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Botswana Overview


Geographical Info

Botswana is a land-locked country dominated in geographical terms by the Kalahari Desert - a sand-filled basin averaging 1,100 metres above sea level. The country lies between longitudes 20 and 30 degrees east of Greenwich and between the latitudes 18 and 27 degrees approximately south of the Equator.
Botswana 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 a single point mid-stream in the Zambezi River.
The Chobe River runs along part of its northern boundary; the Nossob River at its southwestern boundary; the Molopo River at its southern boundary; and the Marico, Limpopo and Shashe Rivers at its eastern boundaries. With the exceptions of the Okavango and Chobe areas in the north, the country has little permanent surface water.
The country is situated in the Southern African region and about two-thirds of Botswana lies within the Tropics; it is bisected by the Tropic of Capricorn (the imaginary line of latitude which is 23° 30' south of Equator) just south of the town of Mahalapye (see maps). This is the most southern latitude where the sun is directly overhead at noon. This happens on December 22st, the longest day of the year in this hemisphere.
The distance between the extreme north and the extreme south of Botswana is about 1,110 kilometres. It is 960 kilometres across at its widest. The area of Botswana is approximately 581,730 square kilometres and is about the size of France or Kenya. It is approximately 500 km from the nearest coastline, to the southwest.
The eastern hardveld, where 80% of the country's population lives and where its three largest urban centres are situated, is a wide strip of land running from the north at Ramokgwebane to the south at Ramatlabama. It has a more varied relief and geology with inselbergs (outcrops of resistant rock) and koppies (rocks that have been weathered into blocks) dotting the landscape. The south eastern hardveld also has a slightly higher and more reliable rainfall than the rest of the country (except Bobirwa, which is about dry as Kgalagadi); indeed the natural fertility and agricultural potential of the soils, while still low, are greater than in the Kalahari sandveld.
The Kalahari Desert stretches west of the eastern hardveld, covering 84% of the country. The Kalahari extends far beyond Botswana's western borders, covering substantial parts of South Africa, Namibia and Angola.
'Desert', however, is a misnomer: its earliest travellers defined it as a 'thirstland'. Most of the Kalahari (or Kgalagadi, which is its Setswana name) is covered with vegetation including stunted thorn and scrub bush, trees and grasslands. The largely unchanging flat terrain is occasionally interrupted by gently descending valleys, sand dunes, large numbers of pans and, in the extreme northwest, isolated hills, such as Aha, Tsodilo, Koanaka and Gcwihaba. Many of the pans have dune systems on the southwest side, which vary in size and complexity. The pans fill with water during the rainy season and their hard surface layer ensures that the water remains in the pans and is not immediately absorbed. These pans are of great importance to wildlife, which obtain valuable nutrients from the salts and the grasses of the pans.
In the north-west, the Okavango River flows in from the highlands of Angola and soaks into the sands, forming the 15,000 sq. km network of water channels, lagoons, swamps and islands. The Okavango is the largest inland delta system in the world a bit smaller than Isreal or half of Switzerland. The northeastern region of the Kalahari Basin contains the Makgadikgadi Pans - an extensive network of salt pans and ephemeral lakes.
Although Botswana has no mountain ranges to speak of, the almost uniformly flat landscape is punctuated occasionally by low hills, especially along the southeastern boundary and in the far northwest. Botswana's highest point is 1,491m Otse Mountain near Lobatse, but the three major peaks of the Tsodilo Hills, in the country's northwestern corner, are more dramatic.

Culture and History

The history of Botswana is characterised by migrations of peoples into the country from the north and west and particularly from the east and south, as well as internal movements of groups of people. The group which eventually emerged as most numerous, and dominant, were the Batswana. Their pattern of dividing and migrating saw the formation of numerous Tswana tribes, and their eventual occupation of all areas of the country.
The term "Batswana" refers to the ethnic group of people who speak the Setswana language and share the Sotho-Tswana culture, while in its common contemporary usage, it refers to all citizens of the Republic of Botswana, regardless of their ethnic background. The singular is "Motswana": a citizen of the country. "Tswana" is used as an adjective - for example "Tswana state" or "Tswana culture".

