The Tswa People
Religion: Christianity, Traditional Animism
Population: 1,060,000 (1996 estimate)
Status: 50% Professed Christianity; 20-25% Evangelical
Location: The greatest concentration of Tswa people is in the southern Mozambiquan province of Inhambane. Smaller concentrations live in portions of the provinces of Gaza, Maputo, Manica and Sofala. The Tswa people also live in eastern portions of the Republic of South Africa, and eastern and southern Zimbabwe. International borders were established long after the arrival of these people in this area of Africa. There are basically no significant concentrations of Tswa people living in Mozambique north of the Zambezi River, which more or less divides the country in two. The capital city of Maputo is now home to quite a few Tswa people as well, despite the major people group of the city being people of the Ronga group.
History: It is believed that ancestors of the Tswa, who now primarily inhabit an area in southern Mozambique, originated farther north nearer the more central part of Africa. As these people moved into the southern area of Africa, they settled in places where they could carry on their traditional farming and pastoral way of life. Various clans made up the overall Tswa people group. This social structure began to undergo changes as the influence of Portuguese colonialism increased. Portugal claimed Mozambique as its colony in 1752. The Portuguese government allowed the local kings/rulers to continue ruling their respective peoples, but under the over-arching authority of Portugal. This more or less continued until Mozambique gained independence. In 1962, Mozambiquan nationalists had formed the Mozambiquan Liberation Front (FRELIMO) to try and negotiate independence. Eventually, under the leadership of Dr. Eduardo Mondlane, FRELIMO began an armed liberation struggle in 1964. Samora Machel assumed leadership of FRELIMO in 1969 after the assassination of Dr. Mondlane. In 1974 the fascist Portuguese regime was overthrown and Mozambique became independent on June 25, 1975.
Identity: The name of this people in their language is Vatswa. The singular form is Mutswa. They are often referred to, especially by outsiders, as Tswa, following the patterns of English grammar. The Tswa people are part of a larger language/people group called the Tsonga (Vatsonga). The Tsonga encompass three sub-groups: the Ronga, Tswa and Tsonga (Shangaan). These three groups are very similar in practically every respect. They originated from the same indigenous Bantu peoples who came down from the north to inhabit much of what is now called southern Mozambique and portions of several bordering countries.
The Tswa themselves distinguish three main groups: The Dzivi, the Hlengwe and the Mhandla. It should also be noted that there are two smaller sub-groups who belong to the Tswa. They are the Nwanati, also called the Makwakwa, traditionally placed south of the Hlengwe; and the Nzonge, also called the Gwambe in their traditional homeland between the Dzivi and the Chopi.
It is extremely difficult to determine even an estimated population of the Tswa people. This is at least partially due to the fact that written information often confuses or overlooks the fact that the Tswa are part of the larger group of Tsonga people. They are often referred to as "Tsonga" people, blurring the distinctions made here. So, often when reading information, one cannot determine if a given population estimate is of the Tswa people specifically, or of the overall larger group of the Tsonga people.
Language: Tswa is one of three very closely related Tsonga dialects, the other two being Shangaan and Ronga. Shangaan is also sometimes called Tsonga because these people are large and well known. It is believed that these variations exist at least partly because different groups of the same original people inhabited slightly different sections of southern Mozambique, therefore developing a few linguistic variations. Linguists have assigned separate language (ROPAL) codes to the three languages, The Ethnologue notes that the three are mutually intelligible. The language of the Tswa (Vatswa) people is called Xitswa (or "Tswa" by outsiders). It is an indigenous Bantu language.
Political Situation: The Tswa people, along with other Mozambiquans had greatly suffered during the years of the war of independence. Unfortunately, the period between 1975 and the mid 1980s, the Mozambiquan government (under FRELIMO rule) went down the trail of Marxism, leading the country into still more political, economic and social upheaval. Another nationalist movement called The National Resistance of Mozambique (RENAMO) began a terrible guerrilla war after independence to depose FRELIMO and its Marxist bent. After much negotiation, a peace accord was signed in October 1992. Today, as with most people groups in southern Mozambique, the Tswa people are living intertwined with other peoples. Though the Tswa dialect has a few differences, the people are not easily distinguishable/differentiated from other Bantu people groups that inhabit the southern portions of Mozambique.
Customs: Traditionally, the Tswa have been agriculturists and to some degree pastoralists. For the most part, they are no different from the vast majority of all southern Bantu peoples. Their way of life and customs run very parallel. However, there are those living along the Indian Ocean coastal areas who are fishermen by trade. Also, it is not uncommon for those living inland to supplement their meat by hunting game, although wild animal numbers have been greatly diminished due to decades of war, famine and marked mismanagement.
During the last two decades of the 19th century, many of the Tswa began to be recruited to work in the mines of South Africa. This has caused the Tswa people to be influenced by cultures originally foreign to the Bantu African ways of life.
There is a certain percentage who have migrated to the cities and towns in search of employment. This was dramatically increased as a result of war and famine. Thousands of Tswa people were forced to flee their traditional way of life as farmers in the countryside to cramped conditions in the towns and cities. Because of these changes, today, many Tswa people do not practice or reflect much of their traditional livelihood and many of their customs.
Religion: Historically, the Tswa people have adhered to African traditional religions (animism/ancestral spirit worship). This is still common, especially among those living in rural areas, with 43% of the people estimated to follow traditional religion.
Christianity: Even though many began identifying with Roman Catholicism or one of the Protestant denominations many years ago, a large percentage remain faithful to some form of animism or ancestral spirit worship. During the Marxist years (1975 - mid 1980s), the practice of religious beliefs was outlawed and made very difficult to the point of widespread severe persecution and suffering. Those who adhered to animism and ancestral spirit worship, especially in the rural areas, continued to a certain degree with their practices. Even though religious practice of whatever form was greatly suppressed by the government, practically all of them maintained an existence and were not eliminated altogether. In 1988, as the government was making its transition from Marxism to multi-party democracy, the Ministry of Justice created the Department of Religious Affairs (DAR). This department was responsible for registering and establishing relations with various churches. By the middle of 1995, approximately 300 religious groups had been registered. The Tswa are open and responsive to the gospel.
THIS PEOPLE'S COUNTRY: MOZAMBIQUE (Also in South Africa and Zimbabwe)
Major Bantu Languages: Makhuwa, Shona, Lomwe, Tsonga, Chuabo, Makonde.
Official Language: Portuguese
Capital: Maputo (1.5 million)
Major Crops: Maize, Rice, Cotton, Groundnuts, Sugar cane, Cashew nuts.
Annual Income per Person: $80
Lomwe Kokola Makhuwa Shangaan Chuabo