Batswana are noted for their large, nucleated villages, which can comprise as many as 30,000 people. Large compact villages or towns are associated with the aridity of the areas and the necessity of settling near reliable water sources and under chiefly power. In the past, chiefs were able to control the movements of people, the allocation of land, and the timing of agricultural activity through their centrality in rituals performed to ensure agricultural fertility. Town or village residence is the norm, but Batswana disperse their economic activities and typically have temporary residences at their agricultural fields (as far as 40 kilometers from the village) and near their grazing lands. Grazing lands are less demarcated than agricultural lands and can be hundreds of kilometers from the village. This settlement pattern can be envisioned as a series of concentric circles, with the main village residence in the center, agricultural fields surrounding the inner circle, grazing lands comprising the outer circle, and the bush beyond. There is a social dimension to this model, in that (with the exception of the temporary residences) those of highest rank tend to reside in the center, whereas those of lowest rank, especially members of servile groups such as Bushmen, reside on the periphery. Most Batswana continue to maintain a rural residence, even as urbanization increases. With the decline of chiefly power, more Batswana have established their primary residence at smaller centers, often near their agricultural fields.
Villages are organized into wards, each with its own headman, who is ideally closely related to the chief—or appointed by him—and is responsible to him. Wards are based on the patrilineal model, but many have absorbed nonagnates or nonrelatives. Within wards, compounds, which tend to be close to one another, are surrounded by perimeter bush or stone fences. Internal low mud walls separate living from cooking and other spaces. Each married couple has a house (traditionally, a round mud hut with a thatch roof, although rectangular concrete block houses with tin roofs are becoming popular) in which they and some younger children may sleep; there are additional huts for sleeping and storage. Raised granaries are less common now than in the past. Kitchen areas are usually inside the perimeter fence and enclosed by a bushfence firebreak.