Botswana - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Botswana
Formation 1966 / 1966
Population 2 million / 9 people per sq mile (4 people per sq km)
Total area 231,803 sq. miles (600,370 sq. km)
Languages Setswana, English*, Shona, San, Khoikhoi, isiNdebele
Religions Christian (mainly Protestant) 70%, Nonreligious 20%, Traditional beliefs 6%, Other (including Muslim) 4%
Ethnic mix Tswana 79%, Kalanga 11%, Other 10%
Government Presidential system
Currency Pula = 100 thebe
Literacy rate 84%
Calorie consumption 2235 kilocalories
Located in the central part of southern Africa, the Republic of Botswana, formerly known as Bechuanaland, is a young country. Prior to 1940 the only archaeological evidence of sustained human habitation in the Botswana region had been haphazardly assembled: the Stone Age tools collected by H. S. Gordon in the Tati district; P. W. Laidler’s work on the pottery of several Iron Age sites in eastern Botswana; and some clay birds found by H. A. Wieschoff at Domboshaba. (It is believed that the clay birds were destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II.) The first systematic survey of Early and Middle Stone Age tools was not undertaken until the late 1940s for the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Because of the paucity of well-documented archaeological research, and the lack of Later Stone Age and Iron Age sites, it was commonly assumed that Botswana had been largely unpopulated for thousands of years, until the 18th–19th centuries C.E. In the 1970s this assumption was shown to be baseless when hundreds of Middle Iron Age Toutswe culture sites in the Central District were found. As the 20th century wore on, Botswana came to seem a central player in the prehistoric innovations in South Africa rather than peripheral, as had been thought. Much, however, remains to be learned.
The modern history of this region begins with the Zulu wars of the 1880s, when the Tswana, fleeing violence in South Africa, sought refuge in Bechuanaland. In a relatively short time they became the country’s major ethnic group. By the late 19th century ethnic tensions between the Batswana and recently arrived Boer settlers from South Africa escalated into violence. By this time the European powers had become a formidable force in the region and most of Africa was under colonial rule. In 1885 seeking help in their struggle against the Boers, the Batswana turned to the British, who agreed to make Bechuanaland a British Protectorate.
The relationship between the British and the Batswana was harmonious. Modern-day Botswana comprises the northern part of the original Bechuanaland while the southern part became part of South Africa. When the list of colonies to be brought together under the unified state of the Union of South Africa was being finalized, the British honored the wishes of Botswana and did not include the northern region as a part of South Africa. The southern part of Bechuanaland, however, became part of what was the Cape colony, and is now part of South Africa.
Botswana’s movement from British protectorate to independent nation was fairly gradual and orderly. In order to mediate between British control and the drive for tribal power, two advisory councils composed of African and European representatives were established in 1920. Tribal power was regularized in 1934.
Under the African-European Advisory Council the 1961 constitution paved the way for a consultative legislative council of Botswana, while the 1965 constitution sanctioned Botswana’s first general election.
The country finally gained its independence in September 1966, and Seretse Khama (1921–80), a prominent leader, became the first president of the Republic of Botswana.
The name Botswana reflects the dominance of the main ethnic group of the country, the Tswana or Batswana, as they are known. Besides the Batswana, Botswana is also home to indigenous ethnic groups such as the Kalanga, Kgalagadi, Basarwa, and a small number of white people. Although Christianity has gained adherents in the recent past, most people still prefer the beliefs of their ancestors.
Since independence Botswana has emerged as a peace-loving and prosperous democracy. It is an active member of various international institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the Commonwealth of Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement as well as regional organizations such as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the South African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC). The Republic of Botswana leads by example and is hailed by the international community for its unwavering contribution toward regional development in Africa.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Located in the heartland of southern Africa, the Republic of Botswana shares its western and northern boundary with Namibia, its northeastern boundary with Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the southern and southeastern boundary with South Africa. The Zambezi River, one of Botswana’s two major rivers, is the fourth largest river of the African subcontinent.
The Nile, Zaire, and Niger are the other prominent rivers of this region. The disputed Zambezi River border that Botswana shares with Zambia is only several hundred yards across.
Geographically, Botswana has a squarish appearance. The sand of the Kalahari Desert is carried to the hollow basins of Botswana and fills them, thereby giving it a plain look. Nearly 70 percent of Botswana is covered with the Kalahari sand.
Botswana has a semi-arid climate and experiences moderate rainfall in certain regions.
However, due to the high rate of evaporation, the country does not have a perennial river, besides the Okavango River. Scarcity of water is a major hindrance to the development of agriculture in the region. The Okavango Delta formed by the Okavango River is the oasis of the Kalahari Desert. It is one of the largest inland deltas in the world.
Twenty years ago Botswana was one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. Since gaining independence in 1966, however, it has recorded the fastest growth in per capita income in the world, and Botswana takes great pride in its booming economy.
Guided by sound economic policies, the country has registered phenomenal growth and has made good use of the revenue generated by diamond mining.
The amount of foreign debt is negligible, and besides earning the highest sovereign credit rating in Africa, Botswana has also amassed huge foreign reserves.
With the growing number of HIV/AIDS patients in Botswana and its subsequent effect on the economy, the government has initiated major health initiatives such as the Prevention of Mother-toChild Transmission program and is also providing free antiretroviral treatment.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
In ancient times Botswana was a full-fledged tribal region with varied cults and belief systems. The people were driven by the belief that ancestors guided their way of life from the underworld (afterlife) and communicated only through the elders or leaders of the cult. Religion was at the core of society, and religious rites such as male and female initiation ceremonies and rainmaking ceremonies were immensely important. Polygamy was common, and after the death of the husband, the children of his head wife inherited his estate. Belief in the supernatural and spirits and ghosts was widespread. Respecting elders and the traditional way of life was imperative.
The term San is usually used by scholars to refer to a diverse group of hunter-gatherers living in southern Africa who share historical and linguistic connections. This group of people was formerly referred to as Bushmen, but this term has since been abandoned because it is considered racist and sexist.
The San folklore of Botswana has two main characters: Nodima (the good person) and Gcawama (the trickster). It was widely believed that all natural disasters and diseases were a direct consequence of the actions of these two characters.
With the advent of Christianity, the tribal way of life was greatly affected, and by the early 21st century Christianity had a strong foothold in the country.
The lifestyle in Botswana reflects the confluence of Tswana and British ways of life. People wear Western attire, which has been preferred since the 19th century.
The traditional forms of dance and music gradually declined under colonial rule, but they have experienced something of a renaissance in postindependence Botswana. The northwestern region of Botswana is known for its artistic basketry, which is exported around the world.
In Botswana common foods include corn porridge and sorghum, pulses (legumes), beans, and spinach.
Tomato, onion, potato, and cabbage also find favor on the table. Beef is the most popular meat, followed by mutton (adult sheep). Dried caterpillars are a traditional snack food as well as the wild morulaplum fruit. For beer lovers, sorghum or millet-based beer is a favorite.
Wedding ceremonies in Botswana reflect the urge to hold on to ancient traditions as well as incorporate Christian customs. In the early 21st century, love marriages have largely supplanted the traditional arranged marriages.
Most couples prefer getting married in church in a low-key ceremony. They either follow this with a formal reception in the Western style or take the traditional path of village feasts or some combination of the two. For a village feast, the entire village is invited. Animals are slaughtered for the occasion, and feasting on the meat is central to the celebration.
Folk dancing and music are always part of traditional wedding ceremonies.