The Venda (also VaVenda) population of about 600,000 people coalesced into an identifiable social unit in the area of the northern Transvaal and in Zimbabwe over several centuries. The Venda language, tshiVenda or luVenda, emerged as a distinct tongue in the sixteenth century, according to scholars. In the twentieth century, the tshiVenda vocabulary is similar to seSotho, but the grammar shares similarities with Shona dialects, which are spoken in Zimbabwe.
Venda culture is similarly eclectic; it appears to have incorporated a variety of East African, Central African, Nguni, and Sotho characteristics. For example, the Venda forbid the consumption of pork, a prohibition that is common along the East African coast. They practice male circumcision, which is common among many Sotho, but not among most Nguni peoples.
Early Venda social organization consisted of small kinship groups, often dispersed among several households. These were organized into chiefdoms, and some were ruled by chiefly dynasties in the eighteenth century. Smaller chiefdoms often served as vassal states to larger and stronger chiefdoms, but they were neither entirely incorporated into them nor administered directly by a paramount chief. Venda traditional religious beliefs, like other aspects of culture, appear to have combined elements from several neighboring religious systems and Christianity.
Bantustan - Venda
The homeland of Venda became nominally independent in 1979 but was not recognized by any country except South Africa. Unlike other homelands, Venda actually drew most of the 700,000 people assigned to live there. Its economy depended on agriculture and small industry, and coal mining began in the late 1980s. Nearly 70 percent of the men worked elsewhere in South Africa, however, and at least 40 percent of the homeland's income was migrant labor wages. Facing economic collapse, Venda authorities applied for readmission into South Africa in 1991. Their petition was essentially overtaken by the political negotiations and constitutional reforms of the early 1990s, which led to the dissolution of the homelands in 1994.
Three Black homelands - Transkei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda - were declared to be "independent states" in 1976, 1977, and 1979, respectively. Since independence their workers had not been regarded as domestic elements of the South African economy. In addition to hearing appeals from other divisions of the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division also acts as the appeal court for the "independent" homelands of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda.
Venda became the third independent homeland on September 13, 1979. The small territory in the northeastern corner of the Transvaal is more cohesive than other homelands, consisting of two sections (which the Nationalist government has promised to join) and with 68 percent of its official population actually living within its borders. The decision to opt for independence appeared tainted, however, by the tactics of Chief Minister Patrick Mphephu against the opposition party. Although it won a majority of elective seats in both homeland elections, the party was kept from power by detention of twelve of its members and by Mphephu's influence over appointed traditional members of the assembly.
By the mid-1970s educated Blacks (here comprising persons with a secondary education or more) were less prone than they had been formerly to deprecate traditional forms. Some, as a gesture stressing their Africanness, were prepared to be sympathetic to traditional practices. Such Blacks, however, dislike the use of these practices if they are perceived as divisive and may derogate groups such as the Venda and Shangaan-Tsonga who seemed to cling to traditional forms because of ethnic parochialism.
The Black education system was administered by the Department of Education and Training in Pretoria, which controlled the policies of all Black schools except those that exist in Transkei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda. In the latter three jurisdictions the education systems were administered locally but in coordination with the department in Pretoria, which provided assistance as required.
South Africa regarded the small military forces organized in the three Black homelands it recognized as independent in the late 1970s as an integral part of an overall defense system. In 1980 two combat infantry companies cooperated with South African forces in counterinsurgency operations along the border with Botswana. An embryonic homeguard was authorized for Venda in 1979.
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