Botswana

Institutionalization of Ethnic Categories

Key Dates
Details/Documentation

Sources

Key Dates

  • 1885: Bechuanaland becomes British protectorate
  • 1966: Botswana gains independence from Britain

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Details/Documentation

Race

We find examples of institutionalized racial categories in Botswana prior to independence, but to a much lesser extent than during a similar period in South Africa or Southern Rhodesia, including a de-institutionalization in the two decades prior to independence. At independence, the government consciously ended the use of institutionalized racial divisions.

Race was enumerated on the census from 1904 to 1946. It was removed from the 1956 census, reinstated in 1964; and has been absent on all censuses since then.

At least for certain periods under colonial rule, there were separate European and native education systems: the government managed the education of Europeans, while missionaries dealt with native education (Mgadla 2003: 100). In the 1950s, the Protectorate schools were segregated along racial lines (Fawcus and Tilbury 2000: 40). In 1961, the Select Committee on Race relations determined “that the home language should in general be the only basis for determining which child was educated at which school”, which changed the policy from one of explicit segregation (Fawcus and Tilbury 2000: 80).

Prior to the first universal elections after independence, separate elections were held for European, African and Asian race groups (EISA 2009). The colonial government created an African Advisory Council and a European Advisory Council in 1919 and 1920, respectively; European and African matters were handled by the appropriate council (Fawcus and Tilbury 2000: 36). In 1951, this structure was changed to form a Joint Advisory Council, which was composed of eight members each from the European and African Councils (Fawcus and Tilbury 2000: 53).

There is evidence of institutionalized racial categories during the colonial period in trade and commerce as well. Laws prohibited the sale of European liquor to Africans (Fawcus and Tilbury 2000: 78), and different tax rates for natives and Europeans were used to encourage labor migration (Kowet 1978: 97)

Botswana’s 1966 Constitution eliminated institutionalized racial categories, allowing freedom of movement.

A notable exception reserves the right to impose “restrictions on the entry into or residence within defined areas of Botswana of persons who are not Bushmen to the extent that such restrictions are reasonably required for the protection or well-being of Bushmen” See Article 14, Protection of Freedom of Movement. Because Bushmen constitute less than 1 percent of the population, we do not identify associated policies in our general classification. Moreover, most contemporary political debates with respect to the Bushmen in Botswana involve claims for greater official recognition, which the state has mostly resisted.

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Language

Although Botswana is relatively homogenous, there is evidence of some recognition of ethnic categories along ethnic lines during the colonial period, but there has been little consistency to the specific categories identified.

Language questions were not asked on censuses during the early decades of 20th century but were enumerated in the 1946 and 1956. Language was enumerated again on the 2001 census.  After independence, Tswana was designated as the national language while English became the official language. Because one is an indigenous language, and the other a “colonial” language, we do not treat those language categories as constituting a linguistic cleavage. On the contrary, despite some linguistic heterogeneity within Botswana, the state’s institutional approach has largely been to recognize Tswana as a national category and to avoid recognizing smaller ethnic or tribal groups (Werbner 2002: 676).

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Religion

We find only superficial institutionalization of religious categories. Religious categories were enumerated only in the years 1904, 1946, 1956, and 2001.

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Caste

None found

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Indigenous

None found

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Other ethnic, including tribe

The history of recognizing tribal authorities has been mixed and shifting, with different categories recognized at different moments in time. In 1899, the colonial government recognized certain tribal areas: BamaNgwato, BaTwawana, BaKgatla and BaKwena. Other tribal areas were excluded because their lands interfered with commercial land use. Smaller tribes became subsets of these large ones and were organized by chiefs into tribal areas (Kowet 1978: 53). This inscribed into the soul of the Protectorate local identity based on territory and tribal affiliation.”(Abdi Ismail 1999)

The African Advisory Council, created in 1919 to address matters concerning Africans, included representatives from different tribes. At first, only six southern tribal areas sent representatives or were officially recognized (Stevens 1967: 126).

The 1966 constitution does provide for a house of chiefs, and it states that, “The ex-officio Members of the House of Chiefs shall be such persons as are for the time being performing the functions of the office of Chief in respect of the Bakgatla, Bakwena, Bamalete, Bamangwato, Bangwaketse, Barolong, Batawana and Batlokwa Tribes, respectively.” However, that is the only official use of those categories of which we are aware, and these categories are used only to distinguish among chiefs, not citizens, and in a very circumscribed role.

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Sources

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