Tag: Botswana

Botswanan or Batswana? It’s complicated


Flag of Botswana
Flag of Botswana

I’ve been pondering about the origin and meaning of the two terms, Botswanan and Batswana. How nationals in African countries self-identify and how they identify their fellow citizens can tell us a lot about the level of inclusiveness and nationalism in a country.

According to Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries, the correct English term for nationals from Botswana is Botswanan. Therefore, it’s the preferred term by editors and writers worldwide. The majority of nationals from Botswana prefer the use of the complicated term Batswana. The addition of “Ba” meaning “the people of”, seemingly implies that everyone in Bostwana is Tswana. This makes it a term loaded with problematic histories of colonialism, exclusion and ethnic relations.

Who then, is Botswanan?

Botswana’s political borders were formed under colonial rule, bringing together diverse ethnic groups who comprised Bechuanaland. It was renamed Botswana in 1966 when the country gained independence from Britain. Today, it continues to be a multi-ethnic society.

Its main ethnic groups include the Tswana, Kalanga, Batswapong, Babirwa, Basarwa, Bayei, Hambukushu, Basubia, Baherero and Bakgalagadi people. In addition, there are other minority groups including whites, Indians and immigrants from other African nations.

Colloquially, all these ethnic groups are referred to as Batswana. However, applying the term Batswana to them is misleading.

Who then, is Tswana?

Nearly four million people who identify as Tswana live in southern Africa – one million in Botswana and three million in South Africa. It is used to describe the North Sotho, West Sotho, Sotho, and Pedi ethnic groups who have a similar culture and speak the same language.

The West Sotho Tswanas live in Botswana. They consist of eight ethnic groups and together make up a sizeable amount of the inhabitants, comprising roughly 70% of the population.

Due to their numbers, Tswana language and culture dominates mainstream Botswanan society. They have a distinct culture that is different from the other ethnic groups living in Botswana in terms of social organisations, ceremonies, language and religious beliefs. Therefore, a unifying Tswana culture that distinguishes them exists. Culturally, they are arguably more similar to the Pedi and Sotho in South Africa then they are to some ethnic groups within Botswana. Therefore, the term Batswana can be seen as a reflection of the presence of a dominant Tswana culture in Botswana and not a reflection of the multi-ethnic society Botswana actually is.

Botswana does not constitute a homogenous nation with a single language or culture. Therefore, the term Batswana should not be an umbrella term for all of the people within Botswana’s borders which include non-Tswana groups who have a different culture and may speak their own language. Additionally, anyone speaking the Setswana language should not be considered Batswana because this dominant language needed to function in contemporary Botswana where 26 languages are spoken. Therefore, an ability to speak a language doesn’t make a person the ethnicity of the people from which that language derived. As an example, the ability of the Khoi-San to speak Setswana does not technically make them West Sotho nor Batswana.

Who then, is Basarwa?

The Basarwa, who are commonly known as the Khoi-San or “Bushmen”, are often lumped in to this broad category of Batswana. They are made up of Khoi and San people who are further divided into distinct groups with their own languages and culture. They have long resisted being labelled terms such as “Bushman” and even “Khoi-San”. Calling them Batswana would just be the latest name to be forced on a group that has struggled to maintain their identity and culture.

Their identification has always been problematic. They are thought to be the “original” people of Botswana. The government does not award them (nor any other ethnic group) “indigenous” status though – they maintain that all citizens of the country are indigenous in order to promote a sense of “sameness”. In part, this is an attempt by the government to incorporate them in the dominant culture by promoting a strong sense of national identity and “developing” them to fit in with Batswana people who are considered “modern”. By labelling them Batswana they are forced to identify as such or risk being labelled as “backward” or otherwise “othered”, which marginalises them. In part, it is also an attempt at controlling their resources, culture and land – for tourism and diamonds – under the pretext of homogeneity or “oneness”.

Given the aforementioned relations between the Baswara and the Tswana-speaking groups, calling them “Batswana” when they feel their culture is threatened by them is problematic.

