BOTSWANA – A Brief History

Published on 24th May 2005

In 1806 hunters traders and missionaries started arriving in Botswana. The industrial revolution in Europe had created a need for new markets and raw materials. This precipitated a later rush for Africa from traders seeking concessions for their governments.

Moreover, the gun - a new method for hunting - had been introduced to Batswana, who realised the value and power of firearms after a handful of Boers had been able to rout the Ndebele tribe in the 1830s.

Even the best hunters struggled to make a living in South Africa, the game having been depleted. They turned their attention to the unexplored north. The game soon dwindled, unable to withstand the relentless slaughter.

Missionaries were to play a major role in the lives of Batswana, acting as mediators in disputes with other white men and bringing a religion to the country which today is central to many Batswana lives.

In 1836, some 20,000 Boers left the Cape to avoid British officialdom and settled in the land north of the Vaal River. Helped by the Batswana they resisted and defeated Mzilikazi\'s Ndebele, and laid claim to the land. However it was traditional Botswana territory. They had been uprooted by Mzilikazi, who regarded it as his.

After the Boers had driven off Mzilikazi, the Batswana found that the land they had previously occupied was no longer theirs and were only allowed to stay on as laborers on the Boer farms. This set the scene for land clashes between the Boers and Batswana which still persist today in South Africa. As a result of constant raids and Boer expansion, the Batswana came to hate and fear them and turned to the British, whom they considered the lesser of two evils.

Southern Africa had been a troublesome region for the British. Wars against the indigenous people and squabbles with the Boers were costing them money and prestige. Britain had no desire to further increase their commitment in the area. The Germans on the other hand, however, were set to establish themselves in Namibia and the fear existed tssions in Zimbabwe.

Reluctantly, Britain decided to annex yet another vast area; this time at minimal cost. The Batswana, a term also used to denote all citizens of Botswana, refers to the country\'s major ethnic group (the \"Tswana\" in South Africa), which came into the area from South Africa during the Zulu wars of the early 1880s. Prior to European contact, the Batswana lived as herders and farmers under tribal rule. 

In March 1885, a Brimsa protectorate was declared over Bechuanaland and the borders of present day Botswana were thus defined. The area to the south of Molopo river, part of the present day northern Cape region, became a Crown colony and was known as British Bechuanaland. The area to north, present day Botswana, was to remain largely independent but under protection from the Boers in the south and the Ndebele in the north-east.

Cecil John Rhodes, chairman of the British South Africa Company (BSAC), was determined to include the Bechuanaland protectorate into Rhodesia and maneuvered himself into position for the takeover of the protectorate. Britain was ready to hand over the protectorate to Rhodes when the Batswana chiefs Khama, Bathoen and Sebele went to England to plead their case. Their distrust of Rhodes was deep, following clashes Khama had with him when the two had allied against the Ndebele.

The harsh treatment of those living in Rhodesia increased their efforts to keep their land out of his control. In their negotiations they managed to persuade the colonial secretary to keep their three reserved territories under crown protection. It was the British government intention though, to cede the Kalahari and the proposed railway strip running up the eastern region (to Rhodesia) to the BSAC, but even this concession to Rhodes aspirations was shortly withdrawn (after the Jameson raid).

The chiefs’ triumphal return was followed a month later on 29 December by the Jameson Raid - an ill-timed and poorly executed plan by Rhodes to overthrow the Boers in the Transvaal republic. Dr Jameson a trusted confident of Rhodes, launched the raid with the intention of causing an uprising by the non-Boers in the Transvaal Republic. Jameson and his party were captured by President Kruger\'s commandos before they reached Johannesburg and Rhodes, quite rightly, received much of the blame, which effectively ended his expansion plans.

The British continued to administer the Protectorate for the next 70 years - years of slow progress against the background of security and peace. Sir Charles Rey was among several notable administrators of this period. A vibrant go-getter, he introduced dramatic changes in many areas. He increased the power of the administration and appointed an economic consultant, who proposed various surveys which were aimed at improving the cattle ranching industry and moving the Capital to within the Protectorate s borders.

Rey fought vigorously for increased finance and eventually succeeded. In eight years, he more than doubled the school attendance, increased expenditure twofold, raised attendance at out-patient hospitals by more than eight and improved the infrastructure in all areas. He was also the first to propose that a national park be established in the Chobe region. Some twenty years were to elapse before a similar infusion of funds and drive occurred.

By 1955, British policy had begun to alter course considerably. Plans were made for independence for the protectorate, and legislation was passed to effect this.

In June 1964, Britain accepted proposals for democratic self-government in Botswana.

In 1965 the seat of government was moved from Mafikeng, in South Africa, to newly established Gaborone

The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence in September 1966.

Seretse Khama, a leader in the independence movement and the legitimate claimant to traditional rule of the Batswana, was elected as the first president. He was re-elected twice, and died in office in 1980.

In 1984 the presidency passed to the sitting vice president, Ketumile Masire, who was elected in his own right and re-elected in 1989 and 1994.

In 1998 Masire retired from office.

The presidency passed to the sitting vice president, Festus Mogae, who was elected in his own right in 1999.

In October 2004 Mogae won a second term as the president of Botswana.

Below is an analysis of Botswana by 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street journal.

Population:  1,712, 000

Total area: 600,370 sq km

GDP: $ 7 billion

GDP growth rate: 3.1%

GDP per Capita: $ 4,102

Major exports: Copper and nickel, diamonds, textiles, meat products

Export of goods and services: $3.2 billion

Major export trading partners: UK 85.9%, SACU 6.5%, Zimbabwe 2.6%, U.S 0.2% (2001)

Major imports: machinery and transport equipment, textiles, petroleum products

Import of goods and services: $2.6 billion

Major import trading partners: SACU 77.6%, UK 4.4%, Zimbabwe 3.2%, US 1.8% (2001)

Foreign direct investment (net): $35million


2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street journal.

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