Schapera Project
University of Botswana

Schapera Project Opening Workshop

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Report of workshop:
Recovering the legacy of Isaac Schapera

University of Botswana


25th AND 26th MAY, 2000


A workshop to discuss the legacy of Isaac Schapera and work that needs to be done to come to terms with it was held 25, 26 May 2000 on the campus of the University of Botswana in Gaborone. This is a report of the informal discussions held at that workshop and the ideas suggested for future work.


Isaac Schapera carried out extensive research on virtually all social and cultural aspects of life in colonial Botswana and its history. The results include not only Schapera’s voluminous published works but also unpublished genealogies, life histories and other documents, notes and collections of data. In 1998 the Department of Sociology, University of Botswana adopted a program of research titled “Recovering the Legacy of Schapera” to take stock of the material and build on this research. Since then several outside scholars have affiliated with this program to carry out their research in Botswana, and a restudy of Tlokweng households has been initiated with funding from the Faculty of Social Sciences under the leadership of Dr. Suzette Heald (taken over by Dr. Onalenna Selolwane after Dr. Heald’s departure). Dr. Heald also prepared the background paper for the project which has been circulated widely and is reprinted here in slightly revised form. The “Schapera Project”, as it has come to be known, has evolved into an umbrella for a variety of activities which we called this workshop to help us think through and coordinate.


The primary purpose of the workshop was to begin a critical assessment of Schapera’s work, identify and locate useful published and unpublished data he produced that could serve as the basis for longitudinal and other historically informed studies, and to assess the state of the art in research and thinking about the issues involved. The emphasis was on discussion and networking, and no formal papers were presented. We chose the workshop format rather than a more formal conference because we saw the event as a point of departure for stimulating and coordinating future research and more creative use of previous research. Accordingly, we aimed to acquaint each other with our ongoing research, collate information about existing data and resources, identify areas that need critical rethinking, establish networks of researchers, and define a role for the Department of Sociology’s Schapera Project in facilitating ongoing research that builds critically on Schapera’s legacy.


We began with an on-campus welcome reception for participants the evening of 24 May, hosted by Dr. Onalenna Selolwane, Head of Sociology at UB, with welcoming remarks made by Acting Vice Chancellor Dr. Burton Mguni. The workshop itself consisted of five sessions held at UB over the next two full days on the following themes:

1. Labor migration and its long-term effects on household and family structure and dynamics.

2. Life histories, chronicles, genealogies and personal narratives.

3. Tradition and the codification of custom; the uses of A Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom and the role of chiefs, customary courts, etc., in contemporary Botswana.

4. Land and landscape; land tenure, land use and culture.

5. Networking for future research.

The first four sessions each began with a few brief informal presentations followed by facilitated discussion. We understood the topics as defined in the broadest possible terms and encouraged the participants to consider all aspects of Schapera’s work and of contemporary social and cultural issues part of the agenda whether or not formally listed.


The organizers set out four main goals to pursue throughout the discussions:

1) identifying and locating bodies of data and material collected by Schapera and others that is available for use by researchers;

2) identifying aspects of Schapera’s work and its contemporary academic and popular uses that need critical assessment;

3) exploring areas for future research that build upon the work of Schapera; and

4) helping the Schapera Project and the Department of Sociology at UB define ways in which we can facilitate this work.

The last session of the workshop attempted to begin the process of pulling together the results of the other four sessions and organizing networks for pursuing them further.

Practical Outcomes

As can be readily seen in the summaries of sessions below, the workshop was very successful in its pursuit of the first three of these goals, but less so in arriving at concrete plans for the future shape of the Schapera Project. Still, some ideas emerged for practical steps that the Project could take to help advance the work. Chief among them are:

This Report

The facilitators of the workshop sessions and the organizing committee have prepared brief summaries of all the sessions and circulated them to a few other participants for feedback. The summary of Session 5 includes the main suggestions made for future research and critical assessment as well as information assembled about useful resources.

Following the session summaries we give a list of the people who participated in the workshop and then the network information we have obtained to date. If your information is incomplete or contains mistakes please notify us. There is a blank network form included after the list for use in case you would like to be added. There is also a list of Schapera Fellows, outside scholars who have affiliated with the project while doing research in Botswana.

We conclude this report with the latest version of Recovering the Legacy of Schapera: An Overview.


The Steering Committee wishes to thank the following for funding this workshop: Faculty of Social Science Research and Publication Committee, The Department of Sociology, and Professor B.J. Otlhogile, Dean, Faculty of Social Science. Our thanks to Professors Richard Werbner and Isaac Mazonde for help in coordinating with their conference.

Workshop Organizing Group (a sub-committee of the Schapera Project Steering Committee):

Dr. Godisang Mookodi, Department of Sociology

Prof. Jay O’Brien, Department of Sociology

Dr. Leloba Molema, Department of English

The other members of the steering committee:

Dr. Onalenna Selolwane, Head of Sociology

Professor Neil Parsons, Department of History

Dr. Joseph Pitso, Department of Demography.

