Tswana tribes may appropriate Bushmen culture by copying tsutsube dance and wearing Roy Sesana’s buck horns but as far as the leader of Khwedom Council is concerned, these tribes will never ever be indigenous to Botswana.
“The Indigenous San Peoples of Botswana bemoan the stand taken by the African States on Indigenous Peoples and the government of Botswana regarding mother tongue education in particular. Botswana, like many African states, still argues that all people in Africa are indigenous people,” said Keikabile Mogodu when addressing the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York on May 19.
Mogodu was countering the position taken by the African Union and here at home publicly expressed by former president, Festus Mogae, that no particular group can claim indigenous status. Around the time that a CIVICUS conference took place in Botswana in 2004, Mogae stated that the idea of the Bushmen being indigenous was an old apartheid myth. That prompted Dr. Mary Robinson, the former Irish President and then Director of Ethical Globalisation Initiative who was in Botswana for the conference, to say that the Bushmen were indeed indigenous.
“It is important for government to recognise their special status and characteristics not shared by the dominant groups in society and empower them commensurately with their unique problems which many other indigenous people face,” she said.
However, African leaders remain adamant that all African people are indigenous to the continent and Mogae was merely restating what other African leaders feel about the issue. In a continent prone to civil strife, these leaders fear that empowering some tribes in a manner favoured by western nations might provoke a spate of civil wars that they certainly don’t want the continent to slide back to.
The UN and the International Labour Organization identify the following as characteristics that usually define an indigenous group: descent from the pre-colonial/pre-invasion inhabitants of their region; maintenance of a close tie to one’s land in both our cultural and economic practices; suffering from economic and political marginalisation as a minority group; and self-definition in such fashion. Therefore, while all other Botswana tribes may meet the fourth criterion of indigenous, they don’t quality in terms of the three other criteria. So where do Tswana tribes come from?
One answer is Afghanistan according to a website where Batswana from all over the world meet to exchange fact and fiction about their origins, language and culture. While some would not accept this curious detail, it might at least account for Batswana’s whereabouts before they showed up in Cameroon some 1610 years ago. At least that is what the caption on prehistoric implements displayed at a National Museum exhibition said in 2006. Botswana was turning 40 and the Museum had laid out a grand, long-running exhibition.
“They arrived in present-day Botswana with their knowledge of metallurgy, pottery making and agriculture about 1600 years ago,” the caption added.
The journey down south is well-documented, placing Batswana in the Congo area between 200 and 500 AD. There is no argument that around this time, the Bushmen were already living in Southern Africa.
A related mind-boggling detail is that the iconic African National Congress leader, Nelson Mandela, was not Xhosa but Kalanga.
“Whilst known to many as a Xhosa, or just as a Thembu, research reveals that his clan, the AbaThembu, are originally people of Kalanga stock and only became Xhosa by assimilation,” says an entry in a Zimbabwe-hosted website that features otherwise robust scholarship on Kalanga culture.