Glossary: Bantu

Literally, ""human beings,"" in more than 300 Bantu languages of equatorial and southern Africa. Bantu languages are classified within the central branch of the Niger-Congo language family; characterized by a system of noun classes marked by prefixes, so that each dependent word in a sentence carries a prefix of the same class. Outsiders often simplify by omitting prefix; for example, the amaZulu (people) are known as the Zulu; their language, isiZulu, is also referred to as Zulu. Speakers of seSotho, the BaSotho, are often referred to simply as Sotho peoples. Four major subgroups of Bantu languages--Nguni, Sotho, Tsonga-Shangaan, and Venda--are widely represented in South Africa. They include nine of South Africas official languages--isiXhosa, isiZulu, isiNdebele, sePedi, seSotho, seTswana, siSwati, tshiVenda (also luVenda), and xiTsonga. During the apartheid era, the term Bantu was often used in government regulations, official statements, and sometimes in conversation to designate people of black African descent. Because this group was particularly disadvantaged by apartheid, the term Bantu assumed pejorative connotations in many apartheid-era contexts.

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