Summary of Session1. The Dynamics and Impact of Labour Migration: Household and Family Structure. Thursday Morning, 25th May, 2000.

Facilitator: Godisang Mookodi

Bridget O’Laughlin began the discussion with a brief presentation.

Mookodi indicated that in his extensive documentation of labour migration, Isaac Schapera, provided insight into the impact of male absence on household composition, male roles in agricultural production. The documentation of labour migration leads us to ask questions about the migrants themselves – their perceptions of self, and gender identity. There is a lot more on male identities than female identities in his work on labour migration.

On domestic forms in Botswana, Schapera’s work also raises questions about the concept of household – its definition and boundaries, as well as the relationship(s) between the household and lolwapa (homestead) – their composition.

O’Laughlin suggested that the discussion of the dynamics of households was one of Schapera’s major contributions. Schapera showed that we cannot study household development and dynamics just at a particular point in time, but need to see them as processes over time. She indicated that Schapera’s limitation lay in his use of the evolutionary perspective in his work. He tended to over-generalise in his work, and fails to engage the discussion of the 22nd parallel (the implications of selecting miners from the ‘South’ for health reasons) in a meaningful way even though it was such an important issue in the region.

The discussion pointed to changes in migration patterns. While Schapera focused on male migration to South Africa, it was noted that it is rapidly declining, and that more attention should be paid to the dynamics of internal migration. In addition, it was noted that the connection between youth migration and the spread of HIV/AIDS should be explored.

Selolwane indicated that during her participation in the Poverty Study of 1996 (BIDPA), she observed the high rate of poverty in Thamaga. She was concerned about the belief in the correlation regarding the distance from the railway line and poverty.

It was noted that Schapera’s PhD thesis is often underrated. There is a series of articles in the 1930s and 1950 that are relevant to the study of Tswana groups.

Alexander noted Schapera’s important contribution to the understanding of the development of female headship. She indicated, however, that female headship does not necessarily coincide with decision-making, and that there was need to examine changing marriage and family patterns.

Schapera’s focus on able-bodied men was noted. Julie Livingstone’s problematisation of ‘able-bodied’ poses questions regarding the conceptualisation of ‘able-bodied’, and the implications of health within the context of Schapera’s work.

Nyamnjoh commented on the changing nature of capitalism in the region. He pointed to the local implications of global capitalism, particularly as it relates to illegal migration, and the related displacement and the devaluation of the labour of locals within the context of Botswana. This posed the need for research into the patterns of migration into Botswana, as well as the socio-economic implications of it.

The discussion also pointed to the need to examine the impact of returning miners to their families. It was noted that these individuals are often unable to provide income, and may be perceived as burdens to their wives and families.

Schapera highlighted the important role of the chiefs in his documentation on labour migration. He indicated that some regarded labour migration as a source of income for their tribes (eg., Bakgatla), while some (eg., Khama) were opposed to it. There were questions regarding Schapera’s treatment of the time before labour migration. It was noted that while the reasoning behind labour migration are linked to the introduction of the hut tax, there may have also been other reasons. This leads to the need to look at the wider political and economic background – events that were happening at the time, as well as situations that could have evoked people’s innovation. One possible area being the shaping of and independent gender identity by young men who bought their independence and freedom from the influence of their elders through their migration to South Africa.

Selolwane pointed to the relationship between witchcraft and migration. She indicated that there is local folklore about people having been eaten and having disappeared. She pointed to the need for an exploration of the links between witchcraft accusations and migration.

Summary of Session 2. Life Histories, Chronicles, Genealogies and Personal Narratives. Thursday Afternoon, 25th May 2000.

Facilitator: Dr. L.S. Molema,

Emevwo Biakolo, Dick Werbner, Debbie Durham and Charlanne Burke kicked off discussion with brief presentations.

Emevwo Biakolo made an informal presentation on behalf of Dr. Molema and himself on a selection of four unpublished histories collected by Isaac Schapera. The materials are part of Schapera’s private papers housed in the Botswana National Archives. Three of the materials concern the Batalaote. The first was written by Atang in October 1940; the second by Violet Sefitlholo also in October 1940 and the third by the then reigning chief of the Batalaote, Motalaote Lekhutile. The fourth material written by a schoolteacher J.M. Nkoane is on the Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana. Seodi Khama and Leloba Molema translated all four materials into English.

The presenter noted that Molema’s was a free, flowing translation that focused on the literary quality of the texts. Khama, in contrast, highlighted the cultural ramifications pertaining to certain words and phrases, and offered a string of alternative expressions in English. Were the Schapera Project to translate the Schapera papers held by the Botswana National Archives, Khama’s approach would be preferable because it would help clarify for readers who do not know Setswana the meaning of certain culture-bound words which refer to entire systems of social organization.

