Unpacking The Botswana Education Curriculum (II) - A Silent History (A Reflection)

It is difficult to consider history, from a human rights perspective, without taking stock of the violence that it holds, for the people of Botswana, for the women of Botswana, and for anyone who, by existing, or speaking or thinking breaks the mold.

But what is our actual history? Besides the accounts usually given in chronological order of how the year went by, but rather what was substantive in those years, that we can draw from, to validate our existence and experiences, if that is what we are looking for?!

Our history – pre colonial history that is – does not have the borders that initially rendered parts of our now Botswana, Goshen and other parts Stella-land Republic, eventually, Bechuanaland protectorate, before collecting us together, while violently separating us, and rendering us “Botswana”. It is the silence around all this and more, that I think is at the root of our misunderstandings and growing pains. There is silence about the initial absence of borders; borders that we were to later spend years constructing and entrenching. Silence around seeing ourselves before colonialism, and respecting those whose land we are actually now enjoying.

Silence around how we learnt to hate women and children and anyone who did not fall into the colonial master’s mold, which silence now has us trying to find our ways back into the womb, trying to find our way back to that first nestling in order to understand why women are worthy of not just equality, but equality on their own terms.

And actually, silence about the secret meeting between the Queen and the three chiefs, because what was the actual cost of our freedom? These silences are more institutional, systematic and structural, and as such have trickled to the societal level. It is no shock that we pride ourselves in the Livingston monument, a few minutes out of Gaborone, and are happy with the translations of the colonial masters on the Tsodilo paintings.

Today’s piece is going to take a poetic unfolding. The thoughts on this particular topic, are admittedly abstract. They are abstract because most of the history that is written about us does not actually celebrate us, as Batswana. It celebrates our invaders. And Botswana has not taken the journey to deconstruct and decolonise ourselves and our history along with many other things.

In the previous piece, I explored why it is necessary for a people to know their history. In short, the reasons are that history reminds us of how to become people of good standing and character, who are able to tackle complex issues with wisdom.

Secondly, that we need to know our history, to combat the negative narratives about our predecessors. Finally, that we need to interact with our history in order to acknowledge and appreciate our diversity.

There is a lot that we can observe that has unfolded to make us question ourselves. I vaguely recall in Primary school when is social studies class, we were taught about Tswana traditional initiation schools of bogwera and bojale. The teacher had very few details about the schools, being a woman of Malawian descent herself.

She did however indicate that the schools had unsafe practices and were barbaric. This made them unacceptable, and they had to be abolished. I think about this often when negotiating an Africa conscious of her people’s human rights, and cognisant of celebrating her own cultures.

I think about this usually in the context of Botswana. The thoughts come at different turns. Sometimes, when I consider gender equality, I wonder why history writers say women, in historical Setswana traditions – Setswana here used to include all persons of Botswana, and not just the Tswana speaking tribes who migrated from the South African region – was biased against women.  It is often said that women are traditionally, by the people of Botswana, perceived as inferior subjects of men. The history fails to give the credit of these patriarchal standards to the founding fathers of patriarchy and colonialism and capitalism.

It ascribes it to us. And we forget that Setswana actually reveres women as the keepers and transmitters of culture and tradition by idioms such as Mosadi thari ya Sechaba. Women, I think, in Setswana, are really powerful figure and contributors. I wonder if it is for this reason that women, amongst others, have been so brutalised and vilified throughout history because of the power they yield. It is easier to make the nation fall to its knees if you teach it that its most powerful components are actually its weaknesses.

I think in concluding this short series, Botswana deserves a recollection of herself and her history. For the nation to heal, move forward and recover from the various ills imposed on her, and all the silences that ensued as a result, we deserve some time to stop, reflect and retrace ourselves back to ourselves. Our history, I reckon, is beautiful.

We are a collection of multifaceted people originating from everywhere. Our history is also very violent, and we need to come to terms with that. We took the land we are on from the indigenous communities of the land, and we forcibly removed them, isolating them and imposing on them the same standards of the colonial masters – we continue to do so. Botswana has to know herself, and the best place to teach Batswana about how Botswana became Botswana, including the confusion brought by the borders, is at schools.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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