Tag: culture

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


Ugandan English – ‘Uglish’ – gets its own dictionary

A “detoother” or a “dentist” is a gold-digger looking for a wealthy partner, while “spewing out buffalos” means you can’t speak proper English. And a “side-dish” isn’t served by a waiter.

Those and other terms are articles in Uganda’s strange, often funny locally-adapted English known as “Uglish,” which is now published for the first time in dictionary form.

“It is so entrenched right now that, even when you think you cannot use it, you actually find yourself speaking Uglish,” Bernard Sabiiti, the author of the first Uglish dictionary, told AFP.

“Even as I was researching, I was surprised that these words are not English because they were the only ones I knew. A word like a ‘campuser’ – a university student – I used to think was an English word.”

Uglish: A Dictionary of Ugandan English, which went on sale in bookshops across the east African country late last year, contains hundreds of popular Uglish terms, some coined by Ugandans as far back as the colonial period.

Bernard Sabiiti, the author of the first Uglish dictionary, at his office in Kampala. (Pic: AFP)
Bernard Sabiiti, the author of the first Uglish dictionary, at his office in Kampala. (Pic: AFP)

Sabiiti (32) said the informal patois was greatly influenced by the local Luganda language, and is a “symptom of a serious problem with our education system” that he claims has been deteriorating since the 1990s.

Uglish is largely dependent on sentences being literally translated, word for word, from local dialects with little regard for context, while vocabulary used is derived from standard English.

Meantime, Sabiiti says, influence from the Internet, local media and musicians have seen additional words and phrases created and slowly enter the lexicon.

The result is colourful but at times confounding expressions. If you haven’t seen someone for a while, for example, you’re “lost”, while if you “design well”, you are snappy dresser.

Today, Uglish is used by people from all walks of life, but particularly popular with youths.

English is the working language in Uganda, and it remains the only medium of instruction in schools and in official business.

But Sabiiti said everyone from the president to simple farmers speak at least some Uglish, which varies according to region, tribe and gender, and is regularly seen on signposts.

“MPs are almost notorious at using Uglish, you see it in parliamentary debates,” said Sabiiti.

Live-sex and side-dishes

But it wasn’t until 2011, a year after the term Uglish – pronounced “You-glish” – had been coined on social media, that Sabiiti began keeping newspaper cuttings, conducting interviews and searching online for material for his book.

“I knew that people talked a lot about this, and my friends used to laugh about it,” said the author, whose fulltime job with a think tank has taken him to different regions of Uganda, and exposed him to the different types of Uglish.

His book contains a brief history of Uglish, and a glossary of terms relating to education, telecommunications, society and lifestyle, food, transport, sex and relationships.

One phrase commonly used when discussing the latter is “live sex,” which means unprotected sex – a term thought to have derived from the live European football games Ugandans love to watch.

“When the ministry of health is doing campaigns to warn young people against unprotected sex, they use ‘live sex’, because everybody will understand it,” said Sabiiti.

On the same subject, if you’re a “side-dish”, you are someone’s mistress.

Sabiiti’s book has proven popular among the middle class, including academics, and with locals and foreigners alike. To date he’s sold about a thousand copies.

“I’ve had incredible feedback from professional linguists, ordinary readers – some even suggesting more phrases – so I’ll be doing another edition,” said Sabiiti.

“I don’t see it disappearing. I’m looking forward to seeing five years from now how many new words and phrases have joined the lexicon,” he said, adding some teachers, particularly in state schools, are passing Uglish on to their students.

But, as the author stresses in the final chapter of his book, there comes a point when Uglish stops being funny.

In 1997 Uganda introduced universal primary school education, which eliminated official school fees and made education accessible to millions more children.

But literacy rates remain low: more than a quarter of the population cannot read or write, according to the UN, and critics say standards remain low in many schools.

“Uglish is not something that should be encouraged, particularly for young, impressionable children. They really should learn what they call proper standard English.”

Circumcision: South Africans should stop allowing our boys to be butchered

In my village in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, a male who has not undergone circumcision is called ‘inkwenkwe’ – a boy.

A young man who has undergone this rite of passage takes great pride in it. If he has not, he is not considered an adult, and will not be respected by men and women alike. He won’t be able to sit with the village men during ceremonial functions or important discussions. He’ll be shunned and told that his foreskin smells. Women who date him will also be looked down upon for dating an ‘inkwenkwe’.

As a young girl growing up in Mbizana, Eastern Pondoland, every year I looked forward to the celebrations at the end of each circumcision season. I had thought this was the way things had always been done here among my Pondo people, but in his book Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom, Timothy J Stapleton writes: “Sometime in the mid-1820s, Faku prohibited circumcision, which was the customary initiation for young men in Xhosa-speaking societies… Oral informants in the early twentieth century stated that circumcision frequently made the initiates ill, probably through infection.”

