Bordered by South Africa, Zambia and Namibia, Botswana’s landscape is a study of contrasts - an expanse of savannahs, deserts, wetlands and salt pans stretching from the red desert dunes of the Kalahari, home of the Bushmen, to the lush green of the waterways of the Okavango Delta. The varied landscapes change with the seasons meaning that, in Botswana, every safari is unique.
Botswana is home to a vastly diverse wildlife population, including species such as elephant, various antelope, kudu, giraffe, cheetah, ostrich, leopard, wild dog, lion and more.
Botswana is one of Africa's success stories. Tourism was identified decades ago as the best way to create a sustainable industry that employs a large number of its people, while still preserving the environment. The country’s commitment to conservation has resulted in an excellent reputation for environmental tourism. The focus is on high-quality and authentic wildlife experiences.
Botswana is a land-locked country, with an area of 600,370 sq km and an estimated population of 2098018 with a growth rate of 1.477% per annnum. Gaborone, situated in the South Eastern part of Botswana, is the capital city of Botswana. The city has good road and air links to South Africa and other main centres in the country. Other main towns include Francistown, Lobatse, Selebi Phikwe, Ghanzi, Mahalapye, Jwaneng, and Kasane with Serowe, Palapye, Kanye, Maun, Molepolole, Ramotswa as major villages.
In Botswana, driving is on the left hand side of the road. The general speed limit is 100km/h or 120 km/h on open roads and 60km/h in urban areas. It is advisable to look out for the speed limit signs on the road and keep the allowed speed as over speeding penalties can be high depending on the speed at which you are driving.
English is the official language of Botswana. Setswana is the national language and is widely spoken. Other languages spoken in Botswana include Afrikaans in the south and south western part in areas bordering Botswana and South Africa, Kalanga in the North East, Shekgalagari in the South Western areas, Siyeyi in the Okavango Delta areas, as well as many other languages.
The currency in Botswana is Pula and Thebe. Pula in Setswana means ‘rain’. One Pula is made up on 100 Thebe. Coins available are: 5t, 10t, 25t, 50t, P1, P2 and P5. Notes available are: P10, P20, P50, P100, P200.
Botswana's flag is a light blue with a horizontal white-edged black stripe in the center - the blue represents water; the white-black-white bands depict the racial harmony of the people as well as the pluralist nature of the society. They are inspired by the coat of the zebra, the national animal.
General info: Botswana is 2 hours ahead of GMT all year round. Electricity is 220v. Botswana uses the metric system.
Botswana's climate is semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, there is a rainy season, which runs through the summer months.
Botswana is a huge country and extends through 9 degrees of latitude. This suggests considerable variation in climate. It is landlocked and on an elevated plateau of approximately 1000 metres. All these factors tend to cause low annual rainfall.
'Pula' is not only the name of Botswana's currency, but also the Setswana word for rain. So much of what takes place in Botswana relies on this essential, frequently scarce commodity.
Summer (wet season) - October to March.
Summer days are hot, especially in the weeks that precede the coming of the cooling rains, and shade temperatures rise to the 38°C mark and higher, reaching a blistering 44°C on rare occasions. Cloud coverage and the arrival of the first rains, towards the end of November or early December, cool things down considerably.
During the rainy period, which lasts until the end of February or early March, the days are hot and generally sunny in the morning with afternoon thunderstorms usually in short, torrential downpours during the late afternoon. Day time temperatures can rise to 38°C and night time temperatures drop to around 20°C - 25°C. Northern areas receive up to 700mm of rain per annum while the Kalahari Desert area averages as low as 225mm per annum.
Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine so a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground, as it is lost to evaporation and transpiration. In summer, morning humidity ranges from 60 to 80% and drops to between 30 and 40% in the afternoon
Winter (dry season) - April to September.
Winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm; however, evening and night temperatures can drop below freezing point in some areas, especially in the southwest. Day time temperatures generally reach 20° C and evening temperatures can be as low as 5°C. Virtually no rainfall occurs during the winter months. In winter humidity can vary between 40 and 70% during the morning and fall to between 20 and 30% in the afternoon.
For tourists, the best months to visit are from April through to October - in terms of both weather and game viewing. It is during this period that the wildlife gather around the natural waterholes and the borehole-fed dams - and are at their most visible
Botswana is a year round wildlife destination. However, there are certain seasons that are more suitable for special interests than others. We are often asked "which is the best time of the year to travel?" and to answer this question properly, we would need to know what you wish to experience on your safari.
