Is Botswana losing Setswana?

SHARE   |   Monday, 05 September 2016   |   By Koketso Moswetsi
Is Botswana losing Setswana?

Less than a month before the country celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence, the question is – what are we really celebrating? I would be the first person to say we have, as a country, come a long way from one of the poorest countries at the attainment of independence in 1966 to a middle income country at present. This is not a small achievement. However, though we are celebrating the economic success, I feel we have left our culture behind especially because you cannot divorce language from one’s culture. It is the medium that transmits anything cultural. A few months ago, the African continent celebrated Africa Day. Botswana also participated in the celebrations, ending the day with a well written speech from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who is also the candidate for the African Union chairperson seat, Venson Pelonomi-Moitoi. The only problem was, just like all the dignitaries in Botswana, she found it necessary to address the public in English on national television, on a day the country should have been celebrating Setswana as part of its heritage.


It is evident, Botswana, as Setswana country, is losing its grip as more and more people are adopting the queen’s language in their everyday interactions, social lives and public debates. To start with, Botswana is being administered by a Government that has come out to say it does not support formalising other indigenous languages in the country. This was said through Hon Shaw Kgathi when he came out in defence to say that making other languages in Botswana to be taught in government schools will cause tribalism in the country. It would not be fair to put the blame on government for the death of Setswana. Here I am, a citizen of this country, writing this article in English for Batswana. Just like most youths out there, I was raised in a society that natured its children to be more fluent in English than the mother tongue. This is what most parents do today. If you walk on the streets of Gaborone, you will not find even a single Motswana who can say out a complete Setswana sentence without throwing in an English word.  Maybe only some of our grandparents back at the villages can still speak Setswana without mixing it with English. Thirty years from now, Botswana will probably have two official languages – English and Motswako (a mixture of Setswana and English).


Sadly, even the patriots of this country are not even embarrassed by this development that is contributing to the extinction of Setswana. That is why parents who could be teaching their children Setswana are sending their children to schools that have huge billboards when you enter them emphasizing that the area is a strictly English speaking zone. The only reason our parents opt to send children to these schools is that they perceive an English-speaking person as educated. The Question is – How are these future parents and grand-parents going to transmit the Setswana culture? These are the same parents that you find holding certain positions in certain organisations or departments and conducting job interviews in English. Somehow this has brought agony to some Batswana who are not fluent in English. The same people have lost job interviews not because they did not know what was required of them, but simply because they could not express themselves in English. Of course one may argue that the only reason they want the interviewee to be fluent in English is that they want him/her to be able to communicate fluently with those who do not speak Setswana. I want to believe that an organisation can reach the pinnacle of its success with a front desk lady who only speaks Setswana.


Countries like China and Japan are good examples of countries that have made tremendous progress through the use of their indigenous languages. They have developed their nations without considering English as a catalyst to their development. Is it not high time Batswana learnt that Setswana is not a barrier to whatever they want to achieve? That is why even today we have Chinese people who do not even know a single word of English winning multi-million Pula tenders in Botswana. Fifty years of independence are to be celebrated this year and the slogan reads ‘United and Proud’ (Note this slogan is in English). Are we really proud of what we are trying to achieve, which is the European culture? It is evident Botswana has largely adopted European culture. A typical example is the State of the Nation Address that has been delivered for the past 49 years all in English. I am not necessarily against English but I detest the fact that the country has chosen to promote our second language at the expense of Setswana. It is unfortunate that after 50 years of independence, the country still does not have a full Setswana newspaper. I am not saying only Setswana should be promoted but other indigenous languages should also be used starting at the family level. As we celebrate the jubilee, let’s also celebrate our heritage. It starts with our dignitaries. For the first time, could we please see a State of the Nation Address being done in Setswana.
Koketso Moswetsi
BA Broadcasting and Journalism student