Tswana - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Batswana developed powerful chiefdoms in the nineteenth century; members were internally ranked into royals ( dikgosana ), commoners ( badintlha ), immigrants absorbed into the tribe ( bafaladi ), and non-Batswana clients (boiata). High rank brought both privilege and responsibility; for instance the chief ( kgosi ) could command stray cattle ( matimela ), labor, and first fruits from the harvest, but was also expected to display largesse to his followers. The system of rank, privilege, and responsibility has been much eroded but not eradicated. Now rank, patron-client relations, and class coexist as forms of stratification. Many Batswana own vast amounts of property and have highly remunerative employment, but far greater numbers are welfare recipients.

Political Organization. In the precolonial period the most powerful Batswana chiefs presided over large tributary states. Subchiefs and headmen who presided over wards and villages outside the capital were responsible to the chief. Chiefly power and succession were open to challenge, resulting at times in dynastic contests and tribal secession. Chiefs controlled the timing of initiation ceremonies and, thus, the creation of new regiments; these regiments provided chiefs with a labor and military force. In Botswana, the House of Chiefs was established at independence; the House advises but cannot make law. Chiefs and headmen have been incorporated into the civil service and preside over customary courts in Botswana. Traditional leaders have also played a role in South Africa, and the postapartheid government elected in 1994 is developing a policy toward them.

Social Control. Socialization, positive and negative social sanction, and fear of illness or other misfortune are powerful means of social control; however, when behavior violates custom or law, means of redress exist. Although not systematically codified, customary law ( maloa ) and legal protocol are highly developed among the Batswana. Less serious crimes can be dealt with by the families of the parties involved. If a problem cannot be resolved at that level, it is taken to the kgotla. "Kgotla" refers both to a group of people and the place where they meet. Each ward has a kgotla, over which a headman presides. Villages have a central kgotla, and the central kgotla of the tribal capital is presided over by the chief. All men, and, in the late twentieth century, women, may speak at the kgotla and advise the chief. If a case cannot be resolved at a minor kgotla, it moves up the system and may eventually be tried at the chief's kgotla, which, in Botswana, is sanctioned by government. Certain offenses, such as murder, are addressed by the civil court system.

Conflict. In precolonial times Batswana groups fought among themselves and with others over territory, trade routes, and control over subject peoples. They raided for livestock and other property. British control and the demarcation of tribal boundaries in the late nineteenth century significantly diminished intergroup conflict. In the early twentieth century chiefs began to employ lawyers in their disputes with other chiefs. Ethnic tension is minimal but not absent and appears to be on the rise in the 1990s. Many Batswana were involved and some lost their lives in the antiapartheid struggle. Violence accompanied the dismantling of Bophutatswana in 1994, as some leaders were reluctant to relinquish their power.

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