The thrust of the discussion was as follows: In 1954, Schapera edited an anthology of histories titled Ditirafalo tsa Merafe ya Batswana mo Lefatshing la Tshireletso (approximately, “A History of the Peoples of the Bechuanaland Protectorate”). Contributors to this anthology, as Schapera himself observed, were all white except for Z.K. Matthews. However, the material was collected from male Batswana in the various dikgotla of the chiefs. Schapera therefore appealed to his readers to send him information about the Bakaa, Batalaote, Bakhurutse, Batlharo, Batlhaping, Bakgalagadi, Babirwa and the Bakalanga, as he hoped to bring out another anthology. He found that the census figures gave incomplete information about the various peoples and their origins.

From the point of view of the presenter, these histories and their collection were fundamental to Schapera’s methodology and have informed aspects of his work. A preliminary question was why Schapera preferred this method of gathering data. Was Schapera a sort of advanced colonial who wanted the natives to tell their own story? Was his position as a white colonial a privileged position, which ensured that his wish was tantamount to a command? Did his association with the political and administrative apparatus of the colonial state advance his work?

The materials themselves raised a number of questions. What was the interest of the narrators in acceding to Schapera’s request? For example, could the question of the double relation of the Batalaote as (a) an autonomous group living alongside the Bangwato, and then as (b) a subordinate group acknowledging the suzerainty of the Bangwato have played a role in the first three narratives? Of what value ideologically or epistemologically or generically, is a distinction of the materials as genealogies, chronicles, personal narratives and histories? What kind of conjunction exists between these narratives and other narratives, including, for example, the praise poems of the Tswana chiefs on which Schapera had worked and produced a volume? Does the material invite a constructivist approach and would this be legitimate? Finally, since the narratives in question are stories of war, migration and the regrouping of communities, Molema’s translation raises this question: Did Schapera derive anthropological meaning from the metaphorical and other structures and patterns of the texts he used or did he dispense with this literary side of things? Can literary texts be used unproblematically as a source for ethnological information?

Biakolo indicated that the four texts that he had considered gave only a small sample of the available material and that a substantial amount of work remained to be done to translate, annotate and analyze the available material. The Project could ask the students and young staff members of the Department of African Languages and Literature to participate in this regard as part of their research training.

Dick Werbner raised some issues about Schapera’s attitudes toward the narratives he recorded and produced. Schapera was a meticulous textualist who regarded himself in a sense as an archivist charged with producing texts as source materials for analysis by others. In this way he historicized oral narratives. Unlike some social anthropologists, such as Malinowski, Schapera did not seek a unitary version of history but sought out diverse narratives.

Debbie Durham raised some questions about problems in using genealogies produced by Schapera. Herero genealogies collected by Schapera in Ngamiland were not contextualized and are thus difficult to situate in a historical narrative. This raises the issue of the genealogy as a construct of the collector that may differ significantly in unanticipated ways from the constructs of the actors.

Charlanne Burke voiced concerns stemming from her research interest in youth and the near absence of youth from Schapera’s main work. She has collected life histories from youth and wants to build on these narratives by adding to her informants’ life histories as they age.

The questions and comments following upon the presentations related to the methodology as well as to the difficulty of reaching adequate conclusions on the issues raised. A variety of narrative forms of history are available and possible, many of them explored by Schapera and embodied in archival and published texts. Interpreting these narratives and making them more widely available entails coming to grips with many complex questions, not least of which is Schapera’s own relations with Batswana. Several participants stressed that this process requires the involvement of more Batswana scholars.

Summary of Session 3. Tradition And The Codification Of Custom; The Uses Of A Handbook Of Tswana Law And Custom And The Role Of Chiefs, Customary Courts, Etc., In Contemporary Botswana. Friday Morning, 26 May 2000

Facilitator: Jay O’Brien

Mike Neocosmos, Ed Wilmsen and Bojosi Otlhogile kicked off discussion with informal presentations.

Neocosmos invited participants to view Schapera’s A Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom as an intervention into politics and the project of state building in the Bechuanaland Protectorate. This process involved defining a “public sphere” as the domain of politics, and “tradition” figured in it centrally as a mechanism of social control. Neocosmos argued that, in effect, the only views of custom and tradition that were recorded and legitimated by Schapera were those of dominant privileged (chiefly, elder, aristocratic, etc.) men, while “subaltern” voices (women, ethnic minorities, youth) were silent.

Wilmsen talked about the process by which a romanticized “Bushman” discourse emerged in the 1950s, partly in response to the televising of van der Post’s film, “The Lost World of the Kalahari” in Britain and Marshall’s “The African Bushmen” in the USA, and the international academic battles that followed in the 1960s for control of “Bushman studies”. Schapera, from his chair in London and as author of the authoritative (and distinctly unromanticized) work on Khoisan peoples up to that time, participated in these battles but ended up withdrawing. Wilmsen argued that Schapera’s withdrawal cleared the way for domination of discourse by researchers using an evolutionary model of culture that tended to promote romanticized images of “Bushman” hunters.