The reason our King prohibited circumcision in the early 19th century is increasingly evident; over 180 boys have been admitted to hospital and 35 have died so far since the initiation season started this year alone, many due to botched procedures.

As the mother of an 11-year-old boy and responsible for his health, I have to question: is this practice justifiable in the 21st century? In a society that shuns those who are not circumcised, does my son really have a choice about keeping his penis intact or will he just have to submit to having part of himself amputated because ‘it is the way things are done here’.

We celebrate our cultural practices, yet we silently bury the dead, and the victims who live continue to suffer at the hands of the men who cut them.

Boys from the Xhosa tribe who have undergone a circumcision ceremony are pictured near Qunu in the Eastern Cape on June 28 2013. (Pic: AFP)
Boys from the Xhosa tribe who have undergone a circumcision ceremony are pictured near Qunu in the Eastern Cape on June 28 2013. (Pic: AFP)

As a mother with a duty to protect my son, I find I can no longer celebrate this customary rite of passage. I am now faced with the daunting task of speaking to my family about this. As mothers, we are told to stay out of it because this is a sacred rite of passage that boys must go through. Do I have a right to say no when it comes to my child?

The entire subject is deeply taboo. We passively accept that scores of young men in our country will inevitably die each year after being circumcised and that many more will be permanently maimed. Many young men end up losing the one thing they ‘go to the mountains’ to attain: their manhood.

It is not only the surgical side of the tradition that is cause for concern. Boys in my village go through initiation to get a pass to drink alcohol in front of and with the elders. Often we have seen these boys change from polite and well-behaved into abusive, violent, drunken young men. My cousin came back from initiation severely beaten, and a friend so badly beaten that he couldn’t walk for months. A neighbour’s son came back permanently mentally disturbed by what he had experienced.

I am angry at the complacency of our men and the silence of our women in the face of this horror. So many young mothers are appalled by the prospect of their sons being circumcised, yet tell me they feel powerless to stop it.

It is recognised that some deeply entrenched harmful cultural practices need ending with legislation. In some areas of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, for instance, young girls were legally abducted and raped in a traditional marriage practice called ukuthwala. Today it is illegal.

Likewise, female genital mutilation is now outlawed in eighteen countries, including South Africa. An estimated 100–140 million women worldwide have suffered FGM, and about three million girls and women continue to be mutilated every year. As awareness spreads and opposition grows, however, attitudes are changing. A spotlight is being directed on the shame and secrecy surrounding FGM, and more and more people are starting to appreciate that there is no developmental, religious or health reason to mutilate any girl or woman.

We must appreciate that cultures evolve, and we must leave harmful practices behind. Can we really say that if we decided to stop the circumcision of our boys we would lose our essential sense of identity as black South Africans? If we have banned the genital butchery of girls, why do we allow it for boys?

Fezisa Mdibi is a freelance journalist and poet. Follow her on Twitter: @fezisa. This post was first published on the Guardian Africa Network.

Open letter to the anti-TV brigade and my Nollywood people

A black 4 x4 rolls down a driveway to the sound of D’banj’s Oliver Twist and stops outside the palatial triple storey residence. The cast’s names unfold: Desmond Eliott. Rita Dominic. Mike Ezuruonye. The driver turns off the engine. As he opens the car door, D’banj declares:

I have a confession
See, I like Beyonce!
I like Rihanna, she dey mek me go gaga
I like Omotola, cos people like her….
…Oliver, Oliver Twist!  

The young man — played by Mike Ezuruonye — steps out of the car. With calculated chill, he adjusts his trendy aviator sunglasses. The camera zooms in on the Gucci logo, then lingers on the trendy haircut that would get a nod of approval from the Kinshasa’s sapeurs; those gentlemen whose renowned stylishness is encoded in their very name: Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (Society of Ambience-Makers and Elegant People). A beautiful young woman in impossibly high heels emerges from the passenger side, as D’banj declares his liking for Genevieve. Her makeup alone is worthy of a Vogue magazine cover. The man puts his hand around her waist, and looks into her eyes with a loving enchantment that would be perfect for a John Legend video. The couple walks into the opulent lounge, boasting the requisite plush lounge suite, thick carpets, huge flat-screen TV, and artworks on the walls. Seated alone is a well-dressed older woman, her turquoise head-wrap intricately folded like an origami. “Good-morning mama,” the young man greets cheerfully, arm still around his lover.  The camera zooms in on the origami head, as she gives him ‘The Look.’ We sit back and wait, knowing what is coming seconds before it is delivered: the multi-syllabic Nolly-sneer….

*         *        *

Hi. My name is Grace and I own a TV.