The following information is to be treated as a guideline as weather patterns and wildlife rhythms are never predictable and can never be guaranteed at a specific time or in a specific area.
This is the peak breeding time for many of the colourful migrant bird species, so bird viewing is excellent. Beautiful wild flowers, brilliant green foliage and constant sounds from insects and birds make the bush vibrant and alive. January is in the middle of the rainy season with spectacular afternoon thunderstorms, high humidity and warm days (average 30°C plus) and nights (20°C plus). Game viewing is reasonable with active predators still chasing the fast developing young of their prey species. January is an ideal month for photography due to all the vivid colours, spectacular skies and unparalleled air clarity. The contrast of the predators' natural winter camouflage with the summer colours makes for dramatic photos.
This is peak flowering time for water lilies and the reed frogs are colourful and very vocal - the Okavango Delta is beautiful and noisy. The rains continue in the form of mid to late afternoon thunderstorms with dramatic skies and sounds. It is hot with daytime temperatures averaging above 30°C and warm nights at 20°C plus. There may be both wet and very dry spells within the month. The giant bullfrog emerges from months and sometimes years of hibernation to indulge in nocturnal feeding frenzies. The resident game species do not have far to go for water and the young are almost as tall as the adults. Birding is still excellent.
The fruit of the Marula trees attract elephants that wander from tree to tree in search of their favourite meal. At this time of year elephant are often encountered on walks in the Okavango as they feed from one Marula tree to another. This is the start of the rutting season and impala males snort and cavort to attract females. Temperatures are still warm both day and night but the air is drier and the rains less frequent. The bush is lush and green and there are lots of flowers.
There are the first signs that the season is changing - night temperatures drop to below 20°C on average, but day temperatures continue to rise up to 40°C on some days. Generally the temperatures are very pleasant. The cooler mornings with high relative humidity lead to wonderful early morning mist – which is spectacular over water. The impala rut is in full swing and the impala noises continue right through the night with dramatic clashes between rival males. Baboon and impala are often seen together as the baboon act as sentries protecting the busy impala. The trees have completed flowering and fruit is ripening, with massive sausages hanging from the from the Sausage trees. Reptiles are actively breeding and feeding in anticipation of the dry season.
Floodwaters from the Angolan highlands should reach the top of the Okavango Delta panhandle and begin their slow and deliberate progress through the Delta. The rains are over and the nights are cooler with temperatures averaging 15°C. The days are still warm with temperatures up to 35°C. Buffalo begin to group into large herds and visit the river areas more often as the seasonal pans begin to dry. Breeding herds of elephant increase in density daily as they visit the permanent waters. The vivid green bush starts fading to duller dry season colours and the predators begin to enjoy themselves as their colours blend in with their surroundings once again. The migratory birds begin their flights to winter-feeding and breeding grounds overseas.
In June the African wild dogs begin to search for dens, which makes them easy to find for the next three or four months as they operate from their dens. Temperatures have dropped to their coldest by the end of June with night temperatures reaching as low as 5°C (very cold on night drives due to wind chill factor). Daytime temperatures rise up to a very comfortable 25°C and dusty dry conditions begin to dominate. Some green bushes and trees persist but leaf drop commences and pans dry up. Animals concentrate at permanent water sources, as do their predators. The inner Delta starts to flood.
July sees the height of the floods for the Okavango Delta. The Okavango receives water from two different sources at two different times of the year. The first is the annual seasonal flood whereby rainwater in the Angolan highlands falls in December and slowly makes its way down to the Delta a couple of months later. The second rush of water comes with the local seasonal rains that fall over the Delta in the summer months. The paradox is obvious - the flood arrives when dust and dryness pervade and the rains have long gone. The leaves are falling off the trees, grasses are getting shorter every day and visibility is excellent. The nights are still cold but the days are marginally warmer and the weather typical of Botswana - sunny and clear with brilliant cobalt blue skies. More and more animals congregate near the water and flood plains. Water seeps into areas where there was none the day before and the mokoro (dug-out canoe) and boat trips become more exciting as new channels and waterways can be accessed. Soft early morning and evening light combined with dust provides the opportunity for many dramatic photo settings.
