Genetic-substructure and complex demographic history of South African Bantu speakers

South Eastern Bantu-speaking (SEB) groups constitute more than 80% of the population in South Africa. Despite clear linguistic and geographic diversity, the genetic differences between these groups have not been systematically investigated. Based on genome-wide data of over 5000 individuals, representing eight major SEB groups, we provide strong evidence for fine-scale population structure that broadly aligns with geographic distribution and is also congruent with linguistic phylogeny (separation of Nguni, Sotho-Tswana and Tsonga speakers).


Although differential Khoe-San admixture plays a key role, the structure persists after Khoe-San ancestry-masking. The timing of admixture, levels of sex-biased gene flow and population size dynamics also highlight differences in the demographic histories of individual groups. The comparisons with five Iron Age farmer genomes further support genetic continuity over ∼400 years in certain regions of the country. Simulated trait genome-wide association studies further show that the observed population structure could have major implications for biomedical genomics research in South Africa.

Authors: Dhriti Sengupta, Ananyo Choudhury, Cesar Fortes-Lima, Shaun Aron, Gavin Whitelaw, Koen Bostoen, Hilde Gunnink, Natalia Chousou-Polydouri, Peter Delius, Stephen Tollman, F Gomez-Olive Casas, Shane Norris, Felistas Mashinya, Marianne Alberts,  View ORCID ProfileScott Hazelhurst, Carina M. Schlebusch, Michèle Ramsay, as members and collaborators of AWI-Gen and the H3Africa Consortium