First inhabitants
The earliest modern inhabitants of southern Africa were the Bushman (San) and the Hottentot (Khoe) peoples. They have lived an almost unchanged lifestyle in the country since the Middle Stone Age.
The physical characteristics of the Khoe and the San are similar. Both tend to have light, almost coppery skin colour, slanted, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, thin lips and tufted, tightly curled hair. Both speak click languages, though there are major differences between them. Both hunted and collected wild foods and neither grew crops.
Approximately 60,000 years ago, the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa were of one tribe, probably of Khoe/San type. It is believed that the Bantu-speaking people were an offshoot from the Khoe/San tribe. This occurred in the tropical rain forests of equatorial Africa about 10,000 years ago. The Bantu-speaking people gradually developed darker skin pigmentation and different physical attributes because of the different environments they eventually occupied.

The origins of the Tswana tribes
In Botswana, about 1,000 years ago, large chiefdoms began to emerge in the area between Sowa Pan and the Tswapong Hills. Large settlements developed on hilltops. These people are known as the "Toutswe", after the first of their capitals, which was excavated on Toutswemogala Hill. Soon these communities were eclipsed by the Great Zimbabwe Empire, which spread its domain over much of eastern Botswana.
Around 1300 AD, peoples in present-day Transvaal began to coalesce into the linguistic and political groups they form today. This resulted in the emergence of three main groups: the Bakgalagadi, the Batswana and the Basotho, each of which had smaller divisions. Each group lived in small, loosely knit communities, spread widely over large areas of land. They spoke dialects of the same language and shared many cultural affinities.
Two central features of the history of the Batswana are fission and fusion. Groups of people broke off from their parent tribe and moved to new land, creating a new tribe and absorbing or subjugating the people they found there. This is how a single group of Batswana living in the Magaliesberg Mountains in northern Transvaal evolved into the numerous Tswana tribes, which exist today.
In 18th century further movements and split-ups of the Batswana resulted in the Tswana tribes which exist today: Bakhurutshe, Bangwato, Bakwena, Bangwaketse, Bakgatla, Batlhokwa, Barolong, Batlhaping and, much later, the Batawana.
The earlier farming inhabitants of Botswana - the Bakgalagadi - also split into several groups, namely the Bakgwateng, Babolaongwe, Bangologa, Baphaleng, Bashaga and many smaller groups. This then was how the Tswana tribes came to be living in Botswana as they were until about 200 years ago.

The Difaqane wars
The Difaqane wars were a devastating wave of tribal wars that swept across Botswana and much of southern Africa in the early 1800s.
By the early 19th century, populations in southern Africa had expanded to such a point that most fertile land was occupied. During the 1700s, the slave and ivory trades increased rapidly in southeastern Africa - minor kings were attacking their neighbours and selling their captives to slave traders. Along the Orange River, white bandits began to terrorize people living in the east.
Nguni peoples (Bantu-speaking peoples including the Zulus and Xhosas) began to form themselves into stronger units to resist these pressures. In 1816 King Shaka seized control of the Zulu chiefdom, and, by forcefully incorporating other smaller tribes, rapidly formed a powerful, war-like nation. Conquered peoples, began to move northwestwards in vast numbers (80,000 - 100,000) destroying everything in their path.
Towards the end of the Difaqane wars, tribes slowly began to re-establish themselves. The chiefs, in their efforts to reconstruct, began to exchange ivory and skins for guns with European, Griqua and Rolong traders, who began to infiltrate the African interior at that time.

Missionaries and traders
In the 19th century numerous missionary societies were formed in Europe and America to send out proselytizers around the world. The London Missionary Society was one of the first to preach amongst the Batswana. It set up a mission station at Kuruman (near present-day Vryburg in South Africa) in 1816. The untiring Robert Moffat headed the station for 50 years.
The famous Dr. David Livingstone arrived in 1841, worked out of Kuruman for about two years, and then married Moffat's daughter, Mary. Though much more interested in exploration than missionary work, and later much more involved in the abolition of the slave trade, Livingstone set up a mission station at Kolobeng amongst the Bakwena.
From Kuruman, Christianity very gradually spread to the interior. Missionaries settled amongst the people, often at the invitation of the chiefs who wanted guns and knew that the presence of missionaries encouraged the traders. By 1880 every major village of every tribe in Botswana had a resident missionary and their influence had become a permanent feature of life.
The missionaries worked through the chief, recognizing that the chief's conversion was the key to the rest of the tribe. Chiefs' responses varied - from Khama's (of the Bangwato) wholehearted embrace of the faith, to Sekgoma Letsholathebe's (of the Batawana) outright rejection, which he claimed was in defence of his culture.

