Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The story of the Batswana is the story of fragmentation

The roots of the Batswana are not very well known; though some have lately been writing in the other paper, claiming to know the roots of the Tswana with shocking exactitude and precision. The only problem is their claims have never been subjected to any academic test or criticism. They write and publish themselves with outrageous confidence not allowing independent reviewers to see and weigh their claims. They therefore appear like prophets of old, shouting in the streets asking to be heard and yet hearing no one else.

I am getting distracted. I must return to the point. The nation of the Tswana is a fragmented nation. It is now spread between the four countries of Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Their story is the tale of fragmentation. This has led to some claiming that the word Batswana comes from Ba a tswana i.e. they come from each other. Some have a slightly different tale that explains the etymology of Batswana. They say the Tswana used to occupy much of the current South Africa. One time a traveller did come amongst one of the Tswana groups and asked about the people who were occupying the other side of the river as well as those occupying the other side of the hill. A response was offered that Ba a tshwana meaning that they are the same people as us. Therefore, we are told that the expression ba a tshwana was over the years bastardized into the name Batswana. These are stories of etymologies which have no supporting evidence from anything else. They now sound like an old lady’s tale.

Some of the disintegrations amongst the Batswana groups were not as a consequence of individual hostilities but hostilities of nature. Hostile and angry climatic conditions created fissures between what were once a united people. Some therefore left on the back of beasts, the ones they called makaba and their belongings on the backs of other stronger beasts; the ones they called dipelesa. They were in search of green virgin lands upon which they would flourish. Some indeed did flourish and succeed while many did not. Other fragmentations were as a consequence of acrimonious relations. Some fought for leadership, claiming to be the anointed ones. Some questioned the authority of their leaders and therefore started their new tribe. Whichever story you believe, one thing remains without dispute: the story of the Batswana is the story fragmentation. When the Batswana fragment, they are only doing what is natural to them. Look at many families in our country: they lie in pieces. The father pulls to one side, while the mother pulls to a different direction. The uncle faces one direction when the aunts and the grandparents face a different direction. This has led to bitter fights over inheritance, sometimes even before any of the parents is deceased. Sometimes this division plays out in the kgotla, with some people pulling in one direction while others pull to a different one. Once such animosity place itself out at the level of a village, such as it has done for many years in Molepolole, then no one is safe. People die unexplained deaths. Witchcraft becomes rife. People gather and scheme under the blanket of darkness or somewhere in secret chambers. Coups and counter coups are organized and things turn nasty. Trust and truth become victims in the human fight for influence and recognition. But that is really the story of Tswana. They are the fragmentation people.

It is actually difficult to know how many Tswana groups there are. The Batlhaping are at least of four groups: Ba ga Phuduhudu, Ba ga Phuduhutswana, Ba ga Maidi and Ba ga Mothibi. Batlokwa have at least three groups: Ba ga Sedumedi, Ba ga Bogatsi and Ba ga Matlapane. Bakgatla have at least seven groups: Ba ga Kgafela, Ba ga Mosetlha, Ba ga Mmakau, Ba ga Mocha, Ba ga Seabe, Ba ga Mocheche, and Ba ga Mmanaana. Bakwena fall into at least six groups: Ba ga Magopa (from which Bangwaketse came), Ba ga Mare a Phogole, Ba ga Molopyane, Boo Modimosana ba ga Mmatau and Ba ga Sechele. These are just a few examples of the fragmentation of the Batswana. The idea of working together as a team seems to be very strange to them. Even when they gather together under a single theme to achieve a single goal they always find a way to fragment themselves. Many believe that the reason why the Batswana are well known for their witchcraft is because of their uncontrollable envy which usually leads them to further fragmentation. On our national stage pay attention to how many churches fragment, usually not because of a substantial matter, largely because of envy and greed. Because of this Tswana spirit, many smaller churches have been formed. There is much that could be written about the politics of Botswana and fragmentation. Such fragmentation as Sir Ketumile Masire has observed is not based on ideological differences. It is instead based on the old Tswana spirit of who has to lead and govern. This spirit is destructive, so vicious that people would rather lose the ultimate big prize collectively just to frustrate one individual from attaining it. The spirit is simply: if I cannot have it then no one will. Last week I met a group of opposition men and women congratulating one Armstrong Dikgafela for his departure from another opposition party the BMD. Nnyaa o dirile mokaulengwe! This is the Tswana spirit at play.

It is the spirit of envy and strife. It is the spirit of division and fragmentation. So when you see an opposition party sets itself apart and hits the dust and rides into the sunset like a lone ranger supported by newspaper scribes and vociferous PR machine, it is doing nothing novel or revolutionary. What is alive inside it is nothing but a Tswana spirit handed from one generation to another over centuries.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.