The floods have passed through the Delta and now reach Maun - leading to excitement for the locals in town as water related speculation is at a peak - how high? When will it stop? How far will the water go? The weather is warming up with daytime temperatures averaging closer to 30°C and night time averages rising to around 10°C. August is peak visitor season in Botswana. The herons, storks and other birds start to congregate at the Gadikwe heronry. The elephant herds are getting larger. As they jostle for space near the water, tension rises between the breeding herds. The bush is bare and the dust pervades but there is plenty of wildlife action.
The climate has changed and winter is over. Night temperatures rise rapidly within the month and by month end the average reaches 15°C plus and day temperatures soar well into the 30°C. There is brilliant sunshine, the skies are clear and it is dry. The elephants concentrate in still greater numbers as do the buffalo and this keeps the predators busy. It is a time of plenty for the lions. The carmine bee-eaters return for the summer and the first migrants arrive and storks start nesting. Water levels have slowly started to drop. Certain trees start to produce their first green shoots - fed by the floodwaters and temperatures and not by any rain, as the first rains are still about six weeks away.
October is very hot. Day temperatures rise regularly above 40°C and nights are warm with averages in the 20°C. October is also a great game viewing month - well worth the sweat! This is the time of year when the herbivores are at their weakest because of a lack of food and the lions are at their strongest. There is no place to hide, everything is bare and the grasses have been eaten or trampled. Predator chases erupt into clouds of dust on the open plains. From late September through early November an amazing phenomenon takes place - the "catfish run". The falling water levels send millions of catfish on noisy upstream breeding migrations, during which they prey on smaller fish and literally flatten the papyrus with their numbers. The Gadikwe heronry is full of activity with hundreds of birds breeding and nesting – bird viewing is excellent. At night Savute becomes alive with nocturnal sounds – elephants screeching impatiently at the water holes and earth trembling roars of lion are heard.
The expectation - in fact - desperation for rain dominates all discussions - the residents and the animals all seek an end to the dryness and dust. Temperatures remain high both day and night and game viewing is excellent. The first rains normally fall around mid November. The rains come and the animals disperse to eat on new vegetation and drink from the seasonal pans. The birthing season begins with the tsessebe, followed by impala and lechwe. The predators seek out the vulnerable young and kill many times a day to get their fill. It is a time of action, great visibility and colour with big clusters of cloud, new sprouting grass and trees bursting into life - a wonderful time for the photographer.
Protein rich grass feed the mother antelope while the lambs and calves grow at astounding speed. The impala complete their lambing, the wildebeest start and complete their lambing in a few weeks. The rains become more regular with thunderstorms every few days. The pans remain full and the colours shine in brilliant green. While the grazers enjoy the green tender shoots the predators are ever watching and stalking. Their winter camouflage lets them down and they have to work harder, however, the bush is dense allowing more hiding places for them to observe their prey. All the migrant birds have arrived and the birding is excellent. Temperatures have cooled on average but hot days still occur and nights are still warm and humidity can rise after rain. Great colours, dramatic skies and lightning at night all add to the magic of December.
Between the 1880’s and its independence in the 1960’s, Botswana was a poor and peripheral British protectorate known as Bechuanaland. The country is named after its dominant ethnic group, the Tswana or Batswana and the national language is called Setswana.
Since the 1960’s, Botswana has gained international stature as a peaceful and increasingly prosperous democratic state. Botswana has one of the fastest growing economies in the world based on the mining of diamonds and other minerals as well as the sale of beef to Europe and the world market. This has ensured an extensive development in educational and health facilities in villages and traditional rural towns.
The Khoe-san speaking hunters and herders have lived in Botswana for many thousands of years. The Tsodilo Hills in the north western corner of Botswana contains evidence of continuous Khoe-san occupation from about 17000 BC to about 1650 AD. Culturally the Khoe-san are divided into the hunter gatherer San and the pastoral Khoi. During most of this time, the Khoe-san people subsisted as hunters and gatherers. Their tools were made from stone, wood and bone. Their hunting and gathering lifestyle was adapted to seasonal mobility in family groups over grassland and scrub, in and around the extensive riverine lakes and wetlands that once covered the north of the country.
