National Assembly Building, Gaborone, under construction in 1966. Orapa House, Gaborone under construction. (Arup Botswana).

Botswana gained its Independence from the British on 30th September 1966. Princess Marina presented President Seretse Khama with the constitutional instruments on behalf of Queen Elizabeth.

Not long afterwards, in 1969, diamonds were discovered in Orapa which, with good economic management, were to transform Botswana from a poverty stricken country into a middle income one.

Social Survey

Batswana men travelling to South Africa to work in the mines (© Michael Kahn) and Underground in the Selebi-Phikwe copper mine (Amax Ltd).

To give an idea of the situation in Shoshong after Independence, some statistics from a survey carried out in 1969 reveal that: [1]

Absent workers
11% of heads of household were not living in Shoshong (ie working elsewhere).
38% of males aged 16-45 were absent (of whom 45% were in South Africa mostly working as miners).
16% of females aged 16-45 were absent.

35% had bicycles, 23% sledges (dragged along the ground), 6% a vehicle which can carry several people (eg a donkey cart).

30% of heads of household had no cows,
26% had between 1 and 10 cows,
35% had between 11 and 50 cows,
9% had more than 50 cows.

88% had no access to radio,
75% had never read the Daily News.

45% of children were attending school.

Another survey in the early 1970s found that Shoshong boys aged 7-14 spent four and a half times as much time looking after cattle than they spent in school. [2]

Urban Development

Engraving of Shoshong in around 1980 by Elisee Reclus.

B&W aerial photo taken on 1st May 1971 from Syson (1972). Colour aerial photo from google (2014).

B&W photo by Sandy Grant taken in 1968, with the same view photographed in 2014.

These illustrations show how the character of the village has changed between 1890 (engraving above), 1970 (black & white photos) and today (colour photos). In the past houses were grouped in circular or horseshoe shaped compounds, each housing an extended family. Gradually with the formation of the Land Board, and regulations forbidding livestock to be kept in the village, these have been converted into more rectangular individual plots mostly with wire fencing.

However, there has been little change in the access routes through the village, and the tarred road today winds through the village following what clearly were existing tracks.


Khama’s house in Palapye by Willoughby c1896. Photo of Sekgoma’s (Khama’s son) house in Palapye shows a move towards a more European style. (Botswana National Archives). Photo of a modern “two and a half” house under construction.

A traditional mud walled rondaval still standing in Shoshong (2014) © Jacob Knight.

Houses were traditionally built with sun-dried clay bricks and plastered with a mixture of clay and cow dung.

A gradual change of housing style has taken place, with a move away from the mud walled rondavals with thatched roofs to rectangular cement block buildings with corrugated iron roofs. However, rondavals are still valued for ceremonial occasions, and most compounds still have at least one rondaval.

The practice of rendering the mud walled rondavals with cement has sadly led to many collapses since the mud walls are no longer able to “breathe” and allow passage of moisture out. In the 1991 census, only 38% of houses in Shoshong were made with “mud” walls. [3]


Main photograph field between Shoshong and Tobela. Inset: typical basic accomodation at the field, harvested sorghum (mabele) and traditional beer, Mma Nkhuba cuts a melon (lerotse)

Many people would live in the fields (masimo) during the planting season, typically starting in November/December, only returning to Shoshong after the harvest around May or later. Others lived much of the time at cattle posts (meraka).

Sorghum (mabele) is the main cereal crop in Botswana but is in gradual decline in preference for maize and other crops. While in 1982, in rural southern villages 89% of people ate sorghum every day, by 1998 this had fallen to 75%, and in urban areas only 47%. [4]

Despite the best efforts of Khama III, locally brewed beer remains an important part of many people’s lives and is often drunk at traditional ceremonies.


[1] Syson L (1972) “Social Conditions in the Shoshong Area.” Botswana Notes & Records Vol 4
[2] Roe E, Fortmann L (1982) “Season and Strategy: The Changing Organisation of the Rural Water Sector in Botswana.” Center for International Studies, Cornell University.
[3] Grant Sandy & Elinah (1995) “Decorated Homes in Botswana” Phuthadikobo Museum
[4] Kebakile M et al (2003) “Consumer Attitudes to Sorghum Foods in Botswana”

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