Otlhogile discussed uses of the Handbook in contemporary Botswana’s legal system, arguing that it was written as a recording of customary law rather than a legal code, but is now used very differently by judges. It was written as a handbook of Tswana customary law but is now treated as a handbook of Botswana customary law. There are urban customary courts with judges from various tribes and places who enforce a generalized custom, thus creating a new form of “customary law”. Among other aspects of the misuse of the Handbook is the fact that the government has never gone beyond its compilation of Tswana law to recognize or codify non-Tswana systems of law and custom.

Not surprisingly, these presentations provoked lively discussion and debate along all three threads, and other directions as well. Some argued that chiefly rule according to custom was not despotic as claimed by Neocosmos and suggested that the conditions of “tribal citizenship” opened up space for the articulation of broad rights and public political discourse. It was also suggested that not all Tswana chiefs were alike, and that some pressed every advantage they could from their role of custodians of custom while others were much more democratic and tolerant in outlook and role. The unevenness of colonial penetration and the variability of chiefly power provided a central theme in the discussion. Francis Nyamnjoh pointed out that chiefs faced a predicament of how to respond to colonial authorities that focused on chiefs as individual authorities at the expense of the broader institutions of which chieftaincy was an aspect. Discussion also returned to the question of colonial incorporation and the idea of the construction of a nation, in which context the Handbook helped to freeze the conception of a “Tswana nation” at a particular historical moment.

Several speakers identified the position of women in Tswana societies as an important area to consider in relation to the codification of custom and tradition as articulated to Schapera by his conservative male informants, particularly in terms of how the silencing of women’s voices served to confine them to “private” spheres subordinate to men’s public roles. Elsie Alexander suggested that there is ample evidence, particularly in data produced by WILSA (Women in Law in Southern Africa) showing great variability and dynamism in women’s roles in “traditional” societies.

The issue of ethics in research was raised, initially in relation to the issue of which people Schapera selected to interview about “Tswana law and custom”. Whose views the researcher seeks and whose opinions are valued are ethical issues, as is one’s use or neglect of relevant literature. Too often today researchers do research in Botswana without adequately taking account of the range of work previously published on the issues involved. Sometimes the main texts produced by Schapera are cited as authoritative and subsequent work done by other scholars, especially work that questions Schapera’s work or examines changes since he wrote, is ignored. This may be partly due to the overt theoretical and/or critical goals of subsequent work in contrast to Schapera’s Handbook, which presented itself as a mere recording of cultural realities. On the other hand, Schapera’s book on Khoisan peoples and other early work on them (e.g., Passarge) tended to be neglected by later ethnographers whose portrayals tended to romanticize “Bushmen”. In any case, resulting distortions raise serious ethical issues that we need to address and call attention to.

Summary of Session 4. Land and landscape; land tenure, land use and culture. Friday afternoon, 26 May 2000

Facilitator: Isaac Mazonde

Bob Hitchcock and Pauline Wynter kicked off discussion with informal presentations.

Hitchcock reviewed in some detail land use policies developed in post-independence Botswana with particular emphasis on the process by which San were deprived of all land and water rights. Foreign consultants hired by the Government of Botswana in the early 1970s did little more than read Schapera’s Handbook and Native Land Tenure and reproduce a simplified version of his model of concentric circles of land use—village surrounded by arable agriculture, surrounded in turn by grazing land and then hunting territory. The Tribal Grazing Lands Policy of 1975 then divided up the grazing lands into individual leaseholds, ignoring the complex net of grazing and water rights involved in traditional family holdings, and in the process effectively displacing and dispossessing some segments of the population. In 1977 another consultant was hired to look into San land rights, but only read selected bits of Schapera and concluded San only needed hunting land. These were steps in a long process by which San were deprived of all land and water rights on grounds which ignored the territoriality and property rights amply documented in exhaustive field-based studies of the San.

Wynter discussed aspects of the program of Community Based Natural Resource Management, especially as it has affected San groups. In particular she called attention to the fact that “communities” are defined for purposes of the program spatially—in terms of coordinates on a map—rather than in terms of ethnicity or any other socially defined community. In Khwai the community sought to establish a San Trust to manage the area’s resources for the benefit of San people, but the government rejected the application because of its ethnic definition of the community. San groups have been more interested in CBNRM as a means of gaining access to land than as a way of securing hunting rights.

The discussion of land issues revolved around land rights and access to natural resources for the rural poor, especially for ethnic minorities. It was noted by Isaac Mazonde that there are many more major land-related issues in Botswana, especially for other minority groups in addition to the San, and it was generally suggested that there is a pressing need for more research in these areas. It was also stressed, however, that the need for new research must be seen in the context of the frequent neglect of the products of previous research, by researchers as well as by consultants and policy-makers. Too often Schapera’s works are read as exhaustive accounts of customs, traditions, etc. of all Botswana rather than of just the Tswana tribes he studied. And even when such limitations are observed, questions of whose views Schapera recorded tend to be neglected and his descriptions frozen.

