Book review

'Botswana Books for the New Year'

There are a surprising number of books both by Batswana and about Botswana that are hard to find, but are worth knowing about and reading.  I have chosen a few of the best of the recent crop of these books.

These four were all published in the United States, one in Cambridge by Harvard, the other three in New York City by different publishers. If you cannot find them in your favourite book store you can request that they be ordered for you or seek them out on Amazon or Kalahari Books.

Christian John Makgala (2010) The Dixie Medicine Man, New York, iUniverse, Softcover, 470 pages, US$25.95, ISBN 978-1-4502-35237-2. [To be launched in Botswana in January 2011.]

Professor Makgala teaches history at the University of Botswana. His doctorate is from Cambridge University in England. This is his first published novel. The Dixie Medicine Man is set at Morwa, Makgala's home. This work of fiction has its roots in real events.

In 1971 Dr Leroy arrived in Mochudi to work at Deborah Retief Memorial Hospital.

He came from Mississippi, US, following years of service in Vietnam. Crises had to be faced from his first day.
There was no accommodation available for him and he had unexpected attitudes.

"As an orthopaedic surgeon, I am totally in agreement with the proposition that there be cooperation between the hospital and witchdoctors".

More challenging he wanted to learn to become a ngaka (traditional doctor) and thobega (the traditional art of healing and setting bones).

He is taken to Morwa to the Kgotla and the Kgosi to find housing. From the first day Dr Leroy is plunged into the heart of local life and mores.  He displays his exceptional colours as a man who is determined to learn ... and to act.

There he also meets Jealousman, who will become his adversary. There is a lot of entertainment in this novel as Dr Leroy becomes a traditional healer and becomes entrenched in Morwa.

Unity Dow and Max Essex (2010) Saturday is for Funerals, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 218 pages, Glossary, further reading and index, Hardcover, P187, ISBN 9-780143-02637-2.

Unity Dow is well known in Botswana as an advocate, judge, human rights campaigner, supporter of centres for the rights of women, and writer.

Her first novel Far and Beyon  (2000) was followed by The Screaming of the Innocent (2002) the story of a TSP in Ngamiland and a ritual murder.

Then came Juggling Truths (2004) reminisces about her childhood in Mochudi, her siblings, her parents, grandparents and her extended family.  Now she has joined with Max Essex, a professor of Health Sciences at Harvard University who has worked on HIV and AIDS for 28 years and whom President Quett Masire invited to Botswana in 1996.

This volume contains 16 chapters, most of them case studies illustrating different aspects of the pandemic. They consider the epidemic, how transmission occurs, the disease, the opportunistic diseases, diagnosis and treatment, the risks, forms of prevention, children and orphans and other themes. The link between domestic violence and AIDS deserves further consideration.

The book has been mainly written for an audience in the northern world, but there is much here that will be informative and of value to people in Botswana.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (2007) The Old Way: A Story of the First People, New York, Picador, Sarah Crichtan Books, 334 pages, two dozen black and white plates, additional reading, footnotes and index, Softcover, US$16. ISBN 978-0-312-42728-3.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is famous in Southern Africa for her book The Harmless People (1959) that told the tale in warm and accessible prose of a few Ju/Wa or !Kung Bushmen along the border of Namibia and Botswana west of Dobe, mainly at /Gautscha in the Nyae Nyae, Namibia. She was there at 19 with her mother, anthropologist Lorna Marshall and family.

In 1986 she returned and wrote a new edition of The Harmless People.  Most of The Old Way is a reinterpretation and consideration of what has been learnt over 50 plus years, and particularly through her brother John Marshall who had assimilated to the Ju/Wa, spoke !Kung, made the film A Kalahari Family, and became part of the great changes there.

Though about Namibia it is relevant to Botswana too.  She was known and remembered as "Di!ai". She notes that, "I also feel that I saw the most successful culture that our kind has ever known". But today, the past is gone, "Nobody lives the Old Way".

What happens is reenactments for tourists and photographers. Because of the Marshalls the Ju/Wa "are the only group of Bushmen in Namibia who have any land at all" - the rest exist without tenure on alienated land and work for others.

Tsumkwe has become the development centre with all the social problems and violence found in RADS in Botswana.

The biggest problem for those who tried to survive with marginal farming was water.  One old man said, "In the past we could always pick up and move when there was no food or water. Today we just sit and go hungry".John Marshall called this, "death by myth"-the viability of hunting and gathering had been eroded by change. 

Farming has failed because of the arrival of elephants. Wildlife development has been counter-productive. People are now dependent on government handouts and store bought foods. Life is a Catch-22.

James G. Workman (2009) The Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought, New York, Walker & Company, 321 pages, twenty-three colour plates, additional reading, footnotes and index, Hardcover, US$26. ISBN 978-0-8072-1558-6.

The Heart of Dryness takes a different perspective from Thomas's on similar problems in Botswana. Workman is an expert on water policies, scarcity, replenishing dying rivers and the rights to water.

Workman's focus is on the Central Kalahari and the few Bushmen attempting to live there. His role model is Qoroxloo; his thrust is what can be learnt from people who have adapted to drought over the millennia. "We don't govern water. Water governs us".

He places the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) in the context of all the evidence about Global Warming. Can the Bushmen, "guide us through the coming Dry Age of our own making?" 

He notes the ideas of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, but on a positive note says, "Perhaps Bushmen could prove how complex, adaptable, and resilient they are and could reclaim their survival strategies". Deserts and semi-arid savannas have now expanded across 100 countries.

The "Kalahari scenario-hotter, drier and longer droughts - appears to be coming soon to a landscape near you".Can we learn from them before the "last free Bushmen surrender their way of life forever?" This book is a detailed, partly academic, at times polemic, exploration of the possibilities. Our lavish use of water, flush toilets, bathtubs, lack of recycling and waste, will all have to go.

E-mail: [email protected]


Editor's Comment
No one should be spared in COVID-19 fight

However, there are already reported incidents of some outlets flouting COVID-19 regulations issued by government. Government and the public have condemned such actions and further reiterated the fact that entertainment events, which have been deemed as having ‘higher-risk’ of spreading COVID-19, are not allowed.The police have reportedly charged violators a paltry P5,000 each. But these are big businesses that make millions of pula when...

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