Prof TM Sengani


A people’s language starts with the people themselves. Vhavenda, according to Nemudzivhadi (2006; 2011), is traced to an area along the East Coast in Somalia and the great lakes and seems to have links with Zenj/Zanj/Zinj, who was the son of Kush. The term Zenj is said to mean Black people (Theal, 1910; Torrend, 1891; Tolmacheva, 1975). Historians agree that some of their groups, including Vhangona, Vhanyai, Vhatwanamba, Vhambedzi and Vhatavhatsindi left the Azania area earlier and travelled south (Ralushai, 1977; Nemudzivhadi, 1998). Records reveal that they met Vhalemba around Ethiopia and travelled together for ages until they reached Vhukalanga and later the areas called Venda. Tshivenda is one of the languages spoken by the people of Zenj of Azania, which scholars say covered a larger area than some European scholars write about. The people of Zenj are said to have spoken Zangijah, a term covering all their languages (Doke & Cole, 1969). Later European scholars referred to their languages wrongfully as Bantu instead of the languages of Zenj, Azania or Central Eastern African Languages, just like they did with European languages, which were known by their national/tribal affiliates such as the Germanic languages, English, Dutch, German and the Scandinavian languages as the people are from the Germanic tribe; Romance languages which cover French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Greek because they are associated with the Roman empire. Unfortunately, African languages were named after a lexical item Bantu which happened to be the most common. However, this was not the case with the father/Vader/pater of the Germania and Romance languages. Though Tshivenda is spoken in South Africa and some parts of Zimbabwe, it has standard features with Kiswahili, Chisena, Chinyanja and many languages in Central Africa.

Mission stations

According to Benso (1979), the first missionaries to preach among Vhavenda were those of the Dutch Reformed church led by one Mackidd as early as 1863. They established the first mission station along with the Vhuilausumbwa mountain range, later named the Soutpansberg, with the Voortrekkers naming it Goedgedacht. They are also said to have established the first school in Venda. Others, such as the Swiss Mission, catered for Tsonga, but the Missionary Koen, who started a school in 1878, catered for Tshivenda at Mavhola. It was the Presbyterian Church which started work at Gouldville with MacDonald. Another mission, Getrusberg, was established in 1899 and another at Khalavha in 1902. Most of these also established schools, though the Lutheran missionaries did much work on the language. Therefore, it is essential to know that in 1918 the Seven Day Adventists started a missionary station called Muruba, the Anglican Church at Mukula in 1912 and the Salvation Army one in Gaba and Tshidimbini. The Dutch Reformed Church established another mission, Siloam, starting at Matshisevhe and the last one, Tshilidzini, at Tshisaulu (Benso, 1979:43-5). Most of these churches established schools where Tshivenda was taught.

