Botswana: People

The population of Botswana is made up of people from about 20 different tribes, some of which came originally from Botswana's neighbouring countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola and Namibia. However, most are originally of the Tswana people. Through the centuries, as people of the different tribes joined, they shared many of their customs. Today, all of these different customs and beliefs help make up the culture of Botswana, as well as influences from non-African places because Botswana today is a modern country.

The people of Tswana origin and also the citizens of the country are called Batswana or Motswana. The language of Botswana is Setswana, and the word is also used to describe the way of life.

Apartment blocks in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana.

  It is quite common to see Batswana wearing western style clothing. Poorer people are more likely to wear traditional clothing .

The railway runs along the eastern side of the country, and so most people live in the east. There are cities and towns with modern houses, shops and schools.
In country villages, people live in traditional compounds consisting of two or three small huts. These are cylindrical, with clay walls and cone shaped grass roofs. They are set around an open fireplace and surrounded by a clay wall. In villages, most cooking is done on open wood fires. Some houses are made in a newer style, square with metal roofs.

In the northwest, houses are often made of reeds.

Many people have western style furniture, though many still use sleeping mats. Where there is no electricity, lighting is often by kerosene lantern. Sometimes radios or television sets are powered by car batteries.

 The original people of the country are thought to be the San (also known as the Basarwa or Khoesan). They are sometimes called 'Bushmen', but this is a term that is quite insulting.

There are about 50,000 San living in Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe. Most live in a modern way, and their children go to school while the adults work in various jobs.

However, about 3,000 San still live in the traditional way, called hunting and gathering, just as their people have lived for about 30,000 years. They live by hunting animals and collecting wild food. They own bows and arrows, bone knives, grass mats, and tanned animal skins, and do not have permanent houses.


The San men hunt with bows and arrows. They must be absolutely quiet as they follow an animal's tracks. They are the hunters. The women are the gatherers, collecting food such as plants and roots.

A San house

Click here to find out more about how the San live

Click here to find out about a school in Botswana:

Next: Some customs and beliefs

Acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, Shirley & Thomas, Ron Botswana [Online] (2007)

July 2009
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