Similarly, other groups in Botswana may feel similar offense when being called Tswana for much less severe reasons such as simply not being Tswana.

Who then, is Batswana?

Simply speaking, the term Batswana is problematic for those ethnic groups such as the Khoi-San with their own cultural, linguistic and genealogical identities.

Botswanans need to be more conscious when they identify everyone from Botswana as Batswana in order to be more inclusive of the minority groups. Such a loose term which is meant to unify people can have the opposite effect by further marginalising minority ethnicities.

Next time someone problematises my use of the term Botswanan, my simple response will be, “What then, are the Basarwa?”

Sitinga Kachipande is a blogger and PhD student in Sociology at Virginia Tech with an African Studies concentration. Her research interests include tourism, development, global political economy, women’s studies, identity and representation. Follow her on Twitter: @MsTingaK


Trouble in paradise for Botswana’s democratic credentials

Botswana's President Ian Khama. (Pic: Reuters)
Botswana’s President Ian Khama. (Pic: Reuters)

When the news media turns a penetrating gaze on Africa, Botswana rarely makes headlines. The southern African nation is best known for diamonds, heart-stopping natural beauty and inoffensive politics. It ranks second behind Mauritius in the latest Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

But there is trouble in paradise. So far this month an editor has been arrested and a reporter has fled, triggering a diplomatic spat with the US, while a South African politician has been barred from entering the country and there are concerns over its use of the death penalty.

The unpleasant side of Botswana came to light when President Ian Khama, who once appeared on Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson and co, was reported to have been involved in a late night car crash which resulted in the other driver being given a new jeep.

The editor who published the story, Outsa Mokone of the Sunday Standard, was arrested and charged with sedition. “I would rather spend 100 years in their prisons rather than be a prisoner of guilty conscience,” he said upon his release.

Police raided the offices of Sunday Standard and seized documents and computer equipment. Mokone’s colleague, journalist Edgar Tsimane, fled to neighbouring South Africa where he applied for asylum. In an interview with that country’s eNews Channel Africa (eNCA), he painted a highly unflattering picture of a country that many revere as a beacon of democratic progress for the continent.

“There was information from my sources that my life was in danger,” said Tsimane, explaining his decision to leave Botswana, which he went on to describe as increasingly repressive.

“I think it’s been a gradual process. It’s now becoming more and more visible. I can tell you that we’ve been experiencing extra-judicial killings in the country. The public is losing confidence in the government of the day.”

He cited the case of a petty criminal shot dead by military intelligence, who riddled his body with 10 bullets. “How can you kill a man without subjecting him to the court of the law?”

Former army general Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party has ruled for nearly half a century. Tsimane added: “The president is just too powerful. He’s using all the powers in the constitution to govern himself. Even if he can do any wrong, because he knows he cannot be prosecuted.”

The media crackdown caused shock and disappointment. Sue Valentine, Africa programme co-ordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “These events tarnish Botswana’s reputation for good governance and media freedom in southern Africa. It can be restored by allowing a free flow of news and opinion.”

America joined the condemnation. The state department said Mokone’s arrest is “inconsistent with… fundamental freedoms and at odds with Botswana’s strong tradition of democratic governance”.

That provoked a backlash from Botswana’s government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay, who said he noted the US reaction with “dismay” and suggested the American government “might wish to put its own house in order before rushing to hastily comment on the judicial affairs of others”.

Ramsay added: “We find it unfortunate… that a foreign government, much less one that professes to be a friend and partner of Botswana, should issue such a statement about an ongoing judicial process in our country.”

Meanwhile firebrand politician Julius Malema, from South Africa, was denied a visa to visit Botswana because of apparent security concerns. Malema has previously called for the overthrow of the government, claiming that Khama is a western stooge.

Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters party reacted angrily, condemning Botswana’s “autocratic military government”. It said: “There are absolutely no grounds for a so-called democratic country to refuse a person a visa merely on the basis that he holds a different political view to that of the government.”

