New Internationalist


August 1987

new internationalist
issue 174 - August 1987


Map of Botswana The New Year began for Botswana with a bomb attack by South African agents on a village near the southern border, reminding all concerned of how vulnerable this democratic state is to the destabilizing operations of its apartheid neighbour.

Botswana's vulnerability is economic as well as military. This land-locked, semi-arid country with a population of just over one million in a territory the size of France has a very limited road and rail infrastructure. It depends on South Africa for the transportation of its exports - diamonds, copper, nickel and beef - and imports nearly all of its capital equipment and consumer goods through that country. Shops in Gaborone and Francistown are often owned by South African interests and South Africans of Asian origin have been starting up dry cleaners, garages, bakeries and restaurants. The relative peacefulness and the 'gaps in the market' have been the main attractions.

Botswana's telephone, telex and airline systems are interwoven with those of its racist neighbour, and about one-third of its working men have jobs in South Africa. It is a member, with Lesotho and Swaziland, of the South African Customs Union, which yields 30 per cent of Botswana's income.

Within the country, the principal source of discontent with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is the extent to which its economic policies have excluded local people from the accruing benefits. Dr Kenneth Koma, leader of one of the opposition parties, the Botswana National Front, has alleged that only foreign investors have benefited, that the rich have become richer and the poor poorer.

Photo: Chris Sheppard This discontent is not new. When Masire first addressed the BDP's national executive as President in March 1981 he sought to respond to the bitterness which had been surfacing as Botswana displayed their unhappiness with the Government's dependence on expatriate civil servants.

A similar situation exists today. The main thrust behind Botswana's economic growth has been the mineral sector, especially diamonds, controlled by South Africa's De Beers Mining company and sold through its central selling organization. The modern manufacturing sector is small, largely foreign-owned and almost wholly reliant on expatriate skilled and managerial workers. Moreover, it is dominated by the Botswana Meat Commission abattoir which, in a good year, accounts for 50 per cent of the output and just over 35 per cent of the employment in this sector.

There is a serious problem of urban drift. Even though the vast majority of the country's people have always been outside the modern economy, the move to the towns and the unemployment there have been contributing to discontent and resentment of expatriates dominating the country's well-paid jobs. The opposition parties can be expected to keep up the pressure on the Government to take steps which enable the people gradually to inherit their own country.

Enver Carim

Leader: President Quett Masire

Economy: GNP per capita $900 (US: $14,110)
Monetary unit Pula
Main exports Diamonds, copper, nickel, beef. Other business activities are textiles and those sponsored by the Botswana Enterprises Development Unit: metalwork, woodwork, leather, construction, upholstery, printing, jewellery and art.

People: 1.1 million

Health: Infant mortality: 72 per 1,000 live births (US 11 per 1,000)

Culture: 90 per cent of population are outside the modern economy. Most of the people belong to one of the eight branches of the cattle-herding Tswana, but some are nomadic San (Bushmen).
Language Setswana and English are the main languages, the latter used in government and business.
Religion Christianity coexist with traditional religions.

Sources: Africa Review 1987. State of the World's Children 1987.

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Most of the income goes to white foreigners.

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[image, unknown] Mining and manufacturing controlled by South Africa, also supplies all imports, electricity, 30% government revenue customs union.

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Women are not an issue; they are invisible.

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[image, unknown] A multi-party parliamentary democracy. Frontline state, member of SADCC.

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25% in English, 35% in Setswana (19809 estimate)

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The imprisonment is economic, the keys in South African hands.

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56 years
(US 74 years)

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This feature was published in the August 1987 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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