The Nguni cattle breed is a landrace breed adapted to different ecological regions of South Africa. A number of ecotypes are recognised based on phenotype within the breed, but it is not known if they are genetically distinct. In this study, molecular characterisation was performed on Makhathini (MAK), Pedi (PED), Shangaan (SHA) and Venda (VEN) Nguni cattle ecotypes. Two Nguni cattle populations, not kept as separate ecotypes, from the University of Fort Hare (UFH) and Agricultural Research Council Loskop South farm (LOS) were also included. Genotypic data was generated for 189 unrelated Nguni cattle selected based on pedigree records using 22 microsatellite markers. The expected heterozygosity values varied from 69 % (UFH) to 72 % (PED) with a mean number of alleles ranging from 6.0 to 6.9. The F ST estimate demonstrated that 4.8 % of the total genetic variation was due to the genetic differentiation between the populations and 92.2 % accounted for differences within the populations. The genetic distances and structure analysis revealed the closest relationship between MAK, PEDI and SHA ecotypes, followed by SHA and VEN. The UFH population clustered with the MAK ecotype, indicating that they are more genetically similar, while the LOS cattle grouped as a distinct cluster. Results suggest that the genetic differentiation between the PED and SHA ecotypes is low and can be regarded as one ecotype based on limited genetic differences. The results of this study can be applied as a point of reference for further genetic studies towards conservation of Nguni cattle ecotypes.