During the last centuries, most Khoe speaking people in Northern Botswana converted their lifestyle to pastoralism – herding cattle and sheep on the rich pastures of the wetlands of the Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi lakes. Some Khoe pastoralists migrated with their livestock through central Namibia as far south as they could, to the Cape of Good Hope, by about 70BC.
Bantu Speaking Farmers
Both farming of grain crops and the speaking of Bantu languages were carried southwards from north of the Equator over the course of millennia. From West Africa, Later Stone Age farming reached through Angola, and had been converted to the use of iron tools on the upper Zambezi by around 380 BC. From East Africa, Early Iron Age farming spread down the savanna to the Zambezi by around 20 B.C., as well as along the east coast. The farmers brought with them the speaking of western and eastern Bantu languages. It took hundreds of years before the Iron Age farming culture and Bantu languages replaced the Khoe pastoral culture in the Okavango and Makgadikgadi areas.
As early as 200 BC people in the Okavango and Makgadikgadi areas were making a kind of pottery known as Bambatha ware, which archaelogists think was Khoe pottery, influenced by the (western) Iron Age styles. The Khoe language was being spoken by pastoralists around the Boteti River area as late as the 19th century.
Iron Age Chiefdoms and States
The earliest dated Iron Age site in Botswana is an iron smelting furnace in the Tswapong Hills, near Palapye (dated around 190 AD). During this time the farming culture of the Western Iron Age type spread through Northern and South Eastern Botswana. The remains of beehive shaped small houses made of grass matting, occupied by Western early Iron Age farmers, have been dated from around 420 AD around Molepolole. Evidence of early farming settlements of a similar type existing alongside Khoe-san hunter and pastoralist sites in the Tsodilo Hills area, date from around 550 AD. Archaeologists now have difficulty in interpreting the hundreds of rock paintings in the Tshodilo Hills area as they were once assumed to have been painted by the ‘Bushmen’ hunters from the pastoralist and farmer contact.
Eastern Botswana Chiefdoms
From around 1095 south-eastern Botswana saw the rise of a new culture, characterized by a site on Moritsane hill near Gabane, whose pottery mixed the old western style with new Iron Age influences derived from the eastern Transvaal (Lydenburg culture). The Moritsane culture is historically associated with the Khalagari (Kgalagadi) chiefdoms, the westernmost dialect-group of Sotho (or Sotho-Tswana) speakers, whose prowess was in cattle raising and hunting rather than in farming.
In east-central Botswana, the area within 80 or 100 kilometres of Serowe saw a thriving farming culture, dominated by rulers living on Toutswe hill, between about 600-700 and 1200-1300. The prosperity of the state was based on cattle herding, with large corrals in the capital town and in scores of smaller hill-top villages. The Toutswe people were also hunting westwards into the Kalahari and trading eastwards with the Limpopo East coast shells, used as trade currency, were already being traded as far west as Tsodilo by 700.
The Toutswe state appears to have been conquered by its Mapungubwe state neighbour, between 1200 and 1300. Mapungubwe had been developing since about 1050 because of its control of the early gold trade coming down the Shashe, which was passed on for sale to sea traders on the Indian Ocean. The site of Toutswe town was abandoned, but the new rulers kept other settlements going - notably Bosutswe, a hill-top town in the west, which supplied the state with hunting products, caught by Khoe-san hunters, and with Khoe-san cattle given in trade or tribute from the Boteti River. Mapungubwe's triumph was short-lived, as it was superceded by the new state of Great Zimbabwe, north of the Limpopo River, which flourished in control of the gold trade from the 13th to the 15th centuries. It is not known how far west the power of Great Zimbabwe extended. Certainly its successor state, the Butua state based in western Zimbabwe from about 1450 onwards, controlled trade in salt and hunting dogs from the eastern Makgadikgadi pans, around which it built stone- walled command posts.
The Butua state passed from the control of Chibundule (Torwa) rulers to Rozvi invaders from the north-east in about 1685. Under Rozvi rule, the common people of Butua became known as the Kalanga. The old Chibundule rulers appear to have fled to the western Kalanga (in the area now in Botswana), where they became known as Wumbe, giving rise to a number of local Kalanga chiefdoms.
North-Western Botswana Chiefdoms
From about 850 AD farmers from the upper Zambezi, ancestral to the Mbukushu and Yeyi peoples, reached as far south and west as the Tsodilo hills (Nqoma). Oral traditions tell of Yeyi farmers and fishermen scattering among the Khoe-san of the Okavango Delta in the early 18th century. The oral traditions of Mbukushu chiefs tell of migrations from the upper Chobe down the Okavango River later in the 18th century. These appear to have been responses to increased raiding in Angola for the Atlantic slave trade. The oral traditions of Herero and Mbanderu pastoralists, South West of the Okavango straddling the Namibia border, relate how they were split apart from their Mbandu parent stock by 17th century Tswana cattle-raiding from the south.
Rise of Tswana Domination
During the 1200-1400 period a number of powerful dynasties began to emerge among the Sotho in the western Transvaal, spreading their power in all directions. Fokeng chiefdoms spread Southwards over Southern Sotho peoples, while Rolong chiefdoms spread Westwards over Khalagari peoples. Khalagari chiefdoms either accepted Rolong rulers or moved Westwards across the Kalahari, in search of better hunting and the desirable large cattle of the west. By the 17th century Rolong-Khalagari power stretched, as far as Mbandu country across the central Namibia- Botswana frontier. In the 1660's the military and trading power of the main Rolong kingdom at Taung (South of Botswana), in conflict with Kora groups of southern Khoi over copper trade, was known as far away as the new Dutch settlers at the Cape of Good Hope.
The main Tswana (Central Sotho) dynasties of the Hurutshe, Kwena and Kgatla were derived from the Phofu dynasty, which broke up in its Western Transvaal home in the 1500-1600 period. Oral traditions usually explain these migrations as responses to drought, with junior brothers breaking away to become independent chiefs. The archeology of the Transvaal shows that the farming population was expanding and spreading in small homesteads, each clustered round its cattle corral, across open countryside - with a few larger settlements as evidence of petty chiefdoms. But after about 1700 the settlement pattern changed, with stone-walled villages and some large towns developing on hills - evidence of the growth of states often hostile to each other. These states were probably competing for cattle wealth and subject populations, for control of hunting and mineral tribute, and for control of trade with the east coast.
Growth of Tswana States
Kwena and Hurutshe migrants founded the Ngwaketse chiefdom among Khalagari-Rolong in South-Eastern Botswana by 1700. After 1750 this grew into a powerful military state controlling Kalahari hunting and cattle raiding, and copper production, west of Kanye. By about 1770 a group of Ngwato, called the Tawana, had settled as far North-West as Lake Ngami, in country occupied by Yeyi and previously frequented by Khalagari-Rolong and Kwena hunters and traders.
Times of War
Southern Africa as a whole saw an increasing tempo of disruption, migration and war from about 1750 onwards, as trading and raiding for ivory, cattle and slaves spread inland from the coasts of Mozambique, the Cape Colony and Angola. By 1800 raiders from the Cape had begun to attack the Ngwaketse. By 1826 the Ngwaketse were being attacked by the Kololo, an army of refugees under the dynamic leadership of Sebetwane, who had been expelled North Westwards, possibly by raiders from Maputo Bay. The great Ngwaketse warrior king, Makaba II, was killed, but the Kololo were pushed further North by a counter-attack.
The Kololo moved through Shoshong, expelling the Ngwato northwards, to the Boteti River, where they settled for a number of years - attacking the Tawana and raiding for cattle as far West as Namibia, where they were warded off in a battle with Herero. In about 1835 they settled on the Chobe River, from which the Kololo state stretched northwards until its final defeat by its Lozi subjects on the upper Zambezi in 1864. Meanwhile the Kololo were followed in their tracks by the Ndebele, a raiding army led by Mzilikazi, who settled in the Butua area of western Zimbabwe in 1838-40 after the conquest of the Rozvi. These wars are called the Difaqane by historians.
Post-war Tswana Commercial Prosperity
The Tswana states of the Ngwaketse, Kwena, Ngwato and Ngwato were reconstituted in the 1840s after the wars passed. The states competed with each other to benefit from the increasing trade in ivory and ostrich feathers being carried by wagons down to the Cape Colony in the South. New roads also brought Christian missionaries to Botswana, and Boer trekkers who settled in the Transvaal to the east of Botswana.
