From the 1820s the Boers began their Great Trek across the Vaal River. Confident that they had heaven-sanctioned rights to any land they might choose to occupy in southern Africa, 20, 000 Boers crossed into Tswana and Zulu territory and established themselves as though the lands were unclaimed and uninhabited. At the Sand River Convention of 1852, Britain recognised the Transvaal’s independence and the Boers informed the Batswana (people of Botswana) that they were now subjects of the South African Republic.
Nationalism & independence
The first signs of nationalist thinking among the Tswana occurred in the late 1940s, and in 1955 it had become apparent that Britain was preparing to release its grip on Bechuanaland. University graduates returned from South Africa with political ideas, and although the country had no real economic base, the first Batswana political parties surfaced and began thinking about independence.
Following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, South African refugees Motsamai Mpho of the African National Congress (ANC) and Philip Matante, a Johannesburg preacher affiliated with the Pan-Africanist Congress, along with KT Motsete, a teacher from Malawi, formed the Bechuanaland People’s Party. Its immediate goal was independence for the protectorate.
In 1962, Seretse Khama and the Kanye farmer Quett Masire formed the more moderate Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP), soon to be joined by Chief Bathoen II of the Ngwaketse. The BDP formulated a schedule for independence, drawing on support from local chiefs and traditional Batswana.
Botswana continues to be a shining light among its neighbours, with a nonracial, multiparty, democratic government that oversees the affairs of a peaceful and neutral state. Unlike in so many African countries, freedom of speech, association, press and religion, as well as equal rights, are all guaranteed under the constitution.
The greatest threat to Botswana’s stability is the deadly AIDS virus. Botswana has the highest HIV infection rate in the world, and according to a UN report, 19% of all people and 36% of young adults (aged 15 to 29) are currently infected. There is hope, however. Although discussion of AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception continues to be taboo in Botswanan society (especially in rural areas), the government increased health spending by 41% in 2001 and established the National Aids Council, which is conducting educational programs in schools and universities throughout the country and highlighting the issue on billboards along the highway. The council is also flooding newspapers with awareness articles. The government has also purchased antiretroviral drugs to treat its infected populace, something traditionally unheard of in Africa.
In regard to malaria, Botswana actually has one of the lowest malaria rates in southern Africa, which is predominantly do to the aridity of the country.