Fwd: Botswana: "The (Di)vision of a Culturally Diverse Nation"

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Tue Sep 14 06:44:48 UTC 2004

--- In AfricanLanguages at yahoogroups.com, "Don Osborn" <dzo at b...>
This item from http://allafrica.com/stories/200409020836.html may be
of interest. (The Mmegi website is http://www.mmegi.bw/ .) Botswana
seems to be in the news a lot lately regarding language issues. DZO

"The (Di)vision of a Culturally Diverse Nation"

Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)
September 2, 2004
Posted to the web September 2, 2004

Vision 2016 envisages Botswana as a nation of a diverse mix of
cultures, languages, traditions and people sharing a common destiny.
Is this being achieved?

There was a time when one was proud of their identity. There used to
be a place where one was not ashamed of their ethnicity.

That was Old Naledi in the early 1970s when a hotchpotch of ethnic
groups gathered in the squatter camp searching for work and
opportunities in the new capital town. That was a long time ago, as
Mima Jonase, a housewife and mother of four, outlines as she sits
under a tree in the centre of Old Naledi. If Vision 2016 is anything
to go by, that is what it will be like in the year 2016.

Jonase has not seen a copy of the document, let alone read it. It
says, in what she feels is a bit too optimistic a look, "The country
will possess a diverse mix of cultures, languages, traditions and
peoples sharing a common destiny". Time, social reality, the frenetic
pace of western modernity and national political processes have
taught her that this is probably just a mirage - as distant as it is
colourful, and as colourful as it is empty.

"For some reason, Old Naledi was dominated by people the from so-
called minorities," she gushes. "It was a beautiful period. You would
speak your language when you were around people from your ethnic
group, and it was very common to find people from your ethnic group."

Then a descent started. It was a combination of institutionalised
ethnocentricism, lack of the practice of her culture and the rush to
conform so as to gain access to the mainstream identity that did the
damage. Three decades and four children later, she is disillusioned
with that past promise. "My own children cannot speak their mother
tongue. By the time our children were born, we were so used to being
shamed for speaking our language that we had completely stopped doing
it," she laments.

Who would shame them?

"Try going to the clinic and speak Sengologa, even if it is just a
Sekgalagadi accent while you are speaking Setswana, everyone would
laugh at you, or castigate you," she says.

Both her and her husband have not been using Sekgalagadi that much,
she explains. They also cannot afford to take the children to Tsabong
every school holidays to experience their culture as it is supposed
to be. She frowns a bit and retorts suddenly, "Even in Tsabong, it is
all different. Everyone is lost nowadays. They are also ashamed of
their identity," she adds.

Her son Patrick, a tall and lean man in his 20s, is evidence of a
culture and language under attack. He walks with a limb not unlike
American rappers', and has a soft nervous smile. As he listens to his
mother, he breaks into an occasional laugh, a chewed toothpick
hanging from the corner of his mouth. "I do understand Sekgalagadi,"
he promises unconvincingly.

A little prodding reveals something else. "I can understand when
someone speaks Sekgalagadi but I cannot speak it fluently," he

Just then a rap song blasts on the nearby radio set, he bops his head
absentmindedly, tapping his foot to the rhythm, and soon he is
whispering some lyrics, an admixture of Setswana, Zulu and
English. "Hip Hop Pantsula o a ja mei brur," he screams to his
friend, another young man who calls himself Fresh. "Gone mme ke
Mongologa" (As a matter of fact I see myself as a Mongologa)" he
announces. "Wa bona mo Zola re bua Setsotsi too much (In Old Naledi
we speak Tsotsi Taal too much). Le bagolo ba setse ba tshwara style
(Even our elders are starting to adopt the language)."

For a young Mosarwa woman Efa Phari, it is very difficult to avoid
the lure of modernity. "Even though modernity brings with it a lot of
negative things such as the loss of our culture, how can one avoid
it?" she asks rhetorically.

Born and raised just outside Letlhakane in the Central District in a
small Basarwa settlement called Metsiaela, she currently works as a
domestic worker in the urbanised village of Morwa, just outside
Gaborone. She thinks everyone in her situation would find it
challenging. "You have both the traditional way of doing things and
the modern one. For example, should one send one's child to school or
let her live with one's parents in the traditional village setting?"
she asks.

University of Botswana academic and minority rights campaigner Prof.
Lydia Nyathi-Ramahobo explains that modernity need not be unfriendly
to cultural practice. "We have built institutions that are intolerant
to minority cultures and languages," she explains. "All processes
work towards assimilating minorities. It is as if people who belong
to minority ethnic groups have to be deculturated from their cultures
and be acculturated into the mainstream modernised Setswana culture
before they are accepted as full citizens of Botswana."

She tells the story of a newly born baby girl in Okavango who was
given a Setswana name by the clinic officials without the knowledge
of her parents. "Because the child had been born at home, the parents
took the child to the clinic to be registered. When they got there,
the nurse asked what the name of the child was. The parents
said 'Maya'. 'What does Maya mean in Setswana?' the nurse asked. The
parents said, 'Otsile'. So the nurse proceeded to write 'Otsile' as
the name of the child," she says with an incredulous smile on her

However, she feels that this intolerance is not very common among
individual citizens, but rather manifests itself at an institutional
level. The education system, the political structures, even the
country's constitution all seem to serve the purpose of mainstreaming
minorities and "are very insensitive to the needs of communities".
For example the Tribal Territories Act outlines that only the
eight "main" tribes can own land, she says.

So what is the future of the various ethnic groupings that make up
this country? "We as a group of minorities have formed an
organisation called Re Teng which serves to further the development
of minority cultures and languages," says Nyathi-Ramahobo.

The young man Patrick Jonase is not optimistic. "I think it is
getting worse with time," he says. "Right now I cannot speak
Sengologa, which is my parents' language. What about my children?"

His mother adds, "Dipuo tsa rona di a nyelela. Bana ba rona ba tlaa
felela ba sa itse segabone" (our languages are disappearing. Our
children will be lost culturally)".

Copyright ?2004 Mmegi/The Reporter. All rights reserved. Distributed
by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). Click here to contact the
copyright holder directly for corrections -- or for permission to
republish or make other authorized use of this material.
--- End forwarded message ---

More information about the Ilat mailing list