The African Swamphen is a shy, skulking inhabitant of dense reedbeds along slow flowing rivers, marshes, swamps and temporary wetlands where they feed mainly on aquatic plants, insects and other invertebrates, fish, frogs and eggs. They are usually seen singly but may be encountered in small family groups from time to time. African Swamphens breed at any time of year, though there is a distinct peak in the summer months. Their nests are large and built of and among reeds. Clutches contain between 2 and 5 eggs, are incubated by both parents and hatch after about 3 weeks. Both parents care for the chicks, which fledge at about two months old.
Adults are around 42cm long, weigh approximately 600g and are by far the biggest members of the rail family occurring in South Africa.
In South Africa, the African Swamphen, or Purple Gallinule as it was previously known, is distributed very patchily on the highveld and along the eastern and southern coastlines. Some authorities consider the African Swamphen to be a subspecies of the Purple Swamphen (P. porphyrio) which has a wide distribution over Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia), and is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN.