The Tswana Culture

The Tswana (BaTswana), sometimes referred to as the Western Sotho, are a heterogeneous group, including descendants of the once great Tlhaping and Rolong societies, as well as the Hurutshe, Kwena, and other small groups. Their language, seTswana, is closely related to seSotho, and the two are mutually intelligible in most areas. About 4 million Tswana people live in Southern Africa--3 million in South Africa and 1 million in the nation of Botswana. In South Africa, many BaTswana live in the area that formed the numerous segments of the former homeland, Bophuthatswana, as well as neighboring areas of the North-West Province and the Northern Cape. Tswana people are also found in most urban areas throughout South Africa. 

By the nineteenth century, several Tswana groups were politically independent, loosely affiliated chiefdoms that clashed repeatedly with Afrikaner farmers who claimed land in the northern Transvaal. In the late nineteenth century, Afrikaner and British officials seized almost all Tswana territory, dividing it among the Cape Colony, Afrikaner republics, and British territories. In 1910, when the Cape and the Transvaal were incorporated into the Union of South Africa, the Tswana chiefs lost most of their remaining power, and the Tswana people were forced to pay taxes to the British Crown. They gradually turned to migrant labor, especially in the mines, for their livelihood. 

Tswana culture is similar to that of the related Sotho peoples, although some Tswana chiefdoms were more highly stratified than those of other Sotho or the Nguni. Tswana culture was distinguished for its complex legal system, involving a hierarchy of courts and mediators, and harsh punishments for those found guilty of crimes. Tswana farmers often formed close patron-client relationships with nearby Khoisan-speaking hunters and herdsmen; the Tswana generally received meat and animal pelts in return for cattle and, sometimes, dogs for herding cattle. 

Bophuthatswana was declared "independent" in 1977, although no country other than South Africa recognized its independence. The homeland consisted primarily of seven disconnected enclaves near, or adjacent to, the border between South Africa and Botswana. Efforts to consolidate the territory and its population continued throughout the 1980s, as successive small land areas outside Bophuthatswana were incorporated into the homeland. Its population of about 1.8 million in the late 1980s was estimated to be 70 percent Tswana peoples; the remainder were other Sotho peoples, as well as Xhosa, Zulu, and Shangaan. Another 1.5 million BaTswana lived elsewhere in South Africa. 

Bophuthatswana's residents were overwhelmingly poor, despite the area's rich mineral wealth. Wages in the homeland's industrial sector were lower than those in South Africa, and most workers traveled to jobs outside the homeland each day. The poverty of homeland residents was especially evident in comparison with the world's wealthy tourists who visited Sun City, a gambling resort in Bophuthatswana. 

The non-Tswana portion of the homeland population was denied the right to vote in local elections in 1987, and violence ensued. Further unrest erupted in early 1988, when members of the Botswana Defence Force tried to oust the unpopular homeland president, Lucas Mangope. Escalating violence after that led to the imposition of states of emergency and government crackdowns against ANC supporters in Bophuthatswana, who were often involved in anti-Mangope demonstrations. Mangope was ousted just before the April 1994 elections, and the homeland