The first writers of Tshivenda

The first people to have reduced Tshivenda to paper are said to be missionaries of the Lutheran Church. The idea is said to have developed in Berlin in 1824 when nine men decided to forsake everything to preach the Word to all nations. They founded the Berlin Mission Society in 1829. After building a Seminary to train preachers and missionaries, some set for Africa in 1833 for a journey that took 11 months and later spread themselves among African nationalities of different languages. Wherever they went, they built churches, schools and hospitals. Both Nemudzivhadi (2006) and Kirkaldy (2005) speak of Beuster, Stech, Schwellnus, Bertoud and Kuhn who came around 1972, 1874 and 1877. Work started at Tshimboni, where Beuster is said to have gone around, and every time he met people, his message was, No tshidzwa! ‘Are you saved?’ Netshiongolwe from Tshiheni (whose name became Johannes Mutshaeni, who got converted in Natal and his wife Mufanadzo) was joined by others mentioned in the records as David Denga, Solomon and Piet Totani. Much work developed through preaching the gospel as these missionaries travelled around with the Vhavenda speakers mentioned above, who acted as interpreters. It should be noted that these first Vhavenda preachers rarely appear in most works, as scholars always focused on the European missionaries. Nemudzivhadi (2006; 2011) further enlisted several books that Carl Beuster wrote;
• Thalusamaipfi, Matshimbidzele a kereke, Tshipele tsha Tsevenda (1883)
• Katexima thuku ea Matinus Luther (1884)
• Dziepistola dzevangeli dza dzizondaha na dza Votambo dza Moaha oote (1884).
• Evangeli ya Yohannes dza dziepistola 3 dza Yohannes na dzipisalema, Dzimoe dzo khetheoaho nga Tsevenda (1895)
In 1888 Beuster was said to have visited Khosi Ravhura and wrote a song about Thohoyandou. However, in the book Bawenda Mission in Nord Transvaal by Gundler, everything he wrote was written in 1897.
Another chapter of Tshivenda development took place in Tshakhuma, where the missionary Schwellnus found the language very difficult. However, among his children, Theodore, Paul, George, Hans and Edmund, it was Paul who was identified as being more advanced in the languages than his siblings.
Schwellnus did much work after the death of Buster. His children met the German scholar Carl Meinhof, who assisted with the Lepsius system of writing. It was this encounter which led him to publish Das Tsevenda in 1901. After this, there were more publications when Theodore Schwellnus revised his father’s Tsepele TSA Tsevenda, which had a new title Mikanzwo. Ndede followed this in 1912, including the letters of the alphabet, sounds and sentences and some Tshivenda tales. Furthermore, it was Paul and Theodore, together with Enndeman, Lalumbe, Dzivhani and their sister Edmund Giesecke, who compiled Nyimbo Dza Vhatendi (Mathivha, 1972, Kirkaldy 2005, Nemudzivhadi, 2006;2011).
According to Mathivha (1972), Schwellnus published Katekasim duku ya Dr Martin Luther in 1902 and Tshivenda hymn book in 1903. It is easy to notice Northern Sotho or Sepedi in the early Tshivenda writings because these missionaries did missionary work before writing Sepedi books. These included:
• Die Verba des Tsivenda was published in 1904 in which Tshivenda speech sounds were compared to the German ones. Mathivha.
• Mikanzwo ya vhuswa ha vhutshilo ya maduvha a Murena othe a nwaha (1911). This book contained translations from the New Testament, which Mathivha maintained had good Tshivenda idiomatic expressions.
• In 1918, Schwellnus produced Ndede ya limbo lwa Tshivenda using new orthography.
• In 1918, ED Giesekke wrote Mafhungo a buguni ya Mudzimu which, according to Mathivha, had the same orthography as in Mikanzwo.
To forge linguistic links between Tshivenda and German, TH and PE Schwellnus wrote Worterverzeichnis de Venda-Sprache, which had equivalents of both languages in 1919. In other words, speakers of both languages could use it to learn them.
In 1920, PE Schwellnus wrote Evangeli ya mishumo ya Vhaapositola using new orthography. Again in 1923, he produced a New Testament translation with new orthography, and in 1924 he wrote the modern Venda hymn book Nyimbo Dza Vhatendi. Another chapter was opened with the coming of C Endemann, who wrote Midzimu ya malombo, in which he showed some cultural elements of Vhavenda (Mathivha, 1972). A series of readers by Schwellnus followed:
• Mudededzi 1 (1930)
• Mudededzi 11 (1938), in which he added legendary stories, folktales, proverbs and some stories he got from Vhavenda speakers.
• In 1930, Schwellnus wrote Luvenda grammar, which deals with parts of speech, syntax, writing rules, and language analysis.
Another milestone came with the writing of Phendaluambo ya zwikolo zwa Venda by TH Endemann and EFN Mudau in 1940. This was followed by PR Ngwana‘s Kha RI ambe Luvenda, which had exercises and proverbs for students and later by HM Mulangaphuma. Later, E. Mukhuba wrote Ndilana Dza Luvenda for the lower classes.
Ziervogel and Dau produced a handbook of the Venda language in 1960, which Ziervogel, Wentzel and Makuya later revised in 1972. This grammar book was meant for higher education students and dealt with phonetics, phonology, morphology and semantics. MER Mathivha and JT Makhados’ Thahulela Luvenda came at an opportune time for high school students in 1966. There was also Maumela’s Thikho ya Luvenda, Makuya’s Luvenda (1983) and Ngoma ya Vhatei by NA Milubi (1996 ).

