30 September 1966, Bechuanaland (now Botswana) gains independence
The Republic of Botswana shares a common border with South Africa in the South, Namibia in the west and north, Zimbabwe in the east, and Zambia in the North.
The earliest inhabitants of Botswana were the San and Khoe societies. These societies were later joined by the Batswana societies who moved to the areas around 1000 years ago. It is also around this period that large chiefdoms known as Toutswe in the area of Sowa pan and Tswapong hills developed. These large chiefdoms were later eclipsed by the powerful Great Zimbabwe. Towards the 18 th century the Batswana society were subdivided into eight principal chieftaincies currently forming part of the modern Republic of Botswana. Towards the end of the 19 th century Botswana became a British protectorate retaining internal autonomy on matters relating to Tswana laws.
Britain did not introduce economic development in the area; the area remained undeveloped until the discovery of diamonds in the 1970s. As a result, the protectorate was economically depended on the South African economy. Many Batswana people worked in South Africa as migrant labourers and some were sent to South Africa to get education. As a result of this close connection, they were influenced by political developments there. In the early 1950s to mid 1960s, many South Africans fled to Botswana seeking refuge from the apartheid government. Their presence in Botswana encouraged Tswana nationalism and the growing demand for independence. The colonial government responded by creating a legislative council, which was rejected by the Batswana because it divided power equally between White (10 percent) and Black people. South Africa's Pan Africanist Congress also influenced the thinking of Botswana leaders like Motsamai Mpho and Kgalemang Motsete who were educated in South Africa. Their Bechuanaland People's Party began to demand that all White people should leave Botswana.
(Gaborne© M.Barlow )
Sir Seretse Khama, a member of the legislative council, formed a party of moderate Batswana, the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP). People in rural areas and moderates in towns supported this party. The moderates wanted to adopt the Westminster model and traditional leadership. They were also against the socialist principles of Bechuanaland Peoples Party. They preferred a democracy similar to the British system of democracy. The British government also preferred to work with this party because it was not against the presence of White people in Botswana. The colonial government arranged for an election in 1965. These were the first general elections in Botswana, and were won by the Botswana Democratic Party. The BDP continued to build its government according to the Westminster system. Because of social, cultural, and political differences between Britain and Botswana, the Westminster model was changed to make room for these differences.
Democracy in Botswana married Tswana traditional practices of governance and the Westminster model . The Tswana kgotla, meaning a traditional assembly, was made part of government structures. To make room for traditional leaders, the government created the House of Chiefs. The House of Chiefs was modelled according to the House of Lords of the United Kingdom. But its role and structure are very different from the British House of Lords. The Botswana House of Chiefs brings in local political structures into the Westminster democratic model. It is a house for eight Tswana paramount chiefs to represent their ethnic groups and to advise government on matters affecting customary law. Like the British House of Lords, members of the House of Chiefs are not elected.
The National Assembly is also modelled on to the British system. Differences are that it has an executive president who is the head of state as well as head of government. The separation of the judiciary and the legislature exists only in terms of common law. In customary law, chiefs, within their respective kgotlas, act as the highest judges. The House of Chiefs cannot obstruct a bill passed by the national assembly for more than a year. Their role is to advise the government on matters relating to customary affairs.
The National Assembly is made up of the government and opposition party. The party that wins the majority of votes in the election forms a government. Only one party has ruled Botswana since independence in 1966. However, this has not undermined economic development and the country's democratic principles of governance.
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- African Studies Center - Botswana Page. University of Pennslyvania website [online, accessed 17 June, 2009]
- Adventure in Botswana. interKnowledge Corp website [online, accessed 17 June, 2009]
- The Tswana. Encounter South Africa website [online, accessed 17 June, 2009]