Botswana Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Botswana, like many African nations, contains a large amount of diversity. In this lesson, we'll look not only at the various ethnic groups of Botswana, but also examine how ethnicity has had a unique impact on this nation.


Botswana is a nation of roughly 580,000 square kilometers and 2 million people. Unfortunately, it is also home to some of the highest mortality rates from HIV/AIDS in the world, although to its credit, the Botswana government is doing more than practically any other government on Earth to fix this problem. So, the people of Botswana are extremely proud of their homeland, and proud to represent southern Africa to the world.


Every Motswana is Batswana

Like almost every African nation, Botswana's borders were originally created by European empires without regard for ethnic divisions. That means that Botswana is home to several distinct ethnic groups. In many African nations, this sort of ethnic diversity creates problems of national unity. People see themselves according to traditional ethnic divisions, not nationality. Botswana is really the exception to this rule. Regardless of ethnicity, the people of Botswana think of themselves as Batswana first (with a Ba, not Bo), and ethnic second. They're very proud of this, which again is pretty unique in this part of Africa. Batswana is actually the plural term for their nationality. A single person is a Motswana. So, whereas I would say I'm an American, and many of us would say we're Americans, in Botswana each person is Motswana, while all together they are Batswana. Regardless of how they say it, they are darn proud of it.

The Tswana Ethnic Group

While all Batswana are proud of their national identity, they certainly have not forgotten their ethnic identities. There are a few major ethnic groups that comprise most of the population. The majority of Batswana are Tswana, sometimes also called Setswana or simply Batswana. This group is not only responsible for the largest ethnic section of the population, but the most common language as well. Their language, which belongs to the greater African Bantu language family, is spoken by nearly 80% of the population. There are eight major tribes of Tswana people in Botswana, each of which have their own Chief. All of these chiefs are granted a seat on the Ntlo ya Dikgosi, a council of chiefs that serves as an advisory body for the Botswana parliament. This is actually rooted in long-standing democratic traditions shared by nearly all of Botswana's traditional cultures. Town meetings and systems of voting have been practiced for centuries. The Tswana are not actually limited just to Botswana; a large number of people in this ethnic group live in South Africa.

The Tswana are the largest ethnic group of Botswana

The Kalanga Ethnic Group

Botswana's largest minority ethnic group are the Kalanga people. The Kalanga also speak a Bantu-based language, and most researchers believe they are one of the oldest ethnic groups in modern-day Botswana. Today, the Kalanga make up about 11% of the total population. Like the Tswana, this ethnic group stretches beyond the borders of the nation and in this case, into Zimbabwe.

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