An article in a leading South African magazine recently made the shocking revelation that some experts refer to Batswana as Sotho, or West Sotho, to be precise. Like any morafe, Batswana have their own pride and being called Sotho might not go down well with some of them.
Afterall, Botswana is a country made up of people who proudly call themselves Batswana and to call them Sotho might be offensive even though it is generally accepted that the Sothos and the Pedis are their ethnic cousins. History will record that even in those apartheid days of segregation in South Africa, the Sothos, Pedis and Tswana were encouraged to stay together, while the Ngunis stayed together in their settlements.
According to a South African author, Rikus van Rooy, the Sotho-Tswana settled in South Africa in the 15th Century. The South Sotho (generally called Basotho) live mainly in Lesotho and its surrounds, while the Tswana live in Botswana and the north-western parts of South Africa and the Pedi mostly populate the area now known as Limpopo. It is the similarities in their language, culture and traditions that point to the fact that they are related.
According to Jeff Ramsay and others in their book, Building a Nation, different Sotho-Tswana groups migrated in and out of the present day Botswana long before 1500 AD. The historians go on to say that the Bakwena-ba-ga-Kgabo are among the oldest Batswana communities in Botswana, having broken away from the Bakwena-ba-ga-Mogopa of South Africa during the early 17th century.
It is perhaps important to mention that there are many among the Sotho-Tswana who consider the Crocodile, Kwena, as their totem, meaning that babina Kwena or baana Kwena are found in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa, highlighting the fact that at one point in time, they were one people. Notably in Botswana, it is the Bakwena who are considered the most senior morafe and together with the Bangwaketse, their totem is the Crocodile. Other Tswana groups that broke away from the senior Kwena morafe include the Bangwato and the Batawana, both of whom were originally Bakwena.
Perhaps it is worth-mentioning that as far as the Sotho-Tswana are concerned, some experts consider the Basotho more senior of the other groups and that is why in certain quarters, Bapedi and Batswana are considered Sothos.
Batswana, who have ventured into places like Lesotho, Limpopo and north western South Africa, would know that they experience hardly any language barriers while visiting those places. Even in the olden days when Botswana did not have its own television station, they tuned to certain South African television channels and radio stations with ease because the languages are closely related.
Even traditional folk tales among the Sotho-Tswana are so related that if one is familiar with a particular folktale, it would not be surprising to hear the same tale being told in another group. More often than not, there is a mention of that terrible ogre, Dimo, the hateful vile monster-lizard, Kgogomodomu, in Sotho-Tswana folklore. Their proverbs are also similar, "Mmangwana o tshwara thipa ka fa bogaleng" being present all Sotho-Tswana groups. If you played morabaraba as child in Botswana, you will find that a child in Lesotho or South Africa enjoyed the same game which has the same name.
When one South African comedian, Loyiso Gola, took a swipe at Batswana recently by allegedly saying that as far as he was concerned, Botswana was a province of South Africa, many Batswana this side of the border bayed for his blood. But the truth of the matter is that many people in the West think like Bala and actually believe that Botswana is a part of South Africa. While the fellow might have enraged many Batswana, the fact is that in many respects, we share a common history with South Africa and Lesotho. Hence it was common in 1960's Soweto to hear the refrain, "Mosotho ke Motswana, Motswana ke Mosotho!" Incidentally, there are more Batswana in South Africa than in Botswana.