Networking and wrap-up session. Friday afternoon, 26 May

There was a sense that time was needed for reflection on our discussions before productive consideration could be given to ways of building on the workshop. A number of areas of need for new research and for assessment of aspects of Schapera’s work and legacy emerged clearly from the discussions and are obvious from the summaries of the sessions. There was also clear interest in the establishment of a network, and we present the beginnings below assembled from information supplied by workshop participants and others. Beyond this things were less clear. A number of suggestions were tossed out and we list them here and invite comment on them and ideas for how the Schapera Project might take them up.

It was suggested that a communique be issued to the local press describing the themes discussed in the workshop and this was done through the Public Affairs office of UB. Only the Botswana Guardian carried a captioned picture of two of the organizers

Dissemination of research results. There should be dialogue with government research units, both to make available government research to scholars and to make those units aware of work relevant to their projects. Suggestions for how to go about this would be welcome.

Dealing with consultants is a multifaceted problem. On the one hand many do superficial research in ignorance of important research that has been done and their unsatisfactory reports become the basis for government and NGO policy formulation. Perhaps scholarly researchers should take steps to avoid always being too narrowly academic for the interests (and the attention span?) of consultants and bureaucrats. On the other hand, consultants do generate information themselves that could be of potential use to scholars, but much of it is embodied only in confidential or otherwise restricted-circulation reports. Perhaps pestering the organizations that pay for such reports could help gain broader access. Here we need advice from people who have worked with various organizations.

Efforts should be made to interest students (especially students doing 4th year research projects at UB and students in the new MA program in Development Studies in the Department of Sociology at UB) in working on some of the themes identified in this workshop. Currently there is a proposal in the works for a Norwegian program (NUFU) to a fund a few student projects at UB each year for San research. Perhaps other such possibilities should be explored as a way to encourage research of the sorts identified in the workshop.

The question was raised repeatedly throughout the sessions of the workshop of why more Batswana are not involved in this effort to come to terms with Schapera’s legacy, and the question was raised again with emphasis by Batswana participating in the wrap-up session as one to put near the top of the agenda. It seems that many Batswana researchers, government officials and others make use of Schapera’s work, often uncritically and often without consideration of more recent relevant work, but few show interest in reflecting on it or developing the legacy. Encouraging more student research might help with this, but more thought needs to be given to finding ways to interest and involve more Batswana. Another idea we want to follow up on is to recruit a few interested members of the local community outside the university as a sort of advisory board that would help make project work relevant to wider concerns and that would also help generate broader interest in the project among Batswana.

It was suggested that the question of participation of Batswana should be considered in connection with the problem of “rehabilitating” social anthropology at UB and in Botswana generally. Social anthropology was dropped as a subject from the UB curriculum about 20 years ago, partly due to its association with colonialism and perceived irrelevance to a postcolonial agenda, but there has been a growing perception recently that in the process UB became cut off from recent critical work in that discipline that is relevant to the burning issues facing intellectuals and the nation now.

Subject bibliographies of Botswana research and data bases of researchers could be useful. These could be developed by sub-groups of the network and made available through a Schapera Project website. Possibilities of creating such a website will be explored soon and suggestions are welcome. In the meantime, the website maintained by the UB Department of History is relevant: In the USA the mirror site is faster and more frequently updated:

Suzette Heald was unable to attend the workshop but played an important role in creating the entire project. She also sent a note to describe the genealogies that she obtained from Schapera and put in the Botswana National Archives. They “weighed 7 kilos - this of material typed on airmail paper, just to give you some idea of the extent of the work! Schap had a system, and all adults living in the wards/towns are listed, generally by family group, with their children named where (I presume) they were adult and just indicated where not. Marriages are cross-referenced, which is useful and on some that he really worked on, there is indication of exact kinship relationship. All the stuff he did on cousin marriage must relate to these. There is also indication of their present whereabouts when they were non-resident, e.g. Jo'burg. As they are done by Schapera or under his direction, they are probably pretty reliable and useful for anyone doing historical research in these areas - or ward relationships, chiefships, marriages etc. Various people have used them and brought them up-to-date but in varying different ways.” She mentions Roberts for Mochudi, Uhlenbeck and Kocken (?) For Tlokweng, and Ørnulf Gulbrandsen for Kanye. It would be useful to have information from anybody who has or knows the whereabouts of any of this material to let us know so we can make the information available to the network.

Network emerges as a key word in everything we have done so far, especially given the preliminary and inconclusive nature of most of the discussion in the workshop. We have put together an email list from the information supplied by interested participants and will do our best to disseminate information to the people on this list. If there is enough interest and people respond favorably to early postings we might try to upgrade the list to a more active information-and-discussion list and link it to an eventual website. As with everything else here, help is needed and appreciated.