Edwin Samotse, however, did make the journey from South Africa to Botswana, his home country, where he is to stand trial for murder. Human rights lawyers says they are worried that South Africa ignored its own constitutional court by deporting Samotse without receiving an assurance he will not face the death penalty.

The next Ibrahim Index of African Governance will be released in London on 29 September. Tsimane, Malema and others will be curious to see if Botswana can maintain its lofty position.

David Smith for the Guardian Africa Network

Botswana clamps down on foreign pastors

(Pic: Flickr / EL@Seattle)
(Pic: Flickr / EL@Seattle)

Charismatic churches are on the rise in Botswana, with pastors promising miracles in the forms of successful marriages, work promotions, financial freedom, children for the barren – the list is endless. However, the government of Botswana has come out strongly against these “wolves in sheep’s clothing“, threatening to deport them for their antics.

The country is currently considering a new policy that will give foreign pastors 30-day permits reserved for visitors and tourists instead of the usual 5-year permits allocated to them. In cases where foreign pastors apply for licences to operate their churches, they must have more than 250 listed congregants.

As reported in the Midweek Sun, former minister of labour and home affairs Peter Siele and Ntlo ya Dikgosi deputy chairperson Kgosi Lotlamoreng II started a campaign to curtail foreign pastors in 2010 and 2011  over concerns that they are are defrauding Batswana of their hard-earned money.

Some pastors have been accused of drug dealing, sponging money off locals, power struggles within their churches, failure to submit annual tax returns and preaching ill about President Ian Khama, which is akin to a crime in Botswana – you just don’t speak badly about the president!

Nigerian Prophet Peter Bollaward who was the helm of the Glory of the Latter Ministries in Gaborone was deported on February 8 after the ministry of labour and home affairs declared him a ‘prohibited immigrant’. He was reportedly detained for a few days before his deportation and questioned about the several millions in his ministry’s account and the fleet of expensive cars he drove.

In 2011 the flamboyant Pastor Frances Sakufiwa of Zambia, who ran the New Seasons Ministries and lived in Botswana for 15 years, was deported under a presidential order.  He was surrounded by controversy, mostly related to his roving eye. It’s alleged that the handsome, charming and married pastor was a womaniser who changed women as often as one changes underwear. A few days after he was booted out of the country, a group of women reportedly pleaded with the president to reverse his decision and allow Sakufiwa back into Botswana, claiming he was “highly anointed”.

However, other sources claim the pastor was sent packing from Botswana because of his politically inclined prophesies. Apparently the Khama government became increasingly nervous about his prophesies and the huge media attention they were attracting.

In an interview with the Midweek Sun last year, director of immigration Mabuse Pule stopped short of proclaiming that government would not tolerate foreign pastors. “They come here to abuse our people and push personal agendas. The pastors group themselves and see our own pastors as outcasts in their own country,” he said. He used the biblical analogy in Matthew 7:15 which likens such folk to wolves in sheep’s clothing. “God does not bring crooks here. We will not allow anyone to deceive our people using His name,” Pule said.

In Botswana, the title of pastor is synonymous with wealth and social prestige. Congregants pay tithes and purchase miracle water and other religious memorabilia from the church. Pastors also receive ‘gifts’ from congregants in the form of money, clothes and even vehicles for their blessings and help.

Many Batswana have deserted Methodist, UCCSA, Anglican, Roman Catholic and ZCC churches in favour of the charismatic churches that have sprung up. The latter are characterised by loud music, singing and dancing, vigorous preaching, promises of miracles,  and exorcising of  “devil spirits”.

An acquaintance was involved in a horrific car accident that left her bound to a wheelchair  for a few months. Now a congregant at the Universal Church, she can walk with a slight limp and vehemently believes that God used the pastor to heal her through the Holy Spirit. As a self-proclaimed agnostic, I’m never sure how to digest this except by pointing out how commercialised faith and God have become.