Historical, anthropological and archaeological material

• In 1908, Wasseman produced The Bawenda of Spelonken.
• In 1931, HA Stayt wrote The Bavenda
• In 1932, NJ Van Warmelo produced Contributions towards Venda History, Religion and Tribal ritual.
• In 1940, NJ Van Warmelo, SM Dzivhani, EFN Mudau, MM Motenda and Mamadi produced The copper miners of Musina and the early history of the Zoutpansberg.
• In 1966 Marole produced Makhulukuku, Raluvhimba and Lushaka lwa Vhalemba.
• WMD Phophi produced the following: Phusuphusu Dza Dzimauli (1970, Educum), Mafhungo a Mbilwi 1 & 2 (1989, Educum); Mafhungo a Tshulu (1991, Educum), Nganea Dza Linzhelele (1989, Macmillan Boleswa) and Phunzhavhunzha Dza Ha Tshivhasa (1989, Educum0, Nganea Dza Mutale (1990, Macmillan Boleswa).
• In 1989, JHN Loubser published Archaeology and early Venda history, followed by Oral traditions, archaeology and the history of Venda Mitupo in 1990.
• In 2005, A Kirkardy published Capturing the Soul: The Vhavenda and the Missionaries, 1870-1900.


ED Giesekke, Lwendo lwa Muendi (1960)
• MH Nemudzivhadi, Makhaulambilu a Julius Ceasar (1976)
• In 1958, a series of books entitled Muratho were produced by PR Ngwana, while his brother DM Ngwana made Vhakale vha Hone, in which several Vhavenda poets contributed texts.
It is also crucial to point out that much was done in the development of Tshivenda through the involvement of the first trained teachers, like SM Dzivhani in 1913, SR Rabothata, and I Dau in 1915, which J Mavhusha later increased, I Phaswana and N.R. Masekela during 1924.
Most Vhavenda is filled with pride when the missionary Karl Drescher is mentioned cause. In contrast, others gave Vhavenda converts new European names (said to be of Christian origin), but he did not change their terms, allowing converts to keep their Tshivenxda names. According to Nemudzivhadi (2011), it was Forbes who sealed the deal when he gave his children Tshivenda names, which was unusual in Christian circles.
Among the first Tshivenda dictionaries was one written by the Rev Westphal. Both Nemudzivhadi and Kilkardy are full of praise of Thovhele Makwarela Mphaphuli, who over the years challenged Paul Schwellnus to write the Tshivenda Bible. Again, Nemudzivhadi points out that the first Muvenda reminded Paul Schwellnus, trained reverend and teacher Stefanus Makhado Masiagwala Tshivhase, about the issues of the Tshivenda Bible that THovhele Makwarela Mphaphuli had requested from him.
The significant challenge for Schwellnus came when G.P. Lestrade, the Government Ethnologist, announced that since Tshivenda was not a fully-fleshed language but a mixture of Chikalanga and Tshibeli, there was no need for it to be taught in schools. Schwellnus used his background, as he was born in Venda and spoke it as a first language, to take it seriously, starting in 1933 and finishing in 1937. Of course, speakers of the language, such as J Mavhusha and his sister Edmund (who was also a typist), assist. Besides, he had been told of the passing on of Thovhele Makwarela Mphaphuli in 1927 with a copy of the new testament in his hands. This very Bible was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1937 and was launched at a massive event at Tshakhuma in 1938. After this, several publications by Schwellnus followed, including Ndededzi A-VI, Mafhungo a mutakalo, and Phendaluambo.
More books followed were written by NJ Van Warmelo and WMD Phophi. Most of these were books on Venda law and a dictionary, though no credit was given to Mr Phophi. Again, Lestrated openly confesses that he compiled a book entitled Some Venda Folktales, which he got from Mr Phophi. Still, the latter’s name does not appear on the cover page. On the other hand, TH Endemann produced a grammar book with E Mudau. In 1938 a competition was sponsored by the International Institute of African Languages, and three books were published by SM Dzivhani, E Mudau and MM Motenda. Later, LM Marole produced the following; Vocabulary, Raluvhimba, Lushaka lwa Vhalemba, Makhulukuku and Bugu ya Dzinyimbo.
The government introduced magazines for Africans, such as Wamba and Mvelaphanda, with TN Maumela later editing Muvenda. These were followed by the Venda Home Government-sponsored Thohoyandou newspaper, which ran until they were deposed.


