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South Africa has 11 official languages and a multilingual population fluent in at least two. IsiZulu and isiXhosa are the largest languages, while English is spoken at home by only one in 10 people – most of them not white.

English is a prominent language in South African public life, widely used in government, business and the media. As a first language it is mainly confined to the cities.

The 4,892,623 South Africans who speak English as a first language make up 9.6% of the country’s total population. Among first-language English speakers, 32.8% are white, 23.9% black, 22.4% Indian and 19.3% coloured.


It is the second-largest language in both the Western Cape (after Afrikaans) and Gauteng (after isiZulu). In the Western Cape it is spoken by 20.2% of the population, and in Gauteng by 13.3%. English is minimally spoken in the other provinces.