Tswana - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Batswana have been called a peasant-proletariat to reflect the fact that they have been migrating to the mines, and to a lesser extent, to the White commercial farms of South Africa, for over a century and that wages constitute their single largest source of revenue. Mine contacts were temporary, often enabling the migrant to return home for the plowing season; until the late twentieth century, migrants were prevented by South African law from establishing permanent residence at their place of employment. New forms of employment have been emerging, especially in Botswana, where diamond mining has led to dramatic economic growth. State-sponsored welfare is important in both countries.

Local economic activities center on agro-pastoralism. Batswana rely on ox-drawn iron plows (but tractors are becoming increasingly common); the principal crop is sorghum. They also grow maize, beans, sweet-cane, and some millet. Some farmers engage in commercial agriculture. Batswana husband goats, sheep, and most importantly, cattle. Cattle are valuable for local exchange, for ritual purposes, for their milk, and less so for their meat; their sale provides an important source of revenue for rural peoples. Most households also keep chickens, and, in the east, some keep pigs. Hunting is far less important than it was in the past, when game was plentiful.

Industrial Arts. Batswana have long been tied to the South African industrial economy and have purchased items that formerly were made locally; these include most metal goods. In the past, men worked in metal, bone, and wood; women made pots, and both sexes did basketwork. These skills were often passed from parents to children. Some men still specialize in skin preparation and sewing, usually for trade, and men still make some wooden items, such as yokes for livestock. In northern Botswana, women make baskets, many of which are exported. Women build "traditional" Tswana huts, whereas men specialize in European-style thatch and "modern"-style houses. The latter are highly specialized skills. As in much of Africa, children fashion toys out of fence wire, tin cans, old tires, and almost anything they can acquire.

Trade. Archaeological evidence points to the great antiquity of local and long-distance trade. Marketplaces were not common in the region; most trade occurred among neighbors or with itinerant peddlers; in the early nineteenth century Griqua traders from the south traveled into the region; they were followed by Europeans. Trade increased with the arrival of missionaries during the nineteenth century, many of whom encouraged such commerce as a means of bringing "civilization" to the area. Europeans and, later, Asians established shops over the course of the colonial period. Virtually all villages now have trading stores, and many individuals—especially women—are "hawkers" who engage in trade from their compounds. Botswana is part of the South African Customs Union, and virtually every commodity is available in both countries.

Division of Labor. In pre-European times, men tended livestock, hunted, prepared fields, engaged in warfare, and participated in the formai public political arena. Women tended fields, gathered wild foods, and were responsible for the domestic arena, including looking after domestic fowl. With the introduction of the ox-drawn plow in the nineteenth century, men assumed the task of plowing, but women continued to perform most other agricultural work. The division of labor became less strict as more men migrated for wage labor and women increasingly engaged in livestock activities, especially plowing and milking. Boys worked extensively with livestock and spent long periods away from home at cattle posts. All children helped in the fields, and girls helped their mothers, especially with looking after younger siblings. Although wage labor has been available for men for over a century, until about the 1970s, women had little opportunity for wage employment; those jobs available were largely as domestics and on White-owned farms. In the late twentieth century greater opportunity exists for both men and women, but men still have an advantage over women.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, the right to use (but not to sell) agricultural land was inherited patrilineally by sons; women received access to agricultural lands as wives. Closely related agnatic kin tended to have fields in the same general area, which facilitated cooperation. Pastureland was in theory communal, but often areas were associated with particular groups. Since the advent of boreholes, the land surrounding them has become increasingly associated with (but not formally owned by) the borehole owners.

In Botswana, the majority of people live in the districts (former tribal reserves), where most land is held in common. Some areas, as provided under the Tribal Grazing Land Policy established in 1975, have been demarcated as commercial ranch land, and wealthy Batswana who are willing to invest in infrastructure (fences, boreholes, etc.) may take out long-term leases. Other land has been reserved as wildlife-management areas. Permission to use land in the communal areas is obtained from land boards. The land cannot be sold. Unlike in Botswana, where very little land was given over to Europeans, in South Africa Blacks were given only 13 percent of the land after 1913.

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