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State

Capital

Botswana

Gaborone

Currency unit

Pula

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Southern Africa

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History

The Sotho speaking peoples of southern Africa had arrived in the area of the modern state by the 17th century. They moved into lands previously occupied by the San (Bushmen), a people perhaps as ancient as the Australian Aboriginals. These people are now reduced to a remnant. Some have become slaves of the Tswana. There has been considerable inter-marriage.

Some of the people fled to this area to escape the Mfecane which disturbed the lands to the east in the time of Shaka. During this disturbed period the people built hilltop forts of the kind found in Europe in pre-Roman time to move into when the Ndebele cattle raiders came.

The area was annexed by Britain as the Bechuanaland Protectorate in 1884 but the southern half was given to the Cape Colony in 1885 and is now part of South Africa (formerly Bophutatswana). The whole was seen as part of the rail route from Cape Colony to Rhodesia. In fact Cecil Rhodes annexed it in order to outflank the Afrikaners of the Transvaal.

When South Africa was formed in 1910 Bechuanaland remained a British Protectorate, one of the three High Commission territories with Swaziland and Basutoland (now Lesotho). It was remarkable for the fact that the British administrator lived in Mafikeng (then Mafeking) outside the borders.

On independence in 1966 it was renamed Botswana - meaning the land of the Tswana. The Tswana, the majority ethnic group, speak a Bantu language, one of the Sotho group, also spoken throughout southern Africa except for the eastern coast. There is also minority of Kalanga - a Shona group with affinities to people in Zimbabwe.

At the time of independence the main sources of wealth were the cattle grazed in the savanna grasslands and the migrant workers who went to the South African mines. At that time it was one of the poorest countries in Africa. However, since the early 1970s there have been important mineral developments, including an important diamond deposit at Orapa and mines of nickel and copper. Botswana with its small population has become rather wealthier. Most of the population (800,000) live along the line of rail in the eastern part of the country.

What is the future of the country after South Africa has a multiracial government? Might there be a southern African federation with Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland? Some kind of economic community in the former Rand monetary zone seems inevitable. Botswana seems less likely than Lesotho or Swaziland to join South Africa as such.

Languages

Setswana

Kalanga

 

Khoi

English
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 History

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Politics

For many years Botswana was the only multi-party democracy in Africa. However, although opposition candidates could stand for parliament, and get elected, the government party has never changed.

The Botswana Democratic Party was re-elected with the usual landslide in October 1999.

 History

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 Climate

Economics

Botswana is a semi-desert area of cattle herders. Since about 1972 there has been an increasing income from diamond and nickel mining, so that the per capita income is now one of the highest in Africa.

There is also a tourist industry of visitors to the swamps of the north where wild African fauna are found.

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Green/Ecology

There are problems of over-grazing and desertification. The Kgalakgadi Desert (Kalahari) is an area of dry vegetation but is very vulnerable to misuse, when it can turn into a sand desert. Parts have already changed.

There is also a very serious HIV epidemic, partly spread by the migrant labour system, and the breakdown of family life following the efforts of the missionaries to suppress traditional culture.

The northern area of the Okavango swamp receives water flowing out of Angola, crossing the Caprivi Strip of Namibia. This is a major wildlife area and tourist attraction.

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Human Rights

Climate effects

The most likely result of climate change will be increasing aridity. However, there is a chance that the northern part of the country may benefit from a widening of the southern rainbelt spreading from the equator. There is at present a rainy season in the summer, but it has always been unreliable.

It is also possible that a warming of the Benguela Current may cause more rain to form from the Atlantic and affect the western parts of the country.

The author has worked in Botswana 1970-1972.

Last revised 3/05/11

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