History of Botswana


Hunters traders and missionaries started arriving in Botswana in 1806. 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 that they would cast their eyes eastward, blocking the road to promising Ndebele concessions in Zimbabwe. Reluctantly, Britain decided to annex yet another vast area; this time at minimal cost.

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. The protectorate was granted internal self government in 1965 and the republic of Botswana became completely independent on 30 September 1966, under the new president, Sir Seretse Khama.

Struggle for Independence

In March 1885. Botswana was declared a British Protectorate by Royal Decree. Extensive territories belonging to Botswana’s southern chiefdoms were incorporated into the then British colony of South Africa under the name of British Bechuanaland. At first most Batswana chiefs except Khama III of the Ngwato who had asked for British protection in 1870, resisted and were suspicious of British protection.
During the colonial period various attempts were made to incorporate Botswana into Rhode’s colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1895. and later into the Union of South Africa. The attempt by the Union of South Africa to annex Botswana was a more serious threat to the protectorate until self-government in 1965.

The 1908 Act of Union which created the Union of South Africa had a provision that the Union should grow by incorporating other territories like Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The British were willing to hand over these territories now that the situation had changed from what it was in 1885.

However, the provision for incorporation stated that this could only be done with the consent of the peoples of the then High Commission Territories i.e. Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Many South African Prime Ministers, from Hertzog to Verwoerd agitated for incorporation. Even on the eve of independence European settler communities in Tati, Tuli Block and Ghanzi asked to be ceded to South Africa. Botswana chiefs and later the nationalist leaders vehemently opposed the idea of incorporation.

There is enough historical evidence dating back to the introduction of the Bechuanaland Border Police between 1890 and 1891 that Batswana were dissatisfied with British protection.

Batswana Chiefs had always wanted to protect their power from the colonial government even though the logic of colonial rule dictated that they should rule according to the whims and wishes of the British government. This conflict was in many respects the root of the struggle for independence. As more and more proclamations were made curtailing the powers of chiefs, they in turn became very outspoken in asserting their birthright to rule their tribes and manage their affairs. In 1930. chiefs began demands for not only national symbols like flags but also self-government. The matter became a subject of hot debates in the chambers of the African Advisory Council. The British government rejected demands for self-government claiming that the Protectorate was not yet ready for independence. In a heated debate on the issue Kgosi Bathoen II asked the Resident Commissioner, "who will say the time is now ripe and who is it that will determine that we are now capable of ruling this country?"

Signs of contemporary nationalism in Botswana go beyond politics. The formation of independent churches and schools in the 1940s was an articulate demand for a new political and social system tailored according to the needs of Batswana.

Fortunately by 1955 the "winds of change" were blowing at gale proportions in Africa and it became apparent that Britain would concede to demands for national independence. In 1961 a new constitution provided for an advisory executive Council, a representative Legislative Council and an Advisory African Council. A judiciary with a High Court comprising of Chief Justice and Puisne Judge was established.

The High Commissioner and Resident Commissioner were required to consult the Executive Council although they were not bound by the Council’s decisions. Laws were made by the High Commissioner acting on the advice and consent of the Legislative Council. The Resident Commissioner however reserved the right to enact or enforce any Bill or motion not passed by the Legislative Council if he considered it necessary in the interests of public order, public faith or good government. The African Council was to act as an electoral college, electing local candidates to the Legislative Council and advising the Resident Commissioner on matters affecting the tribes of Botswana.

There was however considerable disappointment about the 1961 constitution. Of the 34 members of the Legislative Council only 10 were Batswana and another 10 elected members of the European community. It was surprising that Europeans, comprising less than 1 per cent of the population should be represented on an equal basis with the 99 per cent African majority.

Political Parties

The first political party in Botswana was short-lived and limited in scope as it was - the Federal Party founded by one of Botswana’s truly outstanding literary figures - poet cum playwright Leetile Disang Raditladi. But the first modern nationalist parties emerged in the early 1960’s. As a result of the disappointment with the Legislative Council, the Bechuanaland Peoples Party (BPP) under the leadership of Dr Kgalemang Motsete - an accomplished music composer and educationist - was the first mass party to agitate for full independence not later than 1964.

Former treason trialist (under the Union of South Africa Terrorism Act) Mr. Motsamai Mpho was the secretary general. Internal dissention on the eve of the first national elections in 1965 resulted in a split and the birth of a new party - the Bechuanaland Independence Party under the leadership of Mr. Motsamai Mpho. Dr Motsete attempted to retain a small group of the BPP’s old guard but lost power to Mr. Matante.

The Bechuanaland Democratic Party was next to be formed under the leadership of Mr Seretse Khama (later Sir Seretse) who became the first President of the Republic of Botswana. The party’s vice president was an eloquent master farmer and former journalist -Mr. Quett Ketumile Masire (Botswana’s second President) The party enjoyed widespread support and was popular with Batswana and also enjoyed the support of the chiefs, the moderate, the wealthy and the educated. The Botswana National Front was formed in 1967, led by Dr Kenneth Koma - a widely read socialist intellectual. The BNF wasthe official opposition party.

Self government

During l963, and 1964, a series of constitutional discussions took place to determine proposals for internal self government based on universal adult suffrage and a ministerial form of government. Early in 1964 the first census was conducted as a basis for delimitation of constituencies. By the end of the year voters had been registered in all the 31 constituencies the country had been divided into. In February 1965, the transfer of the country’s capital from Mafeking, South Africa to Gaborone in Botswana commenced.

The first general elections were held in March 1965 and the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (now Botswana Democratic Party) won in a landslide victory, taking 28 of the 31 contested seats. The BPP (then Bechuanaland Peoples Party) won three seats. Neither Dr. Motsete’s BPP (which has since become defunct) nor Mr Mpho’s BIP secured a single seat. The BIP however won a single seat in 1966 and lost it in the 1979 General elections.


On September 30, 1966 the country became the independent Republic of Botswana with Sir Seretse Khama its first President.

Source: website of the Government of Botswana

Dernière modification : 11/02/2008

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