These are the most spoken languages in South Africa

 ·10 Oct 2023

South Africa’s most spoken language is isiZulu, data from the 2022 census shows.

Stats SA released a new census after 11 years of waiting and significant delays due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The census for 2022 shows that South Africa’s population ballooned between 2011 and 2022, with the population increasing from 51.7 million to 62 million in 2022.

The census also looks at various other data points, such as the most spoken languages in the country.

South Africa is uniquely positioned as it has 12 official languages, with the primary language spoken by households varying significantly per province.

According to Stats SA, isiZulu is the language spoken most often in South African households, with 24.4% (15.13 million) of the population speaking the language.

Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke said that isiZulu is the primary language spoken in KwaZulu-Natal and in parts of Mpumalanga and the Free State.

isiXhosa is in second place, with 16.3% (10.11 million) of the population, and speakers are mainly in the Eastern Cape.

Afrikaans is in third place with 10.06% (6.57 million) and is mainly spoken in the Western Cape and Northern Cape.

Sepedi, which is mainly spoken in the majority of Limpopo, is in fourth, with 10.0% (6.2 million) of the nation’s population mainly speaking the language.

Although English is the primary language of business in the world, only 8.7% (5.39 million) of the population use it as their primary form of communication.

Unsurprisingly, Sesotho (7.8%) and Siswati (2.8%) are widely spoken in areas close to the borders of Lesotho and Eswatini.

Interestingly, the new 12th official language of South Africa is only the primary form of communication for 0.02% (12,400) of the population.

However, it should be noted that Stats SA only looks at the primary language spoken and not fluency, so the official number of people who can speak a language may, in fact, be higher.

Below is the population distribution by language spoken most often in the household.

Language% of population Population
isiZulu24.4%15.13 million
isiXhosa16.3%10.11 million
Afrikaans 10.6%6.57 million
Sepedi 10.0%6.20 million
English8.7%5.39 million
Setswana8.3%5.15 million
Sesotho7.8%4.84 million
Xitsonga4.7%2.91 million
Siswati2.8%1.74 million
Tshivenda2.5%1.15 million
Ndebele1.7%1.05 million
Sign Language0.02%12,400
Other2.1%1.30 million

Source: Stats SA

Read: Privacy fears over South Africa’s new government surveillance laws

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