The Tswana - and their western corporate stirrup holders

The Tswanas are a tribe who migrated from Central/East Africa to southern Africa during the 14th century. The origin of the name ĹTswanaĺ is a mystery, but is applied to a number of groups who all speak the same language, have similar customs, but separate names.

The Tswana migrated into central southern Africa in the 14th century. Tswana is also the language spoken by the Batswana people.  This is a group of tribes of Bantu origin, making up a significant part of the population of the country of Botswana.  Tswana is a Bantu language of Niger-Congo origin and alternatively called also CHUANA, COANA, CUANA, SETSWANA, SECHUANA, BEETJUANS.  It is one of the national languages of Botswana, where it is spoken by over 1,000,000.  It is also spoken by nearly 3,000,000 in the country of South Africa and by lesser numbers in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Tswana (singular moTswana or Motswana, plural baTswana or Batswana) is the name of these people, and of its Bantu language. In the 19th century, a common spelling and pronunciation was Bechuana, and the area where they lived was known as Bechuanaland. The Tswana today comprise several groupings, the most important of which, numerically speaking, are the Hurutshe, Kgatla, Kwena, Rolong, Tlhaping, and Tlokwa. They numbered about four million at the turn of the 21st century.

As herders and cultivators the Tswana found the high plains to their liking, because the grass was excellent for cattle, there were no serious endemic livestock diseases and the soil was deep and easy to cultivate. Sorghum, beans, pumpkins, sweet melons and gourds were planted, and the Tswana found that maize, introduced by the Portuguese into the country, was also highly productive.

The origin of the name ĹTswanaĺ is a mystery. It is applied to a number of groups who all speak the same Bantu language, have similar customs, but separate names. None of them ever knew themselves as the Tswana. As with several other people in South Africa, their name was given by foreigners. The meaning is unknown.

The history of the Tswana people is one of continual dissension and fission where disputes, sometimes over chieftain ascendancy, resulted in a section of the tribe breaking away from the main tribe, under the leadership of a dissatisfied chief's relative, and settling elsewhere. Often the name of the man who led the splinter group was taken as the new tribe's name.

Today there are 59 different groups in South Africa who now accept the overall name of Tswana. About three-fourths of the Tswana people live in South Africa. Only about one-fourth live in Botswana, the country named after them.

The modern republic of Botswana, formerly known as the colony of (British) Bechuanaland, is named after this people (Bantu languages often use prefixes, in this case bo-, for grammatical flexions and for word derivations, rather then endings and suffixes as is more usual in Indo-European languages).

Seven of the country's eight 'major' tribes (the only exception being the baMalete or Balete) are Tswana, and still have a traditional Paramount Chief styled Kg˘sikgolo and entitled to a seat in the House of chiefs, all dynasties being related (some have known splits in two or three competing lines), all but one in officially recognized tribal reserves :


    • baR˘l˘ng (reserve created in 1935)

    • baKwŕna (reserve created in 1899)

    • baNgwaketse (reserve created in 1899)

    • bamaNgwato (reserve created in 1899)

    • baTawana (reserve Ngamiland created in 1899)

    • baTl˘kwa (reserve created in 1933)

    • baKgatla (no reserve).

  • As the Batswana constitute the majority population of Botswana, the word is also sometimes used to cover all citizens of Botswana, i.e. including other tribes, such as various Khoisan.

South Africa and homeland (bantustan)

The largest number of baTswana live in South Africa, were they are one of the larger black minorities whose language is official status. Until 1994 they were notionally citizens of Bophuthatswana, one of the few bantustans that actually became reality as planned by the Apartheid regime.

  • The Chiefs of the following tribal baTswana polities are all styled Kg˘si (less lofty then Kg˘sikgolo) :

    • baTlhaping, split before 1800 in baTlhaping bagaPhuduhudu and baTlhaping bagaPhuduhutswane (further split in 4, later 5, dynastic lines).

    • baTl˘kwa

    • baR˘l˘ng baRratlou, split into baR˘l˘ng baRratlou booMariba (further split in two dynastic lines) and baR˘l˘ng baRratlou booSeitshiro

    • baR˘l˘ng baSeleka

    • baR˘l˘ng baRrapulana

    • baHhurutshe (split before 1800 into two nameless ruling lines, the second of which split again into baHhurutshe ba booMokgatlha and baHhurutshe bagaMoilwa, and later further split).

The Tswana are closely related to the Sotho (of Lesotho and South Africa). The Sotho-Tswana are bonded in language and customs. They claim a common ancestor, Mogale. They share an agrarian culture, social structures, political organization, religious and magical beliefs and also a family life.

All the Sotho and Tswana languages are inherently intelligible, but for political and historical reasons, they have generally been considered as three languages. The larger sub-tribes are often considered as separate tribes with their separate languages. Tswana, also known as Setswana, is a Bantu language. Tswana is the national and majority language of Botswana, whose people are the Batswana (singular Motswana). The majority of Tswana speakers are in South Africa (where it is an official language), but there are also speakers in Zimbabwe and Namibia. Internationally there are about 4 million speakers. Before South Africa became a multi-racial democracy, the bantustan of Bophuthatswana was set up to cover the Tswana speakers of South Africa.
Setswana is a Bantu language, belonging to the Niger-Congo language family. It is most closely related to two other languages in the Sotho language group, Sesotho (Southern Sotho) and Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa). It has also been known as Beetjuans, Chuana (hence Bechuanaland), Coana, Cuana, and Sechuana.

Traditional Tswana society included men, women, children and "badimo" (ancestors, living dead, having metaphysical powers). A Tswana does not think in terms of individual rights, but of responsibilities to his family and tribe. The father is to be obeyed and respected by his wife and children at all times.

The Sotho-Tswana are organized by lineages, which developed as the tribe grew. The lineages are organized in subunits and communities. Every level exhibits the same social organization, such as the Kgotla, the traditional court, with various officials assigned various duties in the social structure at each level. In traditional Tswana religion (tribal animism) "Modimo" is the great God, or "The Great Spirit." But the christian churches have today a strong hand on all the Tswana communities. The Bible translation into Tswana started in 1857 and was concluded in 1993.

Because of the fact that job availability in Botswana is changing from rural to urban, many Tswanas are leaving the villages and are not returning. Thus the Tswana are fast becoming a modern secular society, in Botswana as well as South Africa. The rich Tswana upperclass, who is at the forefront of oppressing the peoples living their traditional live, derived their wealth from diamond deals and cattle as well as from European Union funding. Tourism (incl. significant sex-tourism mainly during the days of the Apartheid regime) was and is a backbone of the economic development for the ruling strata of todays mainstream society in Botswana. In collaboration with western enterprises and often through middlemen in South Africa the economic ventures of the ruling elite are vastly diversified, while the UN human development report 2005 states that Botswana is lagging behind in human development in a world in which inequalities are a barrier to growth

Sources: compilation from various encyclopaedia and various broad and scientific publications