It is largely the culture of the Batswana that has dominated that of other minority groups. This is particularly evident with regard to cattle ownership. Cattle, the traditional Tswana source of wealth and status, are now desired by most, if not all groups of people in Botswana. But this exchange of cultural values has not been a one-way affair: minority groups have influenced and contributed to the dominant culture in numerous ways - in Ngamiland, for example, the Bayei fishing methods were adopted by the ruling Batawana.
Recent years have seen the introduction of western culture in the form of western business, technology, consumer goods, tourism and the media. There is a rather circuitous route, which all this takes to get to Botswana. South Africa, heavily influenced by America, Europe and Japan, acquires the latest goods and media items from these countries first; Botswana, in turn, imports nearly all commodities from South Africa. Botswana can well afford to buy in such goods, but personal wealth on the scale that exists for the elite few in Botswana is a new phenomenon.
Life in the urban areas has been most affected by western culture and increasing modernity. In the rural areas many traditions persist and ways of life differ from region to region. Some of the more obvious physical aspects of the different cultures have disappeared (such as traditional clothing, arts and crafts, most ritual ceremonies and some tools and utensils). Others remain important, however, such as cattle ownership, music and dance and the consultation of traditional healers.
The changes, which have come so rapidly to Botswana, have had their advantages and disadvantages. Better health and education facilities have been provided and increased prosperity has improved the standard of living for some. However, there is a steadily widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Music and dance
Music is the aspect of culture, which has perhaps best survived the onslaught of western influences in Botswana. Both traditional and modern music of numerous ethnic groups from southern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are heard nearly everywhere you go - in shops, malls, houses, schools, cars, combis, trains, taxis and bars. Music, dance and singing are an integral part of everyday activities and modern-day ceremonies such as weddings and even funerals.
Batswana have incorporated their traditional music into church singing. The result is some of the most stirring, soulful music on earth. There are a lot of church choirs, in both urban and rural areas.
Children are taught traditional music and dance at primary school. Even in secondary schools, morning assembly sometimes begin with singing. Teacher training colleges often have their own dance troupes, some of which have performed overseas. Traditional dance competitions for schools are periodically held, usually in larger towns and villages, and many schools from around the country participate. These school groups also perform for the public on public holidays - in villages, town halls and community centres. The dancers, wearing traditional costumes of skins and beaded jewellery, move exuberantly and energetically. The music is happy, infectious, and full of feeling.

Early tribal religions were primarily cults. The supreme being and creator was known as Modimo. Religious rites included the bogwera and bojale (male and female initiation ceremonies) and gofethla pula or rain-making rites.
Today, Christianity is the most prevailing belief system in Botswana, with well over 60% of the population. It was brought into Botswana by David Livingstone in the middle 19th century who converted Kgosi Sechele I (Chief of Bakwena) to Christianity. The main denominations are - Roman Catholic, Anglican, Zion, Lutheran and Methodist Christian Church.

Setswana is the national language with minor differences in dialects. However, English is the official business language and it is widely spoken in urban areas with most written communication being in this language. However, knowing and using a bit of Setswana always helps and Batswana will be pleased that you have made the effort.
Here are some of the basic phrases in Setswana:

English - Setswana    
Yes - Ee (Ee, mma - answering a woman, ee rra - answering a man)    
No - Nnyaa, mma/rra    
Hello (to a woman) - Dumela, mma (Dumelang, bo mma - plural)    
Hello (to a man) -Dumela, rra (Dumelang, bo rra - plural)    
How are you? - Le kae? O tsogile jang?    
Good bye - it is OK - Go siame    
Go well -    Tsamaya sentle    
Stay well - Sala sentle    
Thank you - Ke itumetse    
I do not know - Ga ke itse ("g" is pronounced as "r" in French)    
Do you speak Setswana? - A o bua Setswana?    
I speak Setswana just a little - Ke bua Setswana go le gonnye fela    
I don't speak Setswana - Ga ke bue Setswana    
No problem - Ga gona mathata    
I am fine - Ke tsogile sentle. Ke teng.    
Come in     Tsena (Tsenang - plural)    
Come here - Tla kwano    
How much is this? - Ke bo kae?    
I don't have any money - Ga ke na madi    
What would you like? - O batla eng? or O rata eng?
I want some water - Ke batla metsi


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. 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 that a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground but is lost to evaporation and transpiration.
'Pula', one of the most frequently heard words in Botswana, 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.