The most remarkable Tswana king of this period was Sechele (ruled 1829-92) of the Kwena around Molepolole. He allied himself with British traders and missionaries, and was baptized by David Livingstone. He also fought with the Boers, who tried to seize Africans who fled to join Sechele's state from the Transvaal. But by the late 1870's the Kwena had lost control of trade to the Ngwato, under Khama III (ruled 1875-1923), whose power extended to the frontiers of the Tawana in the North-West, the Lozi in the north and the Ndebele in the north-east.
A British Protectorate
The Scramble for Africa in the 1880s resulted in the German colony of South West Africa, which threatened to join across the Kalahari with the independent Boer republic of the Transvaal. The British in Cape Colony responded by using their missionary and trade connections with the Tswana states to keep the "missionaries' road" to Zimbabwe and the Zambezi open for British expansion. In 1885 the British proclaimed a protectorate over their Tswana allies, as far north as the Ngwato; and the protectorate was extended to the Tawana and the Chobe River in 1890.
British colonial expansion was privatized, in the form of the British South Africa (BSA) Company, which used the road through the Bechuanaland Protectorate to colonize Rhodesia in 1890. But the protectorate itself remained under the British crown, and white settlement remained restricted to a few border areas, after an attempt to hand it over to the BSA Company was foiled by the delegation of three Tswana kings to London in 1895. The kings, however, had to concede to the company the right to build a railway to Rhodesia through their lands.
The British government continued to regard the protectorate as a temporary expedient, until it could be handed over to Rhodesia or, after 1910, to the new Union of South Africa. Therefore the administrative capital remained at Mafikeng, actually outside the protectorate's borders in South Africa, from 1895 until 1964. Investment and administrative development within the territory were kept to a minimum. It declined into a mere appendage of South Africa, for which it provided migrant labour and the rail transit route to Rhodesia. Short-lived attempts to reform administration and to initiate mining and agricultural development in the 1930s were hotly disputed by leading Tswana chiefs, on the grounds that they would only enhance colonial control and white settlement. The territory remained divided into eight largely self-administering 'tribal' reserves, five white settler farm blocks, and the remainder classified as crown (i.e. state) lands.
In 1950, the extent of Bechuanaland’s Protectorate’s subordination to the interests of South Africa, was revealed. This caused political controversy in Britain whereby the British Government barred Seretse Khama from the chieftainship of the Ngwato and exiled him for 6 years. This was also in order to satisfy the South African government which objected to Seretse Khama's marriage to a white woman at a time when racial segregation was being reinforced in South Africa under apartheid.
Botswana Gains Independence
In June 1964, Britain accepted proposals for democratic self-government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved from Mafikeng, in South Africa, to newly established Gaborone in 1965. 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 Bamangwato, was elected as the first president, re-elected twice, and died in office in 1980.
For the first five years of political independence, Botswana remained financially dependent on Britain. This was to cover the full cost of administration and development. After the discovery of diamonds in Orapa during 1967-1971, the planning and execution of economic development took off.
Botswana Gains International Stature
From 1969 onwards Botswana began to play a more significant role in international politics, putting itself forward as a non-racial, liberal democratic alternative to South African apartheid.
South Africa was obliged to step down from its objections to Botswana building a road, with US aid finance, direct to Zambia avoiding the old railway and road route through Rhodesia. From 1974 Botswana was, together with Zambia and Tanzania, and joined by Mozambique and Angola, one of the "Front Line States" seeking to bring majority rule to Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
Economic and Political Growth
With an economy growing annually between 12 and 13 percent, Botswana extended basic infrastructure for mining development and basic social services for its population. More diamond mines were opened, and less economically successful nickel-copper mining commenced at Selebi-Phikwe.