On the few occasions that I visited the Universal Church and New Seasons, I was struck by the high turnout of congregants, particularly the youth, who are dressed to kill and are enthusiastically dancing, singing and chanting praises. Church is the new “cool” in this country; a big social club. This is a choice many Batswana have made, and it’s clear that charismatic churches will continue to thrive despite government’s attempts to stop them. The people will believe who and what they want to believe.

Keletso Thobega is a copy editor and features writer based in Gaborone, Botswana. 

Linguistic adventures: Learning Mandarin in Botswana

My friend Sedimale recently signed up for Chinese language classes at the University of Botswana, figuring it would be an interesting challenge to add another language to her multilingual ambitions. “I might even wind up as a Mandarin teacher, go on a work exchange programme and move to China and find myself a nice Chinese husband,” she told me half-jokingly. Several lessons later, she seems to be having the time of her life. Apart from the empowering experience of learning a new language, she has made new friends from diverse backgrounds and her world has opened to a different culture.

A decade ago no one would have imagined that Mandarin Chinese would be a popular language to learn in Botswana. Nowadays it is fast gaining popularity in urban areas, with both the young and old vying for a place in the evening and weekend classes at the University of Botswana in Gaborone.

Due to China’s evident growing economic influence and the large number of Chinese in the country,  many Batswana are opting to learn more about the country, its culture, history, lifestyle and of course language, especially as there are many opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges.

(Pic: Flickr / ilamont.com)
(Pic: Flickr / ilamont.com)

Botswana and China share good economic ties and a cordial friendship. China is Botswana’s third largest trade partner and one of the country’s big diamond consumers. In 2009, it was an estimated that about 6000 Chinese have made Botswana their home, with most of them settled in urban areas where they operate their businesses from. The Chinese are major players in the local construction, manufacturing and service provision industries.  In the past, China, through the local embassy, has constructed two primary schools and a multi-purpose youth centre. Earlier this year, China donated R100-million to Botswana for the implementation of various projects. One of them is the Community Natural Resource Management programme, which offers community-based organisations training, mentoring and coaching on resource management.

But away from official visits and trade agreements, the ties between the locals and the Chinese who live here aren’t that clear. There’s often a communication breakdown as many Batswana are not fluent in English, while the Chinese here only speak Mandarin. The language barriers have made it difficult for both parties to establish friendships and easy relations. Although they are often accused of selling cheap products, most of the Chinese-owned stores target low-income earners, and prices are often linked to the quality of the sold product. Even neighbouring Zimbabweans who work and plight their trade in the country regularly purchase goods from the Chinese stores here to re-sell at home.

There’s no shopping complex or mall in Gaborone that does not have a Chinese store. Most of them sell everything from green tea to hair pieces, clothes, shoes, bags and beauty products. There’s a local joke that the only thing you can’t get from a Chinese store is a baby!  The prices are usually low but bargaining is the order of the day. I have often bought my son toy cars and dresses for myself after negotiating a discount of 5 to 10 bucks per item.

The Confucius Institute at the University of Botswana, where Mandarin lessons are taught, opened in 2009. It now has 10 teachers, several volunteers and over 2000 students. To date, it has awarded 60 scholarships and a further 260 are expected to be rolled out between 2013 and 2016. Chen Zhilu, director of the institute, has confirmed the high demand for Chinese language lessons. Chinese is also a language option in the university’s BA Humanities programme and is one of the 25 top-ranked courses.

Learning Chinese in school is also an option – the institute has sites in two revered private schools, Westwood and Maru-a-pula, and there are plans to open sites in public schools too.

I will be taking up Chinese lessons next semester. In the meantime, my friend Sedimale has been teaching me the basics every time we meet. A few days ago, I caught my partner off guard when I clasped my hand to my heart and declared: “Wo ai ni” (“I love you” in Mandarin). He gave me a blank stare but this could all change in the next few months if I can convince him to join me in this linguistic adventure.

Keletso Thobega is a copy editor and features writer based in Gaborone, Botswana. 