Elsie Alexander, UB

Alice Apley, New York University, USA

Kebonyengwana Balogi, UB

John Bateman, UB

Bruce S. Bennett, UB

Emevwo Biakolo, UB

Charlanne Burke, Rockefeller Foundation, USA

Ellen Carlsson, Lund University, Sweden

Daniel K. Cooper, City University of New York, USA

Deborah Durham, Sweet Briar College, USA

Simon Goddah, UB

Sandy Grant, Phutadikobo Museum, Botswana

Robert K. Hitchcock, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA

Susan Keitumetse, UB

Dolly M. Kgosiemang, UB

Seodi Khama, Ministry of Education, Botswana

Isaac Mazonde, UB

Dorcas B. Molefe, Molepolole College of Education, Botswana

Leloba Molema, UB

Godisang Mookodi, UB

Michael Neocosmos, UB

Francis Nyamnjoh, UB

Jay O’Brien, UB

Bridget O’Laughlin, Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands

Bojosi Otlhogile, UB

Rob Pattman, UB

Hugh Pearce, Ministry of Local Government, Botswana

Joseph Pitso, UB

Daniel A. Puskar, Villanova University, USA

Jeff Ramsey, Legae Academy, Botswana

Onalenna Selolwane, UB

Cathy Skidmore-Hess, Georgia Southern University, USA

Jacqueline S. Solway, Trent University, Canada

Christine Stegling, UB

Monica Tabengwa, Metlhaetsile Women=s Information Centre, Botswana

Stephen Volz, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Sheldon Weeks, UB

Zhang Weiguo, UB

Richard Werbner, University of Manchester, UK

Edwin Wilmsen, University of Texas, USA

Pauline Wynter, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Botswana



Between 1938 and 1943, Isaac Schapera made a detailed study of a series of wards in three towns of Botswana: Kanye, Mochudi and Tlokweng. To complement his other ethnographic work, he conducted a detailed household census in these wards and collected full genealogical information on the families represented. In 1973, using Schapera’s original data, Simon Roberts made a restudy of the Mochudi ward of Rampedi, and in 1978-9 two students, under the direction of Isaac Schapera and Adam Kuper at Leiden, did similar restudies of the wards in Kanye and Tlokweng. These two latter studies were part of the National Migration Study and had the direct aim of complementing the nation-wide statistics with in-depth studies conducted by independent scholars. This work has not been repeated to date, and although census and other data give some indication of the nation-wide trends, they lack the precision and rigour of these studies, which remain widely quoted in the literature. The present proposal is to follow up this work by doing further re-studies of these wards, up-dating these particular data bases with the aim of yielding information capable of both documenting and interpreting current trends in Botswana social life.

The proposal for a new set of re-studies constitutes a very basic form of social research, especially important at the present time when Botswana may well be facing demographic catastrophe due to a combination of declining birth rates and the effects of the AIDS pandemic. The importance of the ward studies of the 1970s was that they gave the first evidence—and the first insights—into very important demographic changes occurring in Botswana. All three documented the radical change occurring in family structures (the decline in marriage for both genders, the rise in female-headed households, rising birth rates); showed the effects of major economic changes (changing patterns of labour migration, the decline of agriculture and increasing concentration of wealth); and documented the main political trends in the research sites. Very largely, our knowledge of local level organisation and family structures continues to rely on these studies and on others conducted as part of the National Migration Study, or independently by anthropologists in the late 1970s, despite the dramatic changes which have occurred since that time.

Again, the aim of this research would be to gather demographic information on family and ward structures and combine this with context-sensitive ethnography capable of illuminating the patterns found. To put the proposal in a broader perspective, the sociological value of such re-studies rests on the following:

1. Historical Record

In these particular cases, we would have a unique historical record of a series of families and wards documented for 50 years but, with the genealogical information collected by Schapera, going back over 150 years. Not only is this an important resource for oral history but longitudinal studies of this kind are essential in interpreting much cross-sectional survey and census data. For example, it is only by means of such studies that one can state with certainty who exactly is getting poorer (or richer) and identify the social factors which underlie the distribution of wealth.

2. In-Depth Case Studies

It is widely recognised that the value of in-depth case studies is enhanced when detailed survey data is accompanied by participant observation. Re-studies at this time would yield important information on changes in village demography, family structures, income earning and the distribution of resources both within and between households. They would thus provide both the data and the context in which to address important social issues at present facing Botswana. A preliminary list might include such problems as (a) the demographic effects of the AIDS pandemic and its effect on family structure; (b) whether female-headed households and single mothers are effectively reproducing themselves; (c) the nature of employment opportunities and current migration patterns; (d) an assessment of the role of the State in ameliorating or reproducing poverty, and so on. Such aspects of the research would be combined with the ‘thick description’ and fine-grain of ethnographic work with its emphasis on culture and on giving voice to people’s own perceptions of their situation.

3. Intellectual Property

It would allow us to ‘recover’ and incorporate a lot of anthropological research which seems to have been ‘lost’ to a current generation of scholars in Botswana. Thus, while Schapera’s ‘Handbook’, based on research in the 1930s remains in the basic toolkit, the extensive amount of anthropological research on the Tswana-speaking peoples which took place in the 1970s and early 1980s is not widely known and many of the key texts are not even represented in the University Library collection.

An important aspect of this proposed research is also to gain access to Schapera’s original data and that of the latter researchers, which would then be made available and archived in Botswana.

