068_G19_InFocus_Botawana

Global

In Focus Botswana Capturing the Botswana philosophy Botswana’s 35 ethnic groups are all equal before the law – in theory at least. But modern living has created situations where speakers of minority languages feel disadvantaged, not least of all the San, who have been relocated away from their ancestral lands Anver Versi Botswana is a curious case. While perhaps the majority of the people live in towns and cities, they are still rooted in the countryside. To understand Botswana, one must understand its environment. Most of the vast country is composed either of the Kalahari Desert or the Okavango Delta, neither of which is ideally suited for human habitation. Nevertheless, both these natural features have provided sufficient succour and nutrition for several groups to not only thrive but forge unique cultural identities. While the per capita GDP of the country is the highest in Africa, wealth is still considered in terms of livestock. While medical facilities are some of the best in the continent, there is still a revered place for the traditional medicine man. While it has enjoyed the longest uninterrupted democracy in Africa, consensus rather than confrontation is still the aim and, while it has a largely young population, respect for elders is still a social norm. Unlike almost anywhere else in the world, culture has not yet been commoditised and packed into tourist-friendly bundles – despite the mandatory ‘traditional dances’ that have become such a monotonous fixture on the tourist circuit. Rather, culture in Botswana is understated but very much alive in the very fabric of daily life. The Scottish novelist, Alexander McCall Smith, has succeeded in capturing some of the essence of the ‘Botswana philosophy’ and way of life in his Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series. There is a certain grace and graciousness that comes with plenty and a generosity of heart that has become such a very rare trait in today’s world. But the very absence of an overt and self-conscious ‘national culture’, which is somehow located outside normal life, may be undermining the country’s fascinating cultural uniqueness. The fear is that the dominance of the Setswana-speaking peoples is overwhelming other tribes who are losing their own languages and their cultural diversity. The term Botswana itself means the ‘the place of Tswana’. The term Batswana refers to all the people of the country, but it also, of course, refers specifically to ethnic Tswana as distinct from other ethnicities. The norms and customary laws of eight Tswana tribes were recognised by the British when the country was still a colony. These still form part of the broader legal system of Botswana. While English is the official language of the country, Setswana is the national language. Although Botswana has an estimated 35 ethnic groups who speak 26 different languages, it is estimated that some 90 per cent of the citizens of Botswana speak Setswana. Since the 1990s there has been agitation by speakers of some of the smaller language groups, often assisted by international pressure organisations, to resist the dominance of Setswana in national life. They complain that their children are disadvantaged in primary schools and they face discrimination when looking for work. They are also unhappy about losing their cultural identities. On the other hand, the government has made it clear that all citizens are equal and have equal rights to all public services, such as education, piped water, electricity and state income support. It does not believe in the idea of ‘equal but separate’, which was the foundation of the Apartheid state in Botswana through history 1200 Tswana people first arrive as part of Bantu migration 400 Earliest archaeological evidence of farming and ironwork in Botswana 1885 Britain proclaims a protectorate called Bechuanaland 1840s David Livingstone undertakes missionary work in Botswana 1817 London Missionary Society establishes its first mission at Kuruman 1860s Tswana people appeal to Britain for protection against enemies, opening the door to European interests. Shortly after, European gold prospectors arrive and mining begins 1960 Britain approves a new constitution for Bechuanaland 1950 Seretse Khama, Chief of the Ngwato, is overthrown and exiled by British forces. Rioters protest his exile 1962 Khama founds the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP), later to become the Botswana Democratic Party four 68 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global


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