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Royalty in Botswana

Background on Botswana

The Republic of Botswana is located in southern Africa. A landlocked country, it is surrounded by Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The name Botswana means "Land of the Tswana," referring to the Tswana people, who make up more than three-quarters of Botswana's population of around 1.5 million. Botswana's official language is English, but its national language -- spoken by most people in Botswana -- is the Tswana language, Setswana.

Botswana's government includes an advisory House of Chiefs with 15 members, eight of whom are the paramount chiefs of Botswana's eight officially recognized Tswana tribes. Four so-called sub-chiefs are elected to the House of Chiefs, and the House's remaining three members are chosen by the other 12 chiefs.

The San people (also called Bushmen) and the Khoi people have lived in Botswana for thousands of years, although they are now minorities. Over the centuries, other people migrated to the area and powerful chiefdoms arose. In the early 19th century, the aggressive expansion of the Zulu nation (in today's South Africa) under legendary leader Shaka Zulu, along with the encroachment of Europeans, led to widespread migration and warfare in southern Africa. This period of upheaval is known as the Mfecane or Difaqane, meaning "the crushing."

During the Mfecane, the Tswana peoples were forced to abandon their settlements in southern Botswana. They took refuge in the Kalahari Desert. Eventually they were able to leave the desert and re-establish their kingdoms. Starting in the 1840s, however, they faced another threat in the form of the Boers (South Africans of Dutch descent), who repeatedly attacked the Tswanas, trying to take over their territory.

After decades of Boer raids, two important Tswana chiefs -- Setshele of the Kwena and Khama III of the Ngwato-- appealed to the British for help. In 1885, all of Bechuanaland (as Botswana was then called) became a British protectorate.

Seretse Khama and Independence

Britain's King Edward VIII wasn't the only 20th century royal to give up his throne for love. In 1948, Seretse Khama, chief of the Ngwato or Bamangwato people, created a tremendous controversy by marrying a British woman, Ruth Williams. Despite pressure from his own people and the governments of Great Britain and South Africa, Khama refused to divorce his wife.

The British government exiled the couple to England in 1950. Only after Khama agreed to renounce his chiefdom in 1956 were they allowed to return to Bechuanaland, where Seretse Khama founded the Democratic Party. In 1966, the country gained its independence from Great Britain and became the Republic of Botswana, with Seretse Khama as its first president. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II that year.

After Sir Seretse died in 1980, his widow, affectionately known as Lady K, continued to live in Botswana, working on behalf of the Red Cross, children, AIDS education, and women's rights. Lady Khama died of lung cancer in 2002. She was survived by four children, including Ian Khama, who was then Botswana's vice president. In 2008 he became president.

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Books About Botswana

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Categories: Botswana, Mfecane, Seretse Khama, Travel, African Royalty, Children's Books

Bechuanaland and Botswana

Historical Dictionary of Botswana by Jeff Ramsay, Barry Morton, Fred Morton. Offers information about the history and culture of Botswana.

When Rustling Became an Art: Pilane's Kgatla and the Transvaal Frontier 1820 - 1902 by Fred Morton. Tells the story of the royal family of the Bakgatla of Botswana and South Africa. For Boers and Africans alike, good enterprises were measured in cattle, and the Kgatla under Pilane and his two successors, Kgamanyane and Linchwe, were uncommonly good at acquiring cattle. The book also explains the complex movement of African groups into and out of the western Transvaal between 1860 and 1900.

King Khama, Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen: Victorian Britain Through African Eyes by Neil Parsons. In 1895 three Bechuana chiefs (including Khama III) traveled to London to implore Queen Victoria not to turn their territories over to the empire builder Cecil Rhodes. They were unsuccessful, but they helped sway British public opinion to a more sympathetic view of indigenous issues in Africa. This book is based on contemporary newspaper reports. (Revew © Amazon.com)

Botswana, 1939-1945: An African Country at War by Ashley Johnson. Studies the attitudes, aims, and actions of British rulers, African chiefs, military officials, and ordinary African men and women.

Succession to High Office in Botswana: Three Case Studies edited by Jack Parsons.

Books About the Mfecane
Other Books About African Royal History

Seretse Khama

Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Kama and His Nation by Susan Williams. Sir Seretse Khama, first president of Botswana and heir to the kingship of the Bangwato people, spent years in exile after marrying an English girl. This book tells their story.

A Marriage of Inconvenience: The Persecution of Ruth and Seretse Khama by Michael Dutfield. Seretse Khama, chief of the Bamangwato people, ignited an international controversy in 1948 when he married a white British woman.

Seretse Khama and the Bamangwato by Julian Mockford. Published in 1950.

Travel Guide

Botswana: The Bradt Travel Guide by Chris McIntyre. Guide for visitors heading for lodges and safari camps, either as overlanders exploring the wilderness Botswana or those on tailor-made tours and fly-drive trips.

Children's Books

Batswana by Maitseo Bolaane and Chudi Uwazurke. Surveys the history, culture, and contemporary life of the Batswana people of Botswana and South Africa. For children ages 9 to 12.

More Children's Books About Africa

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