The term “Bantu people” is used to describe the roughly 60 million Africans who speak languages in the Bantu language family. Given that there are approximately 400 of these closely related languages, it should come as no surprise that these people are incredibly diverse, and that societies and governments among Bantus can be radically different. Some people feel that the term may not be entirely appropriate, since it encompasses such a huge group of Africans; these individuals may prefer to identify individual communities instead.
It is estimated that the tribes that make up this group probably began migrating from Northern Africa around 3,000 BCE. They probably brought an assortment of skills with them, including the ability to farm and work metals such as iron, and this migration continued until around the fourth century CE. Many of these people settled south of the Congo River. Over time, a number of languages, including Swahili, Kirundi, Gikuyu, Tsonga, and Basaa, developed; many of these languages share the word “Bantu” for people, and except for a region in South-East Africa where Khoi-San is spoken, they cover Southern Africa.
Many of the great kingdoms of South Africa were ruled by Bantus, who tended to be highly resourceful and adaptable. Their culture subsumed those of other native Africans, although traces of earlier African peoples can be seen in some societies today. These kingdoms traded with people from other regions of the world, including the Europeans, and as Europeans started to colonize Africa, they pressured the existing Bantus to move. People who speak the languages in this family can be found in Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, among other nations in the southern part of Africa.
Around the 1920s, whites in South Africa started to use the term “Bantu.” Over time, the term began to be perceived as racially offensive, and many modern South Africans prefer to use the term “African” instead because of the connotations with apartheid South Africa. In other regions of Africa, some people use the term more freely, because it has not become as racially loaded as it has in South Africa.