The summer season begins in November and ends in March. It usually brings very high temperatures. However, summer is also the rainy season, and cloud coverage and rain can cool things down considerably, although only usually for a short period of time.
The winter season begins in May and ends in August. This is also the dry season when virtually no rainfall occurs. 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.
The in-between periods - April/early May and September/October - still tend to be dry, but the days are cooler than in summer and the nights are warmer than in winter.

The rainy season is in the summer, with October and April being transitional months. January and February are generally regarded as the peak months. The mean annual rainfall varies from a maximum of over 650mm in the extreme northeast area of the Chobe District to a minimum of less than 250mm in the extreme southwest part of Kgalagadi District (see the map for districts). Almost all rainfall occurs during the summer months while the winter period accounts for less than 10 percent of the annual rainfall. Generally, rainfall decreases in amount and increases in variability the further west and south you go.

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. Winters are clear-skied and bone-dry, the air seductively warm during the daylight hours but, because there is no cloud cover, cold at night and in the early mornings. Sometimes bitterly so - frost is common and small quantities of water can freeze.

In summer during the morning period humidity ranges from 60 to 80% and drops to between 30 and 40% in the afternoon. In winter humidity is considerably less and can vary between 40 and 70% during the morning and fall to between 20 and 30% in the afternoon.
For tourists, the best visiting months are from April through to October - in terms of both weather and game viewing. It is during this period that the wildlife of the great spaces gather around what water there is - the natural waterholes and the borehole-fed dams - and are at their most visible.

Money Matters

Botswana's unit of currency is the Pula (P), which is divided into 100 Thebe (t). The word 'Pula' means rain and 'thebe' means shield. The shield appears on the national coat of arms. Bank notes come in denominations of P10, 20, 50 and 100, and coins in denominations of 5t, 10t, 25t, 50t, P1, P2 and P5.
Major credit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club, are accepted widely. Most hotels and lodges accept foreign currency or travellers' cheques.
There are also Exchange bureaus at major border posts. Credit card cash advances are available in major cities through Barclays Bank or Standard Chartered Bank. Cash transfers are easiest through Western Union money transfer. Please note that credit card cash is also available at First National Bank.
Botswana abolished exchange controls in February 1999. Foreign exchange transactions forms must be completed, as the Bank of Botswana requires a record of the amount of currency in circulation.
While cash of any amount is no longer restricted, any person entering or leaving Botswana is required to declare Pula and/or foreign currency bank notes in their possession if the amount is equal to or exceeds an equivalent of P10,000.00 (ten thousand Pula). A family unit must declare any amount carried by each member if the aggregate in the possession of the family is P10,000.00 or more.
Travellers' cheques and any other monetary instruments need not to be declared.
There are 5 commercial banks in the country, with brahcnes in major towns and many main villages: Barclays Bank of Botswana, Standard Chartered Bank, First National Bank, Stanbic Bank Botswana and Bank of Baroda.
Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) are located throughout the country at most shoping malls and major hotels.

Health & Safety

Botswana Heath system consists of different kinds of health facilities. These are referral Hospitals District Hospitals, primary hospitals, Clinics, health posts, and mobile clinics.
Compared to the rest of Africa, Botswana is not a risky place to visit from a health perspective. In spite of this, there are certain precautions visitors should take even though there are no legal requirements for taking these precautions. Botswana requires no inoculations except for visitors from yellow fever zones.
Botswana's public health system consists of different kinds of health facilities: 23 district health teams, 3 referral hospitals, 12 district hospitals, 17 primary hospitals, 222 clinics, 330 health posts and 740 mobile stops.
Both district and primary hospitals refer patients to the three referral hospitals - Princess Marina in Gaborone, Nyangabgwe Hospital in Francistown and Lobatse Mental Hospital. A wide range of clinical specialities and more advanced diagnostic facilities are available, which include Computerised Tomography (CT) scanner at Nyangabgwe Hospital and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) room and CT scanner at Princess Marina Hospital. There is also a private hospital in Gaborone, as well as many private medical practitioners. Private medical rescue services are also available.