4. Research Training

These studies would provide an important way of providing research training to both students and junior staff at the University. There is clearly a need for qualified and dedicated researchers to undertake and supervise the initial data collection. But, alongside and following this stage of the research, the research sites will provide bases for other researchers (including UB undergraduate students doing project work) to work on a host of more specific research questions, for example, on the growth of independent churches, the role of prophets and healers in the AIDS crisis, the medical interventions provided by State healthcare, the growth and changing patterns of crime, and so on.

5. International Linkages

These studies would help establish the Sociology Department as a centre of excellence in research in an international context. Few expatriate scholars have in the past used the Department as their research base and this has cut down the amount of creative interchange that would occur if they were based in the department and working with departmental staff.


Phase 1: Feasibility (mostly completed and/or ongoing)

The main tasks for this phase are as follows:

i. Contact Isaac Schapera, Adam Kuper, Simon Roberts and the Leiden researchers to see if original data can be made available.

ii. Assemble a steering group for the project of at least 6 interested scholars who would oversee the project.

iii. Visit the research sites, contact officials and see if their cooperation is forthcoming, and select one of the three sites for an initial study.

iv. Apply for Government research clearance and see if Government departments would be interested in assisting with the studies.

v. Explore the possibilities of junior staff at the University participating in these studies as part of their Ph.D. Likewise, British, European and American Universities to be canvassed as to sending one or two Ph.D. students to conduct the specific studies or help in other ways in the project.

vi. Write the full research proposal and apply for funding.

Phase 2: Initial study of one ward.

Fieldwork in Tlokweng: interviews and household survey supervised by Suzette Heald during the first half of 1999. Survey data entry completed under the supervision of Onalenna Selolwane, analysis pending.


Phase 3: Studies of the remaining towns,

Fieldwork to begin any time.


Tlokweng - three wards of Monneng, Mafatswa and Magwadi were chosen in the 1979 study to illustrate inter-ward variation. 100% household composition census was done in these wards and each household was connected to the genealogies provided by Schapera. However, published data does not give full descriptive data, either of censuses carried out or of the genealogies. We would thus need access to originals.

Kanye, Tsopye ward, same.

Mochudi, Rampedi. This would appear from the 1991 census to be the only ward which has not divided since 1979. In the early 1970s it had a population of around 300 and this had increased to 527 by the 1991 census. The published material provides a good base to work from since it includes the names of all household heads, and genealogies. However, it concentrates on marriage patterns and household composition and does not include economic data. Again, we would require access to the originals.


Kocken, E. and G. Uhlenbeck, 1980. Tlokweng : A village near a town. Leiden.

Molenaar, M. 1980. Social Change within a traditional pattern. Leiden.

Schapera, I. and Roberts, S. 1975. ‘Rampedi Revisited: another look at a Tswana ward.’ Africa 45:258-79.


Dr. G. Mookodi, Lecturer, Sociology. email:

Dr. L. Molema, Senior Lecturer, English. email:

Professor Neil Parsons, History. email:

Dr. J. Pitso, Lecturer, Demography. email:

Dr. O. Selolwane, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, Sociology. email:


May 2000

University of Botswana

Prof. B.J. Otlhogile, Dean of Social Science Faculty. email:

Mrs. Elsie Alexander, Lecturer, Sociology. email:

Dr. O. Selolwane, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, Sociology. email:

Dr. G. Mookodi, Lecturer, Sociology. email:

Dr. M. Mogalakwe Senior Lecturer, Sociology. email:

Professor M. Neocosmos, Sociology. email:

Mr. I. Malila, Lecturer, Sociology

Dr. F.B. Nyamnjoh, Senior Lecturer, Sociology. email:

Dr. J. Pitso, Lecturer, Demography. email:

Professor J. Oucho, Demography. email:

Dr. I. Mazonde, Acting Director, DRD. email:

Professor Neil Parsons, History. email:

Dr. Alinah Segobye, History. email:

Dr. S. Tlou, Senior Lecturer, Nursing Education. email:

Dr. A. Biakolo, Senior Lecturer, English.

Dr. L. Molema, Senior Lecturer, English. email:

Mr. G. Radijeng, Staff Development Fellow, Law. email:

Professor A. Rwomire, Social Work. email:


Mr. Molomo, Chief Statistician and Deputy Director, Central Bureau of Statistics. Tel. 352200

Sandy Grant, Box 141 Oodi, 382296

Elinah Grant, Phuthadikobo Museum, PO Box 367 Mochudi, 377238


Dr. P. Molutsi, IDEA, Stockholm, email:

Professor Suzette Heald, Brunel University, UK, email:

Professor Adam Kuper, Brunel University, UK, email:

Professor Richard Werbner, University of Manchester UK, email:

Professor J. Peel, SOAS, email:

Professor Ørnulf Gulbrandsen, University of Bergen. email:

Professor S. Roberts, LSE, email:

Chris Uhlenbeck, Leiden, The Netherlands. email:

