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History of Botswana

discover botswana's unique and compelling history

Botswana has a history dating back millions of years with the majority of information from this time being gathered through rock paintings and archaeological finds that are still being discovered today. The San tribe were the principal tribe of this region and were perfectly adapted to the very arid environment that Botswana is prone to in the winter, and heavy floods and rains in the summer. 

Predominantly hunter-gatherers, the San tribe also grazed livestock around the Pan regions of Nxai and Makgadikgadi; during earlier days these Pans became dramatic lakes supplied by a variety of rivers and therefore providing a fresh supply of water for grazing stock. These days the Pans are no longer full of water (except during the rainy season!) and the San no longer graze livestock in this region. In place of this, there is evidence to suggest that the San were actually traders in copper which they bartered for iron. 

The first Europeans to visit Botswana were primarily missionaries, traders and explorers with the main trade being in ivory. The tusks would be gathered in Botswana and traded in South Africa; even during these times though, travel to Botswana was expensive and travel was hard with limited water supplies enroute.

Missionaries were soon to follow with local priests trying to spread Christianity wherever possible and usually at the expense of local customs and traditions. Christianity however did bring with it some advantages including the introduction of tools such as the plough and cultivation techniques such as irrigation helping to improve crop yields. 

In 1885 Botswana was granted protection by the British whom backed a millionaire businessman and politician, Cecil Rhodes. In 1889 Rhodes created the British South Africa Company (BASC) with the idea of linking the Cape to Cairo with land under British control with the aim of reaping the mineral benefits along the way. These minerals were worth vast sums of money and included vast gold deposits and diamond mines that were often obtained through fraudulent means as "treaties" and "contracts" were signed by non-existent chiefs and land owners...1895 bought about a case against the British government for the action of Rhodes as three Batswana Chiefs complained they had been tricked into giving up their land which was even against their local Setswana law and traditions. A campaign was started (backed by a Missionary Society) which eventually forced the government to agree to the terms imposed by the Chiefs as long as Rhodes was still granted access for the railway line to transport his minerals. 

Not soon after this in 1895, Rhodes found a reason to raid the region. Named the "Jameson Raid" (after it was led by Dr Jameson!) it was not successful, and, the British Government, frustrated by Rhodes bringing their name into disrepute refused to transfer the region to BASC control and also removed control of the Tswana lands. It was this failed raid that actually ensured Botswana's independent future.

timeline overview

1956 - 1966 

Saw more political advancement in Botswana than social or economical with a peaceful election being held in March 1965 and Seretse Khama becoming the first President of Botswana in September 1966. This was an amazingly peaceful transition with both sides (British and Bostwanan) working together to achieve the end goal. A number of key British Public Servants were actually kept on in order to help with the transfer of power, including the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General. 

1966 - 1980

Sir Seretse Khama ruled Botswana. Initially a poor country, for the first few years they required assistance from the British however this was soon put to the side when mining operations began after the discovery of diamonds. The 70's saw Botswana prosper by approximately 10-12% per year whilst its neighbours dissolved into wars and apartheid. Sir Seretse Khama died in 1980 having ruled through one of the most turbulent times for Botswana which it came through successfully with fair and democratic elections. 

1980 - 1998 

Saw the rule of President Sir Ketumile Masire who inherited a stable and prosperous country from his predecessor. Tensions throughout his rule did become slightly more fractious as South Africa's apartheid rule was challenged by the world. This did slightly disrupt Botswana's peace however stability was not affected. 

1998 - 2008 

Vice President Festus Mogae was inaugurated being replaced in April 2008 by the son of Sir Seretse Khama (Botswana's first President), Lt General Seretse Ian Khama. 

Today

Botswana continues to prosper with its principal wealth coming from its minerals and diamond mines (approx one third of GDP is from diamonds!); in the 30 years following independence Botswana had one of the leading economic growth rates in the world and continues to grow at approximately 9% a year. 

Other industries that have more recently developed include tourism which has been based around a low volume and high yield model, an approach encouraged by the Botswanan government. The majority of foreign visitors originate from either Europe or America with a surprising amount of visitors also originating from closer to home in South Africa.

religions and languages

Religions of Botswana

Approximately 20% of the population of Botswana is Christian and still it is listed as a Christian country although services are often held in local languages and in some major cities, English. Traditional beliefs do however still form a major part of society with traditional healers being turned to in times of need or crisis.

Languages of Botswana

The princiapl languages of Botswana are in fact Setswana (70%) and English, however, over 26 languages have been registered as being spoken in Botswana. The main language groups are listed under either languages of the Bantu family (e.g. Tswana), languages of the Khoisan Family (e.g. !Xoo) or languages of the European Family (e.g. English and Afrikaans).

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