[lg policy] Botswana: Govt avoids ethnicity question

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 4 14:39:12 UTC 2011

Govt avoids ethnicity question

Staff Writer

Despite admitting that Botswana has no data on its ethnic make-up and
local languages, the government statistician says during the design of
questionnaires for population census Batswana had not shown interest
in having that question asked, Mmegi has been told.

Mmegi had sought the government statistician, Annah Majelantle to
explain why since the first census in 1904, Botswana still does not
have official data on its ethnic make-up and languages spoken
countrywide. There was hope a few months ago when the Central
Statistics Office (CSO) announced that they would have the
mother-tongue question asked for the first time in this year's
population and housing census. However, all those hopes went up in
smoke recently when her office announced that the question would not
be asked.

Yesterday, Majelantle sated that in fact the mother-tongue question
they intended asking in this year's census was solely based on the
planned early child education policy, suggested in the 1993 Kedikilwe
Commission that advised that to deliver quality education, pupils
should be taught in their mother tongue in the first two years of

Majelantle says the Ministry of Education and Skills Development
decided that the question be suspended in the meantime since they have
not yet implemented the early child language policy.  "The question
was going to ask the parents what is the language used at home in the
first 3-4 years for their children," the government statistician

In 2007 minority group, Reteng, representing 10s of marginalised
ethnic groups and their language cultures, called upon the Census
Office to have official data on Botswana's ethnic groups and their
languages, after the government admitted that it did not have data on
its ethnic make-up.

At the time, government spokesman, Dr Jeff Ramsay wrongly interpreted
the 2001 Population and Housing census to mean that 79 percent of
Batswana speak Setswana, while another seven percent speak other
Sotho-Tswana languages, with nine percent Ikalanga, three percent
Seherero or Sembukushu, two percent Sesarwa (Khoisan), one percent
Sesubiya (Chikuhane) and one percent Seyei.

But Reteng countered that the question was not about mother tongues
but any language one speaks at home. Reteng is of the view that
unrecognised or minority tribes in the country number 1,030,000 or 60
percent of the total population, while the main tribes number 305,000
or 17.9 percent of the total population, with the rest 365,863
consisting of immigrants. Yesterday, Reteng said they were
disappointed to learn about the ministry's decision to remove the
question on mother-tongue. "The data from this exercise was going to
inform policy and decisions on the need for mother-tongue. The
decision demonstrates the fact that government is only paying
lip-service to poverty eradication", said Reteng spokesperson,
Professor Lydia Saleshando. "UNESCO views mother-tongue as a quality
issue in education, and the quality of education in Botswana is poor
due to lack of appropriate language to interact in the learning
process at an early age," Saleshando said.

"According to Malete, 2003 and Masalila, 2008, most primary schools in
non-Tswana areas have high dropout rates and are poorly resourced",
Saleshando added. Quoting the UNICEF 2008 Report, Prof Saleshando said
in the poorest rural areas only 22.4 percent of children of school
going age were in school, compared to 60 percent in the rich areas.
Gross attendance rate in these poor rural schools in 2000 was 32.3
percent compared to 82 percent in rich areas of the country. "The
majority of children in these schools obtain grade D in the Primary
School Leaving Examinations. The activist added that it is not
surprising that poverty has become a norm in these areas, where
languages other than Setswana are spoken in the home. "The majority of
children in these areas come across Setswana only at school. The UN
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education noted that Botswana
'faces challenges in addressing the multi-linguistic and intercultural
nature of its society and the need to ensure that all groups identify
themselves in the education provided."


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