1st Africa Forum

People

People



The population comprises approximately 73 ethnic groups, most of which are Bantu-speaking. Almost 90% of Zambians belong to the nine main ethnolinguistic groups: the Nyanja-Chewa, Bemba, Tonga, Tumbuka, Lunda, Luvale, Kaonde, Nkoya and Lozi. In the rural areas, each ethnic group is concentrated in a particular geographic region of the country and many groups are very small and not as well known. However, all the ethnic groups can be found in significant numbers in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. In addition to the linguistic dimension, tribal identities are relevant in Zambia.[45] These tribal identities are often linked to family allegiance or to traditional authorities. The tribal identities are nested within the main language groups.

A tribal and linguistic map of Zambia.

Immigrants, mostly British or South African, as well as some white Zambian citizens of British descent, live mainly in Lusaka and in the Copperbelt in northern Zambia, where they are either employed in mines, financial and related activities or retired. There were 70,000 Europeans in Zambia in 1964, but many have since left the country.

Zambia has a small but economically important Asian population, most of whom are Indians and Chinese. There are 13,000 Indians in Zambia. This minority group has a massive impact on the economy controlling the manufacturing sector. An estimated 80,000 Chinese are resident in Zambia.[47] In recent years, several hundred dispossessed white farmers have left Zimbabwe at the invitation of the Zambian government, to take up farming in the Southern province.

Religion

Religious affiliation in Zambia[52]
Religion Percent
Protestant
75.3%
Roman Catholic
20.2%
Animist
2.5%
Atheist
1.8%
Muslim
0.5%
Distribution of population by religious affiliation

Zambia is officially a Christian nation according to the 1996 constitution,[53] but a wide variety of religious traditions exist. Traditional religious thoughts blend easily with Christian beliefs in many of the country's syncretic churches. About three-fourths of the population is Protestant while about 20% follow Roman Catholicism. Christian denominations include Catholicism, Anglicanism, Pentecostalism, New Apostolic Church, Lutheranism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Branhamites, and a variety of Evangelical denominations.

Counting only active preachers, Jehovah's Witnesses in Zambia have over 204,000 adherents[57] with over 930,000 attending their annual observance of Christ's death in 2018. These have been preaching there since 1911 [58]

Languages

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Widely spoken languages[62]

  Bemba - 33.5 %
  Nyanja - 14.8 %
  Tonga - 11.4 %
  Lozi - 5.5 %
  Chewa - 4.5 %
  other - 30.3 %

The official language of Zambia is English, which is used to conduct official business and is the medium of instruction in schools. The main local language, especially in Lusaka, is Nyanja (Chewa), followed by Bemba. In the Copperbelt Bemba is the main language and Nyanja second. Bemba and Nyanja are spoken in the urban areas in addition to other indigenous languages which are commonly spoken in Zambia. These include Lozi, Kaonde, Tonga, Lunda and Luvale, which feature on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC)'s local languages section. The total number of languages spoken in Zambia is 73.

Density map of dominant regional languages
  Bemba
  Chewa
  Lozi
  Lunda
  Nyanja
  Tonga

The process of urbanisation has had a dramatic effect on some of the indigenous languages, including the assimilation of words from other indigenous languages and English. Urban dwellers sometimes differentiate between urban and rural dialects of the same language by prefixing the rural languages with 'deep'.

Most will thus speak Bemba and Nyanja in the Copperbelt; Nyanja is dominantly spoken in Lusaka and Eastern Zambia. English is used in official communications and is the language of choice at home among – now common – intertribal families.