• Indigenous peoples in Botswana

    Indigenous peoples in Botswana

    The San, the Balala, the Nama, and their sub-groups are the indigenous peoples of Botswana. Although Botswana has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country's indigenous peoples are not recognised by the government. The indigenous peoples are among the most underprivileged in Botswana.
  • Peoples

    3.3 per cent of the population identifies as belonging to indigenous groups, but are not recognised 64,000 belong to the San peoples, while 1,750 belong to the Balala peoples, and 2,200 to the Nama peoples
  • Rights

    2007: Botswana adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Current state

    Although Botswana has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country's indigenous peoples are not recognised by the government. Also, they are among the most underprivileged peoples in Botswana.

Indigenous Peoples in Botswana

There are approximately 55,000 San in Botswana, found primarily in seven districts (Chobe, North West, Central, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng, and Kgatleng). There are also San living in the major cities, including Gaborone, Molepolole and Francistown. The San are divided into a number of different groups each with their own name, language and cultural traditions (e.g. the Ju|'hoansi of Ngamiland, the Nharo of Ghanzi District, the Khwe of Ngamiland and the Tyua of Central District, Ngamiland and Chobe). Traditionally the San based their livelihood on hunting and gathering combined with a little agriculture, herding and small-scale rural industries (e.g. craft production and marketing).

The Nama (or Khoe) are found in southern Botswana in Kgalagadi and Ngwaketse (Southern) districts. They are khoe-speakers, largely pastoral, and many of them live on cattle posts. They number an estimated 4,000.

In Botswana, San (or bushmen) are known under the name "Basarwa" (Mosarwa in sing.). More often, however, they, as well as the Nama and other persons living in remote areas outside of major villages, are referred to as Remote Area Dwellers (RADs). Official figures are not available and there is significant local variation, but a common estimate is that more than 80% of the RADs nationwide are San, and that this number approaches 100% in some areas.

While Botswana is committed, at least on paper, to social justice and broad public participation in its political system, the majority of the San continue to face a number of serious problems, including human rights abuses.

These problems are basically due to a generalized and deeply ingrained discriminatory attitude on the part of mainstream society, lack of respect for San culture and identity, and misguided government policies aiming at "developing" the San through concentration in settlements provided with basic infrastructure.

A substantial portion of the San population lives below the poverty line, and they face problems ranging from lack of access to land and social services to high rates of unemployment, illiteracy and mistreatment at the hands of other groups and the state.

Self organizing

It is only within the past few decades that San have begun to mobilize and organise themselves. Kuru Development Trust in D'Kar was founded in 1986 as a community-based organisation, initiating skills training, language and income-generating projects among San communities. In 1996 Kuru officially became a peoples' support organisation, facilitating the creation of community based organisations in San settlements.

The First People of the Kalahari (FPK) was registered as a trust in October 1993 and was the first totally San-based interest group. The FPK suffered a severe setback when its first charismatic leader, John Hardbattle, died in November 1996. Since then, its main activity has been to support the residents and former inhabitants of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and to facilitate the still on-going (March 2006) court case which started in early 2002 and which, it is hoped, will reclaim land and resource rights for the people who have been dispossessed.

WIMSA Botswana – a branch of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) - is another San-led organisation, established in 1996 to advocate and lobby for San rights. Just as FPK, the objective is to establish a Botswana San council.


IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
E-mail: iwgia@iwgia.org
CVR: 81294410

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