The BDP was consistently re-elected with a large majority, though the Botswana National Front (BNF, founded 1965) became a significant threat after 1969, when "tribal" conservatives joined the socialists in BNF ranks attacking the "bourgeois" policies of government.During the late 1970’s, civil war broke out in Rhodesia, and urban insurrection in South Africa, from which refugees flowed into Botswana. When Botswana began to form its own army, the Botswana Defence Force, the Rhodesian army crossed the border and massacred 15 Botswana soldiers in a surprise attack at Leshoma (February 1978). Botswana played its part in the final settlement of the Rhodesian war, resulting in Zimbabwe independence in 1980. But its main contribution was in formulating the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), to look to the future of the region. The idea behind SADCC, as expounded by Seretse Khama, was to coordinate disparate economies rather than to create a unified market in southern Africa. All the states of Southern Africa, except South Africa and Namibia, formed SADCC in 1980, to work together in developing identified sectors of their economies - particularly the transport network to the ports of Mozambique. Masire succeeds Seretse Khama In July 1980, Seretse Khama died. He was succeeded as president by his deputy, since 1965, vice-president Sir Ketumile Masire. Between 1984 and 1990 Botswana suffered from upheavals in South Africa when South African troops raided the 'Front Line States'. Two raids on Gaborone by the South African army in 1985 and 1986 killed 15 civilians. A new era in regional relations began with the independence of Namibia in 1990, and continued with internal changes in South Africa culminating in its free elections of 1994. The economy continued to expand rapidly after a temporary slump in diamond and beef exports at the beginning of the 1980s. The expansion of mining output slowed in the 1990s, but was compensated for by the growth of manufacturing industry producing vehicles and foodstuffs for the South African market. Mogae succeeds Masire In April 1998, Sir Ketumile Masire retired as president, and was succeeded by his vice-president Festus Mogae. Botswana handed over leadership of SADCC, now the Southern African Development Community(SADC), to South Africa in 1994. The secretariat of SADC remains housed in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone. As well as SADC, the Republic of Botswana is a member of the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Commonwealth. Botswana is also a member (with Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland) of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Khama succeeds Mogae Ian Khama obtained his military training at Britain’s famous Sandhurst Academy and took over command of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) in 1989 when General Merafhe retired to join elective politics. In 1998, Mr Khama was removed from the military by his political mentor and predecessor, Festus Mogae, and appointed vice-president. Festus Mogae stood down as Botswana’s president on 01 April 2008, after a decade in which his country cemented its status as one of Africa’s success stories. Mogae, handed over the reins of power to his long-time heir, Ian Khama. The new Botswana president is the son of the country’s respected founding president, Sir Seretse Khama. His late father is still a revered figure in Botswana and the traditional hereditary chieftainship carries a lot of weight and attracts praise, unquestioning loyalty and authority. (Portions of the text above were excerpted from The Botswana History Pages by Neil Parsons)
Botswana is a land locked country situated within the centre of Southern Africa and is bordered by Zambia and Zimbabwe to the northeast, Namibia to the north and west, and South Africa to the south and southeast. At Kazungula, four countries - Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia - meet at the Chobe/Zambezi River confluence.
Botswana lies between longitudes 20 and 30 degrees east of Greenwich and between the latitudes 18 and 27 degrees south of the Equator. The distance between the north and the south of Botswana is about 1,110 kilometres. Botswana is 960 kilometres across at its widest part. The area of Botswana is approximately 581,730 square kilometres and is about the size of France or Texas. Botswana is approximately 500 km from the nearest coastline.
Botswana has an altitude of approximately 1100 meters above sea level and consists largely of a sand-filled basin, with gently undulating plains.The highest point in Botswana is approximately 1491 meters at Otse Mountain near Lobatse. The lowest point is at the junction of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers at 513 meters.
The Okavango River is the principal river in Botswana. It flows southeast and enters northwestern Botswana from Namibia. Much of northwestern Botswana is a vast swamp, in and around the Okavango Delta, into which the river drains. During the rainy season the river’s flow continues east on the Boteti River to Lake Xau and the Makgadikgadi Pan. The southern part of the country has no permanent streams. The Limpopo, Ngotwane, and Marico rivers separate Botswana from South Africa in the east, and the Molopo River marks the southern boundary. The Chobe River forms the northern boundary with Namibia.
The Kalahari Desert covers the central and southwestern portions of the country.The Kalahari consists of large sand belts and areas that are covered with grass and acacia-thorn scrub much of the year. To the north and the east the Kalahari merges gradually into bushveld (grassland). The eastern part of the country, where most of the people live, is characterized by pleasant hills and rolling plains covered richly with grasses, shrubs and trees.
Botswana's arts and crafts mirror the country's rich cultural diversity which has been brought about by its many tribes.Most products can be purchased in curio, craft, gift shops and malls in major cities such as Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane and at safari camps in the Okavango and Chobe regions.
The decorations known as lekgapho on traditional homes are a very impressive art which has been passed through generations. Although the art is slowly dying because many citizens are now building concrete rather than mud houses, a few traditionally decorated houses can still be seen in some rural areas.