As a lapsed Catholic, I know a thing or two about confessions. You know what they say: Catholic guilt, like Catholic marriage, is truly a for-better-or-worse situation. You can take the Catholic out of mass but you cannot take the guilt out of the Catholic. So, like D’Banj, I have a confession to make: I watch the news and sports, but my main TV viewing diet is soapies and Nollyflicks. Yes, including 7 de Laan, Rhythm City and Nollyflicks with titles like Adam’s Apples and Daughters of Eve. I realise this is a dangerous confession for a wannabe Kleva Black, because we are supposed to have our noses perpetually buried in Slavoj Žižek’s or Cornel West’s latest thoughts, as fantastic jazz plays in the background. Naturally, we are not supposed to know who Sarkodie is; never mind the latest ghetto kids’ choreography of Ugandan hitmaker Eddy Kenzo’s Jambolee.  And we definitely aren’t supposed to be pondering how to transcribe that trademark Nollywood sneer-and-click combo, which has inspired an entire range of memes.

Look atew 2

Look, in my defence, in between trying out these Jambolee moves and Nollywood sneer-clicks, I read books and listen to jazz, in the interests of keeping peace with the jazz snobs and literati in my life. I am currently bonding with Ahmad Jamal and reading Kenyan Caine Prize winner Yvonne Owuor’s Dust. But I remain guilty of owning and watching a TV. This is a serious indiscretion, which might explain why a few second dates never materialised in my dating past. Perhaps I should not have betrayed such enthusiastic knowledge of Jason Malinga’s marital problems on Generations, or such passionate irritation at Gita McGregor’s perpetual scheming on 7 de Laan. Or maybe it was my sincere puzzlement at the murder mystery in Thathe, implicating the Great Warthog of Luonde, He-Who-Says-Die-and-I-Perish.

While we are at it, what’s the deal with the duplication of stories across South African soapies? I see now the missing Malaysian plane that first resurfaced on Rhythm City with Siyabonga Twala’s stylish character, DH Radebe’s private jet disappearing, has now reappeared and disappeared again on Isidingo. Yes, it is another stylish black businessman’s private jet: Vusi Kunene as Jefferson Sibeko, disappeared somewhere off the Angolan coastline. I am guessing the scriptwriters don’t know this, but some of us are equal-opportunity viewers (to borrow a phrase from my friend who once defended his polyamorous tendencies by explaining that he always made it clear to the women in his life that he was an equal-opportunity lover). Unlike my bank which recently demanded financial monogamy from me, by declaring they wouldn’t handle some of my transactions unless I stopped ‘seeing’ my other bank; some of us  have dispensed with LSM monogamy, and we are now equal-opportunity viewers who gallivant across SABC and DStv’s audience Bantustans.  And I can tell you this much: when you start on an amnesia and stolen identity story-line in Diepkloof at 18h30, by the time you get to the Thathe flavour of this amnesia on Muvhango at 21h20, you have just about had it with the amnesia angle, in all its manifestations. While we are at it, I am this close to organising a Red October campaign in protest against Paula van der Lecq’s (Diaan Lawrenson) use of the word ‘phantasmagoris’ on 7 de Laan, and KK Mulaudzi’s  trying-too-hard-to-be-hardcore  robotic laughter on Muvhango.

But I must distance myself from The Bold and the Beautiful. There is a way in which if you started watching The Bold from episode one, when you were six sizes smaller, the sight of Brooke Logan Jones Forrester (x7) walking down the aisle with her daughter’s husband’s father for the umpteenth time is harmful to your health. It is not so much the many tribes of primary, secondary and tertiary incest involved, but the deep shame that you ever nursed a committed teenage crush on Ridge Forester. As did half your school. The other half was busy ogling the NBA’s Dennis Rodman and his peroxide-blond head. I wasn’t a Rodman fan, but I supported the San Antonio Spurs with the same passion I now dedicate to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the Ghana Black Stars, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, the Desert Foxes of Algeria and the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire. What? Too many teams? No, friend. When it comes to soccer, I am an equal-opportunity Pan-African. Sure, I got that memo about all my Foxes, Eagles, Elephants, Lions and Stars being whipped out of Brazil before they even finished unpacking.  This, despite the fact that many of Europe’s soccer leagues would have a crisis of SA platinum-belt proportions if all their players of African descent decided to go on a prolonged strike.  Like all matters Pan-African, supporting African soccer is not for part-time Africans. It takes the loyalty of an Arsenal or Bafana fan, and the patience of biblical Job.

So, you can see why I have no energy for an anti-TV brigade which has somehow convinced itself  that not having a TV makes it a special breed of really clever, studious, intellectual people. I am generally able to ignore this lot with the same indifference I reserve for those who think my Christianity is questionable because their limited imagination cannot process the idea of a dedicated Christian who does not go to church and is partial to Windhoek lager. What I can’t ignore though, are people who build careers studying popular culture or producing content for these platforms while simultaneously holding TV, radio, and magazines in such contempt. What brand of dishonest schizophrenia is this?

