Fifty years ago, there was a part of the world, more territory than country, called the Bechuanaland Protectorate. It was difficult to reach from the outside world, and was known only as one of the poorest countries in the world and as a result of a famous recent inter-racial marriage.
That ‘country’, the Protectorate, has gone, having disappeared from the map of the world and been replaced by the same place but with a different name, Botswana. Comparing the two is difficult.
There are some similarities, of course, but the differences are enormous. A capital had recently been established in Gaborone but this was a town of mostly foreign civil servants. Few locals related to it because, never previously having had one, the very motion being unfamiliar and strange.
The two foreign towns, Bulawayo to the north and Mafikeng in the south were adjuncts to the country with the railways ‘towns’ Francistown and Lobatse acting as internal gateways.
The main north-south road had been deepened by years of bush dragging so that parts turned into canals as soon as it rained. The ox wagon was in widespread use. There were few cars, people preferring Chevs and Bedford trucks. It was customary to stop for those who had broken down. There were few garages. The people of the country were known either as Africans or identified by tribe and used either the British Pound or the South African Rand. There were no Batswana and there was little sense of national identity. The Chiefs had extensive powers and responsibilities.
No meeting could be started and thus no decisions taken unless they were present. The mixed train was used by everyone, the mail train by a privileged few. Local residents took advantage of the long stops at stations to leap on a train, stock up with beer from its bar, and then jump off again. The few hotels still tended to be used by resident whites who came in only five categories - District Commissioners, missionaries, traders, policemen and agricultural officers. Most lived in separate areas known as government camps. There were no dentists, no resident lawyers and no professional hairdressers. Communication systems were rudimentary with hand cranked phones and party lines. People at one end of the country had little idea what was happening at the other. There was virtually no industry, little business and no NGOs. Very few people had marketable skills – those in employment tending to be either lower category nurses or clerks.
A significant part of the population was always out of the country being engaged in various forms of migrant labour.
There was no display of wealth – large herds of cattle being distant and out of sight -but much obvious poverty. Children were poorly clothed and frequently without shoes. There were numerous old men in ancient army great coats. Poverty was very evident in the townships in Francistown and Lobatse.
The former was heavily racist and the latter was shamed by the BMC’s bloody effluent which collected in open pools. The health and educations systems were rudimentary. It was common to find 27 year olds in primary school classes. There were no specialist shops, peoples’ needs being met by general stores. Entertainment was self-generated with football, traditional games, singing and organised ‘concerts’. Game was plentiful throughout the entire country and karosses and animal skin items were routinely made. Men frequently wore skin caps. Favourite radio stations were the BBC and Lourenco Marques.