Praying for rain in Botswana

When a few drops of rain spluttered on the ground on Sunday, my son and his friends, who a few minutes before had been running around shirtless, ran across the yard excitedly screeching, “Pula, Pula!” (Rain! Rain!). Although I warned them that they would catch a cold, even I couldn’t resist the joy in the moment as I stepped out for a few minutes to feel the slithering cold drops on my skin. Perhaps the gods had finally answered our continued prayers?

Last month, during a series of kgotla (an open court area where members of the public convene) meetings, President Ian Khama encouraged Batswana to come together to seek divine intervention and collectively pray for rain. He declared September a month of prayer for rain. Many religious entities heeded his call. Various churches converged at the Gaborone Dam for prayers. In the midst of song, dance and chants, the men and women in attendance broke into loud heartfelt prayers, hands raised to the skies, begging the Lord above for the heavens to open.

Botswana's President Ian Khama. (Pic: AFP)
Botswana’s President Ian Khama. (Pic: AFP)

The water level of the Gaborone Dam, which is the main water supplier for the south of the district, currently stands at 19%, the lowest it has been in history. According to the Water Utilities chief executive officer Godfrey Mudanga, at that capacity and without rain, the dam can only supply the nation with water for the next eight months. Although grey skies frequently tease Botswana with the promise of downpours, we only ever get drizzles which soon make way for the scorching sun. It has rained very little in the past four consecutive years, particularly in the southern districts. The past year’s rainy season (November to March) was recorded as the worst by the local meteorological services.

The country is already experiencing dire water shortages, particularly in the southern districts. The Bokaa Dam in the west of Gaborone stands at 10%, while Nnywane Dam, situated to the south of the city, dried up in March. The South Africa Water Authority has agreed to supply 22-million cubic litres per day to Botswana; but only if the water level in its Molatedi Dam rises higher than 26%.

The long dry spells have frustrated crop farmers, who rely on the rains for their livelihoods. Although Batswana and the meteorological services are hopeful that it will rain again, the dry grass, sullen soil, brown trees, thin cows and dried up rivers don’t paint a positive picture. And if we do enjoy some much-needed downpours, it’s uncertain whether this will be enough to fill up the drying rivers and dams.

Due to long periods of no rain, water levels in the Gaborone Dam and other dams across the country are alarmingly low. (Pic: Flickr / Al Green)
Due to long periods of no rain, water levels in the Gaborone Dam and other dams across the country are alarmingly low. (Pic: Flickr / Al Green)

This is not the first time Botswana, a semi-arid country, has experienced drought. The country has endured spates of dry spells in the past two decades. However, with climate change looming, it’s anticipated that conditions are likely to worsen. With so little rain, water shortages are common and government has had to enforce water rations for domestic and industrial usage.

Government has spearheaded the North-South water pipeline to address national development constraints and to transport water to the south, which is the industrial and economic hub of the country. The pipeline begins at Letsibogo Dam in the north and runs for approximately 360km, with pumping stations in Palapye, Marolane and Serorame Valley in the central south of the country. The first phase of this project was completed in 2000; the second phase is expected to be completed early next year.

Meanwhile, a traditional doctor named Monthusi Sekonopo has claimed the country is experiencing water shortages because President Khama, who is also the chief of the Bangwato,  has not heeded his powers as a “rainmaker”. Sekonopo, who is also president of the Botswana Traditional doctors Association, told a local newspaper, the Midweek Sun, that this was revealed to him in a series of dreams.  He asserted that on September 1 every year at 4am, Khama should be at the kgotla in Serowe Village, summoning the rains and declaring the beginning of the plough season. The traditional doctor also said that the president was a born chief and therefore has other duties beyond politics that he needs to see to.

His wild claims aside, the fact remains that rain continues to be scarce across the country. When the heavens do open for us, it’s no exaggeration that the whole country will be filled with the same euphoria that envelopes us when the national soccer team wins a game.

Keletso Thobega is a copy editor and features writer based in Gaborone, Botswana.