, was founded by Chiphaphami Shiriyedenga who died in 1672. Perhaps at one point the Karanga-Rodzvi Empire extended beyond the Vhembe (Limpopo) River, and the Vhangona, though not Karanga-speaking, were at one point under Karanga-Rodzvi rule.

The other version of Vhangona history disputes that the Vhangona were ever united under one chief or king. It says that the Vhangona had different independent chiefdoms and that the Vhangona chief of Nzhelele valley was Tshidziwelele of the Mudau clan. What is clear, however, is that the Vhatwanamba, who were of Karanga-Rodzvi origin, conquered Vhangona clans who lived in Mapungubwe, Musina, Ha-Tshivhula, Ha-Lishivha, Ha-Matshete, Ha-Mulambwane, and Ha-Madzhie (the areas of Ha-Tshivhula, Ha-Lishivha, Ha-Matshete, and Ha-Mulambwane are known today as Alldays and Waterpoort).

Mapungubwe was the center of a kingdom with about 5,000 people living at its center. Mapungubwe as a trade center lasted between 1030 and 1290 AD. The people of Mapungubwe mined and smelted copper, iron and gold, spun cotton, made glass and ceramics, grew millet and sorghum, and tended cattle, goats and sheep.

The people of Mapungubwe had a sophisticated knowledge of the stars, and astronomy played a major role not only in their tradition and culture, but also in their day-to-day lives. Mapungubwe traded with ancient Ethiopia through the ports of Adulis on the Red Sea and the ports of Raphta (now Quelimani) and Zafara (now Sofala) in Mozambique.Mapungubwe predates the settlements at Great Zimbabwe, Thulamela and Dzata. It is believed that people left Mapungubwe for Great Zimbabwe because Great Zimbabwe was judged to have a more suitable climate.

The Venda were recognised as a traditional royal house in 2010 and Toni Mphephu Ramabulana has been acting king since 2012. In September 2016 Princess Masindi Mphephu, daughter of Tshimangadzi Mphephu (Venda Chief during 1993-1997), challenged her uncle Ramabulana for the throne. She claimed that she wasn't considered a candidate because of her sex.

On 14 December 2016 she initially lost this battle in court when the Thohoyandou High Court dismissed the case. In May 2019, however, the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the Thoyoyandou High Court decision and declared that Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana's appointment as king of the Venda nation was unlawful. Ramubulana has since appealed this ruling, and as of July 2020 the matter was before the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Education Transformation

In the 1970s the Vhavenda people were among the poorest in South Africa. To entice them to accept independence as the Bantustan Venda the South African government built a parliament, administrative offices and cabinet ministers' houses. The old government under Mphephu heavily subsidized education in the form of free text books and near zero school fees, even though the government lacked sufficient funds to build proper schools and more emphasis was on excellence and hard work.


Musangwe is a Venda tradition of bare-knuckle fist fighting. Musangwe is a sport which was developed not only for entertainment but also for gaining respect among your peers. Vhavenda never allowed violence and fighting, but with this sport you could challenge a person you deemed disrespectful towards you, and the rule is if you are challenged to fight you are to fight or there will be consequences such as a fine or even been beaten up by the elders. The winners of this sport were often compensated with whatever the Khosi (chief) or Vhamusanda (headman) deemed right. The fights have no set time limit and only end when one fighter concedes defeat. No medical staff are on standby to help those injured in the flurry of blows that boxers trade, only village elders watching to guard against indiscretions such as biting or kicking. Importantly, gambling on the outcome of the fights is banned and the winners take nothing away other than a sense of pride in representing their village or family.

Venda (Region)

Venda was a Bantustan in northern South Africa, which is fairly close to the South African border with Zimbabwe to the north, while to the south and east, it shared a long border with another black homeland, Gazankulu. It is now part of the Limpopo province. Venda was founded as a homeland by the South African government for the Venda people, speakers of the Venda language. The United Nations and international community refused to recognise Venda (or any other Bantustan) as an independent state.


Venda was declared self-governing on 1 February 1973, with elections held later in the year. Further elections were held in July 1978.[6] The territory was declared independent by the South African government on 13 September 1979 and its residents lost their South African citizenship. In common with the other Bantustans, its independence was not recognised by the international community.

Venda was initially a series of non-contiguous territories in the Transvaal, with one main part and one main exclave. Its capital, formerly at Sibasa, was moved to Thohoyandou (which included the old Sibasa administrative district) when Venda was declared independent in 1979. Prior to independence it was expanded to form one contiguous territory, with a total land area of 6,807 km² (2628 sq. mi.).[4] In the 1984 elections the ruling Venda National Party retained its position as ruling party, beating the perpetual opposition Venda Independent People's Party (VIPP).

At independence in 1979, the population of Venda stood at about 200,000 people. The state was cut off from neighbouring Zimbabwe by the Madimbo corridor, patrolled by South African troops, to the North, and from nearby Mozambique by the Kruger National Park. The first President of Venda, Patrick Mphephu, was also a Paramount Chief of the Vhavenda people; he was born and lived in Dzanani in Limpopo. His successor, Frank Ravele, was overthrown in a military coup by the Venda Defence Force in 1990, after which the territory was ruled by the Council of National Unity. Venda was re-incorporated into South Africa on 27 April 1994

Institutions of education

In 1982, the University of Venda known as Univen was established as an institution of higher learning for the Vhavenda people. Being nominally independent, Venda was able to set up a casino in the early 1980s, staffed mainly by British workers. This would not have been legally possible in South Africa proper.

Security forces

The Venda National Force was established with Venda's independence in 1979 and included defence and other services such as police and prisons. Strange enough, traffic policing was part of this national force, but by 1981 it was transferred to the Department of Justice. The Fire Brigade was however still part of the Venda National Force although there was plans to transfer this to the civilian government.

Food for Thought

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