Botswana remains a relatively safe place to visit, however there are a few incidents of crime. It is advisable to take basic precautions: always lock car doors; always lock your hotel room or house; do not leave valuables in your hotel room or car; and take care with your bags in crowded places, particularly the malls and nightclubs.

Important telephone numbers:
Ambulance 997
Fire 998
Police 999
Med Rescue 911

Health Tips

There has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of malaria throughout Africa, and Botswana has endemic malarial areas particularly in northern Botswana during the warmer months from November to June (see climate). It's a good idea to consult a doctor at least two weeks prior to entering Botswana and to take every precaution advised. The most important thing to do is to take anti-malaria drugs two weeks prior the visit.

Other precautions should therefore be taken in all malarial areas:

    * Apply insect repellent to exposed skin
    * Wear light cotton clothing, long sleeves, long trousers and closed shoes after sunset
    * Clothes should be treated with an appropriate insecticide
    * Take precautions when going outside between dawn and dusk
    * Use mosquito nets treated with insecticide, or use mosquito coils or mats
    * During the rainy season, the risk of malaria is higher

Malaria symptoms can appear up to six months after leaving a malaria region. As soon as the following symptoms appear consult a medical practitioner:

    * Fever
    * Rigors
    * Headache
    * Sweating
    * Abdominal pain
    * Diarrhoea
    * Loss of appetite
    * Nausea
    * Slight jaundice
    * Cough

Tick-bite fever
Ticks can be found in the bush all over Botswana. The best precautionary measures are to keep your body well covered when walking in the bush and to use an insect repellent. Nevertheless, there is the risk of being bitten, so check your body carefully afterwards. If a tick has burrowed into the skin, it will appear as a small black dot (a common area is around the ankles and lower legs) and may go septic.
Common symptoms of tick-bite fever are headache, fever, tenderness in the glands, general body ache and neck stiffness. If you seek medical help early enough, tetracycline treatment can modify the course of the illness.

Sun and heat-related problems
Newcomers to Botswana may experience salt depletion and heat exhaustion, particularly in the summer season. Symptoms include weariness, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps.
Preventive measures include taking salt tablets, drinking plenty of water and fruit juices (drink at least three litres of liquid daily), avoiding prolonged direct exposure to the sun, and avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol as this causes dehydration. Use sunscreen liberally when in the sun and always carry sunglasses and a sunhat.

Of the 60 species of snake in Botswana, 12 are venomous. These venomous snakes fall into three categories: cytotoxic (cell-destroying), neurotoxic (acting on the nerves), and hemotoxic (acting on the blood).
Snakes are not usually aggressive. Sensing ground vibrations, they will usually retreat before they are seen.
One good precautionary measure is to wear shoes or boots, which protect your feet well. Wear socks and long trousers if walking through undergrowth. If you see a snake, make a slow retreat, moving steadily and slowly backwards. The exception to this is the spitting cobra. In the unlikely event that you come across a spitting cobra it is advisable that you remain completely still. The snake is very shortsighted and will spit at the first thing that glints, very possibly your eye. If you remain still the snake will probably move away.

In the case of a snake-bite, take the following steps:

    * Identify the snake and establish whether it is venomous or not. You will need to know what kind of snake it is to know what venom it has; using the wrong kind of anti-venom serum can kill the victim
    * If possible kill the snake. Identification of the snake is important.
    * Immobilize the limb immediately - wrap a crepe bandage and put on a splint
    * Do NOT apply a tourniquet or attempt to suck the bite
    * Treat the victim for shock; disinfect the area of the bite
    * Get the victim to a clinic or hospital immediately; if the snake has been positively identified, the doctor or nurse will assist in procuring anti-venom serum

Visitors should be aware that the incidence of HIV and AIDS is high throughout southern Africa, and Botswana is no exception.

Other diseases
Bilharzia is an ever-present threat in many African streams and rivers. To avoid contracting Bilharzia one should stay out of the water. The disease is easily cured and cannot be caught by drinking untreated water.
Tap water is safe to drink in Botswana's urban areas.

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