But I digress. The moral of this open letter is really an appeal to my people in Nollywood. Listen: That situation of sunglasses indoors? E no fine oo. E shady.  Abeg, mek we stop this nah.


A TV-owning equal-opportunity Nolly-fan

Grace A. Musila is a Kenyan who studied in South Africa.

Defining ‘the African woman’: Save your labels for Tupperware

(Flickr: James P. Wells)
(Graphic: Flickr / James P. Wells)

If there is one thing that I love to do it’s organise things. There is something wonderfully joyous about clothes that are sorted according to their colours, shoes organised by heel height and e-mails that are slotted into descriptive categories and archived. It’s systematic. It’s blissful! It’s neat, and to me neat means manageable. I love neat like I love Tupperware, shelves and label makers. The problem with this ritualistic tidiness is that it doesn’t translate so well in the real world. People are by their very nature inconsistent and chaotic yet for some reason we often refuse to acknowledge that. Nowhere – in my experience – is there more labelling and identity policing than in the LGBT community.

If one takes a glimpse into not-so-conforming Black Woman spaces, one will find a mess of labels and rituals. There is very little freedom to manoeuver because, oftentimes, you are exiled to a box that defines your mannerisms, behaviour, speech, style and the people you like. I remember being on a date with a woman when she made a comment like “you femmes have it easy”; it stopped me dead in my tracks. At the time I didn’t quite have the language to tell her my thoughts on the subject other than to say “Uh… I don’t like labels, it’s just not something I do but I will call myself African“. In retrospect, after countless accusations about my gender identity and romantic preferences, I realise that statements like that are inherently selfish. It is selfish to tell people who and what they are based on some measure that you have chosen for yourself.

African women are complicated. How we live and love is complicated. Our politics and ideals are woven into the way we are and not because of an adherence to some ideology. There are numerous pieces written about “fat shaming” and body politics, and these are important, but other people actually live body affirmation. They carry their small breasts and muscular arms with pride and are quick to appreciate the beauty of a short round woman with a full belly and child-worn breasts. They acknowledge womanhood in its various forms and do not need words like feminism, queer-theory, discourse and praxis to do so because they live Black Womanhood. They head households, love their partners, appreciate the power of female friendships and do this all while being driven by something internal and unregulated by the outside world.

I sometimes wonder whether it is this fundamental understanding of our womanhood that creates a sense of cohesion among us. At almost all Black Women gatherings one will find that sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t the common denominators. There have been numerous times where I was in “mixed company” – in the sense that we didn’t call ourselves the same things or live the same lifestyles. There would be women snuggling their girlfriends in one corner, engaged women, man-eaters, virgins, masculine women, the odd “down for whatever” girl and decidedly fluid women all in one room politicking and relating, just because. This is something that I think we need to work hard at nurturing and maintaining. African Women’s spaces should not become exclusive clubs where people only gain access by being “radical” or well-versed in anything other than living life in this skin, at this time.

People know themselves and it’s up to them to tell us who they are. Increasingly, African Women are more open about the fluidity in their being(s) so it is important to legitimise that fluidity. Nesting people’s “selfness” under rigidly defined labels isn’t cool and seems so counter-intuitive. There are people who are not sexually attracted to other people at all. There are also people who only find masculinity or femininity attractive and only in certain bodies. If one considers how deeply attraction and gender are rooted in the individual then it’s easy to see that it is not easy at all. It is complicated and not something that should confined within hard lines. People are not objects that can be collected, measured up and sorted. Identity necessarily changes and no matter how contradictory the people you have been are, they make sense in your story.

Culture makes things difficult because there is an archetype of who “the African Woman” is. People would describe her as maternal, strong, patient, traditional, long-suffering, soulful and protective. Her life is not her own, it belongs to her family and community. Think about it for a second… we all know who she is because she is the woman that lies in the cradle of our conscience and makes us wonder why we are the way we are. Still there are problems with who she is. She is the ideal but that doesn’t make her perfect. Nearly all of us know that we are not her and many more of us do not want to be her despite the fact that her voice has taught us how to understand ourselves.

However many of us have figured out that there are numerous ways of being a woman and many more ways of living up to the ideal. Since the nature of our self-exploration(s) is very much determined by our societies, what makes us outliers will be relative. In some cases it may be a person’s gender presentation and in others it could be the fact that they have piercings, tattoos and love FKA Twigs. This state of being “not-quite-” or “not-so-” or “non-conforming” is refreshing and it’s time to acknowledge that while our parents have already given us our names, we are also quite free to rename ourselves and respect that process in others.

Tatenda Muranda is a self-identified suit in a feminist activist. She co-founded HOLAAfrica and currently sits on the advisory committee for FRIDA The Young Feminist Fund. When she is not feministing she happily works in private equity in Johannesburg, South Africa.