A few tried their hands at collecting folklore material. Besides folktales appearing in PE Schwellun's earlier books, Lestrade collected some folktales from WMD Phophi and translated them into English in Some Venda Folktales.
• Maumela, T.N with Mavhina, Muedi and the Rev Mbuwe, Dzingano na dzithai dza Tshivenḓa, (1969, JL Van Schaik)
• Rananga, N.C (2001) Zwila kale published by Lobelia Publishers.
• Ramaliba, T. Z: (1996) Makhulu wanga Vho-Nyatshavhungwa. Published by JL Van Schaik.
• Mafela M.J and Raselekwane N.R: Ri a dzedza (1991) published by NAM Publisher

Literary works: Novels and dramas

In the 1950s, Tshivenda speakers started to produce literary works with TN Maumela‘s Elelwani, followed by ES Madima’s A si ene. Many others followed these, like Makamu’s Nyabele muthia vivho and MER Mathivha’s Mabalanganye. Maumelle was to become the foremost Tshivenda writer with almost 62 books, including novels, drama, essays, folktales and grammar books. Many other writers followed, such as PSM Masekela’s Mungo Dzi mulomoni, followed by R.R Matshil’s Ndo lata.
After that, with Maumela, Madima and Mathivha continuing to write, a new breed of writers appeared among them, including TN Makuya, IP Demana, ET Maumela, AM Mahamba, AW Magaw, NG Magwabeni, JM Netshivhuyu, MJ Mafela, RN Madadzhe, M Nevhutalu, TT Netshirando, TT Mudau, TM Sengani, EN Phaswana, TJ Manenzhe, SN Mahamba, AE Maisha, T Madima, MR Madiba, NW Tshamano, IP Mandende Sigogo, KY Yazdani. Except for the last two who are females, the rest are males. MJ Mafela (2005) wrote Tshivenda Literature: A historical sketch with particular reference to its bibliography. In the book, he sketches Folklore, missionary adventurers, Tshivenda literature from 1954-70, literature and the homeland system from 1971-89 and literature and the winds of change between 1990-1994.


A poetry collection was made into a book by DM Ngwana with poems of PR Ngwana, Z Mutsila, A Babane, AP Sigame, D Nesengani, and ES Madima (1958). There was a break after Ngwana’s Vhakale vha hone for some years until Sigwavhulimu broke through with Tsiko Tshiphiri and Mirunzi ya Vhuvha and the Ratshitanga brothers Tendamudzimu and Rashaka with Vhungoho and Tsengela tsiwana. M Tshindane, Milubi and a group, M.R Nevhutalu, M. Netshirando, L.Ndlovu, P.M. Nefefe, E.T. Thangwane and KY Ladzani produced poetry volumes. Mulubi’s doctoral thesis was later transformed into a book entitled Aspects of Tshivenda poetry and has been very valuable to students and lecturers alike.
Generally, the themes seem to vary with poetry. From the beginning, poets recorded songs, children’s rhymes and poetry on the ordinary property and others, especially Sigwavhulimu, started to write poetry that used poetic devices, with many following him in this direction. The Ratshitanga brothers and Milubi wrote protest poetry which consummated with the political period.
Though many continued to write novels and dramas, many, except Magwabeni’s Zwi do fhela ngani. Phaswana’s Tshi does lilwa tended to be relatively small and focused on general themes, with very few crossing over to political ones. However, it was in drama where Milubi excelled with political themes. Very little is heard on much is being written because writers’ groups have not been as active of late.


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