Botswana baskets are widely regarded as some of the finest in Africa. Their high quality, outstanding workmanship and originality have gained them international recognition, and they are now exported to many countries around the world.
The baskets are made of the mokolwane palm (Hyphaene petersiana) which are cut and boiled in natural earth-tone colouring. The lemao (Setswana) is the main instrument used to make the baskets. This is a sharpened piece of thick wire set in a wooden handle, which is used to pierce the tight coil and insert and then wrap the palm. To obtain coloured fibre, the palm strings are pounded and then soaked in a boiling solution of natural dyes taken from the bark and roots of various plants.
Reds are extracted from the bird plum (Berchemia discolor), browns from the magic guarri (Euclea divinorum), purples from the indigo dye plant (Indigofera tinctoria and arrecta) and yellows from the red star apple (Diospyros lyciodes).
The traditional designs on baskets consisted of a few patterns that portrayed the natural world and were produced using few colours. They went by such poetic names as ‘Flight of the Swallows’, ‘Urine Trail of the Bull’, ‘Tears of the Giraffe’, ‘Knees of the Tortoise’ and ‘Forehead of the Zebra’.
Traditionally, baskets had many practical uses - to store seeds, grains, to transport food, etc. The shape of the basket varied according to its function. Tray-type and bowl baskets, which are carried by women on their heads, are for more general use. Slow and intricate work, a large basket can take up to two weeks to complete.
Basketware, sold mostly through co-operatives, has become an important source of supplementary income for many rural families. Visitors to rural areas have the opportunity to purchase crafts directly from the producers.
Few households in Botswana still use traditional pots and there are only a small number of rural women who still make traditional pottery, mostly to sell. Clay pots are used for storing water and traditional beer, and also for cooking. Traditionally, the women within the community are responsible for collecting and moulding the clay. Once the form of the pot has been created, decorative patterns are added using natural oxides.
The tradition is showing signs of recovery as the tourist market demands local pottery. Modern ceramics are produced at several small cottage industries such as those in Gabane, and Thamaga.
Unusual, good quality, hand-woven tapestries, carpets, bed covers, jackets and coats are all made from karakul wool. All utilize locally inspired designs and patterns. Oodi Weavers near Gaborone has gained an international reputation for their fine work.
Woodcarving has been used traditionally in the production of the traditional items such as tools, bowls or cups, spoons, all made out of grained wood of the mophane tree. Elsewhere, animal figures may be carved by individuals living in the rural areas, and then brought to the towns to be sold. Artists are now using mophane wood to produce jewellery as well as animal and people figurines.
This is a relatively new craft in Botswana, currently gaining in popularity. It was recently introduced and taught to ivory carvers who, with the worldwide ban on the sale of ivory products, were in danger of losing their livelihoods. Bonecarvers in Botswana produce elegant, finely crafted jewellery and small statuettes, which interestingly have the look and feel of real ivory.
Jewellery made of beads, ceramics, stones and malachite are produced in several local cottage industries, and sold in urban areas of the country.
Tourism and tourists' fascination with the Bushmen have brought a revival of sorts to traditional Bushmen crafts. Bushmen now produce and sell hunting sets, fire-making sticks, beaded jewellery and belts, leather items and musical instruments. Authentic ostrich eggshell beadwork is still made, and the contrast of the creamy white beads on the brown and black leather string makes for very attractive items.
The Mokoro, is the traditional dug-out canoe used by the fishermen of the Okavango Delta. This, typical African craft, was brought to the delta by the Bayei people in the 18th century. Hewn from a single tree, it is a narrow vessel with a rounded bottom and no keel. To the inexperienced these canoes appear extremely precarious, but they are actually surprisingly stable when properly loaded and they are especially suited to shallow delta waters. The vessel is propelled either by paddles or a pole. To protect trees in the delta, many mokoro these days are made of fibre glass.
There are many local artists - both citizens and expatriates. Paintings are sold in local curio shops, displayed in Gaborone and Francistown malls, but most artists prefer to stage exhibitions in the National Museum, or at their private homes. The National Museum in Gaborone has an annual art competition for all schools in the country.
The museum also has an annual National Art Exhibition in which all artists living and working in Botswana are invited to participate. The Kuru Development Trust in Ghanzi District is encouraging the growth of Bushmen painting.