Els Kocken, Regional Programme Adviser, WFP. Maputo. Mozambique. email:

Fred Klaits, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, email:

Dr. Colin Murray, University of Manchester. Email:

Dr. Benedicte Ingstad, University of Oslo. email:

Professor Jacqueline Solway, Trent University, Ontario, Canada. email:

Christopher Morton, Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. Email:

Dr. Bridget O’Laughlin, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands. email:

Professor David Cooper, University of Cape Town, South Africa. email:

Dr. Gerd Wikan, Hedmark College, Norway. email:

Dr. Jay O’Brien, California State University, Fresno, USA. email:


This set of suggested research themes has been drawn up to provide information for scholars interested in participating in the research programme. Broadly, we anticipate three main kinds of research, though the boundary line between them is fairly permeable. The first relates to the collection and analysis of household demographic information in the specified wards, and to problem areas which exploit the longitudinal aspects of the study. The second could be termed more conceptually oriented projects which use the wards as a research site in which to explore current disciplinary priority areas or matters of urgent concern in Botswana. A further set of research areas is provided by other aspects of Schapera’s work and this would operate to widen the overall scope of the research programme, capitalising on its inter-disciplinary potential. However, these different types of research should not be taken as constituting rigid divides as, clearly, they could overlap. Ph.D. students, for example, working on independent topics might find it useful to undertake some of the household census work as a way of familiarising themselves with their research area and getting to know people. The following listing of research themes and questions should thus be taken as illustrative rather than as prescriptive.

1. Conceptualising the household

It is envisaged that this research will develop the critique of ‘household’ approaches found in the literature on Botswana (Peters, Izzard, Gulbrandsen etc.). One aspect might well be to examine and compare the various definitions of the household used in official statistics and by independent researchers, concentrating on the difficulties of identifying a discrete unit for production and consumption in situations where male and female spheres are differentiated (and the pastoral unit of production differs from the arable) and labour migration leads to a reliance on remittances. Since it is now widely recognised that households are arbitrarily defined analytic units, work might focus on the different theoretical and substantive implications of the definitions used and the misleading picture often yielded by cross-sectional survey data which fails to take into account the dynamics of household composition and its development over time or consider the type of exchange relationships which exist among such defined residential units.

As indicated above, the Tswana situation poses particular challenges to the idea of the residential household as the economic unit. Since the 1970s studies, the economic situation appears to have further disadvantaged arable agriculture and thus the female sphere of production. However, also since that time, the growth of the labour market, improved educational provision and the provision of welfare and social security programmes may well exert a contrary effect on the viability and reproduction of household units, indeed, may call into question the meaning of households as real or conceptual units of social life. Thus, we need to ask what are the current trajectories of household development? What are the different strategies used by households to recruit members and ensure livelihood? How significant is the issue of ‘headship’? There is the continuing need to assess the meaning of statistics relating to ‘female headed’ households and the impact of AIDS (see 4 below).

2. Family, Kinship and Gender

Relying on the ward data, this research will concentrate on interpreting the changes in household composition and marital relationships in the context of kinship organisation and patterns. There are various aspects which require in-depth investigation, both in the contemporary context and historically, using the genealogical record provided by the longitudinal study:

3. Ward Organisation

Since the studies of the 1970s, the development of urbanisation and employment opportunities within Botswana has led to a dramatic decline in labour migration to South Africa. The ward provides a research site to examine contemporary options in the world of work, current patterns of migration, residence choices and the growing linkages between different wards in the same town and different towns in Botswana. A number of topics can also usefully be addressed under this heading:

4. Impact of AIDS

Botswana with its small population has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence in the world, estimated at between 34% and 44% of the population between 15 and 49 in 1997. Again the issues raised can be usefully explored within the framework of the ward studies:

5. Livelihoods and Poverty

With 47% of Batswana estimated to be living under the poverty datum line in 1993/94 (BIDPA Report 1997), the issue of inequality demands attention.

6. Culture and Identity

There are a series of issues which could be researched under this heading:

7. Legal Systems and their transformation: Inquiries into customary law

8. Cross Border Relationships (Sandy Grant)

9. Schapera’s Setswana Texts (L. Molema and E. Biakolo, UB Department of English)

In literary theory and analysis since the advent of poststructuralist poetics, the boundaries between fictive and factive narratives have become rather indeterminate. In the Schapera collections, we propose to examine how narrative strategies commonly associated with fiction have been deployed in personal (autobiographical) accounts.

One implication of the above is the degree to, and the forms in, which the relationship between the personal and the public or social can be negotiated. Another is the character of the construction of historical and anthropological truth, especially bearing in mind, the ways in which Schapera has extracted ethnographic/historical ‘truth’ from these personal narratives.

Note: This document was prepared by Suzette Heald in 1998. Some small changes have been made to her original.

Converted to HTML by BSB, 21 Oct. 2001; HTML to be tidied up shortly.

Copyright © 2001 The Schapera Project

Created              : 21 October 2001
Last update (content): 21 October 2001
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