Botswana History Pages, by Neil Parsons

15:    Media

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Notes and Comments

Provisional version by Neil Parsons April 1999

Though mass education (after deferred starts in the 1890s and 1940s) did not arrive in Botswana until the 1970s, there is no question of the masses having been totally illiterate in print and visual media.

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Media yesterday

The first newspaper in the national language of Botswana came hot off the press as long ago as 1857. Other Setswana newspapers followed but with a notable gap in Botswana's period of greatest poverty, between the 1910s and 1940s. The writer Sol Plaatje, however, stepped in by presenting an entirely new form of media in the 1920s-30s. His travelling 'bioscope' (cinema) toured villages, apparently using the techniques of combining silent film and live performance which Plaatje had pioneered in London in the early 1920s. (Unfortunately the records on Plaatje's bioscope held in the National Archives were 'automatically' destroyed in the 1970s-80s.)

Photography in the form of 'magic-lantern' lectures was publicly exhibited in Botswana from 1895-96, when the three major rulers (Khama, Sebele, and Bathoen) arrived back from England with glass slides of London and of British notable such as Queen Victoria.

Government's national Radio Botswana took off, as did a government daily newssheet (free of charge), with independence in 1966. Private media, notably weekly newspapers and local bracnches of multinational educational publishers, and low-powered television transmissions in select urban areas, took off in the early 1980s. The latter exploited a loophole in international copyright law that (following a challenge to the U.K. law identical to Botswana's) did not cover video as being a type of film - since it had no visible images on it.

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Media today

The Botswana government's new national television service, with all new equipment based in a spanking new headquarters building on the outskirts of Gaborone, should begin transmission by October 1999 - using both terrestial and digital satellite broadcasting.

Government media are obliged to give basic coverage of opposition as well as government views. Though there is no government censorship of the independent press, some critical foreign-born but locally-based journalists were expelled from the country on the grounds of "national security" during the decade of regional insecurity that preceded peaceful settlement in South Africa (1993-94).

Botswana is towards the top of the league in Africa of number of book titles published per head of population, but nearly all titles are government publications and school textbooks. Contacts for the Government Printer are to be found on the 'Ministry of State President' page of the Republic of Botswana - The Government of Botswana Web Site. The Botswana National Bibliography, which picks up many but by no means all publications on Botswana, is meant to be published yearly by the Botswana National Library Service - but is not available on line.

The major local non-government publishers are the Botswana Book Centre and the Botswana Society. For the local branches of multinational educational publishers, see their international web-sites:

  1. Heinemann Educational
  2. Hodder & Stoughton Educational
  3. Longman
  4. Macmillan
  5. Oxford University Press

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Media links

The Botswana government's free weekday newspaper, the (Botswana) Daily News is available on the web as Latest News - Republic of Botswana. Each issue is given a separate page. The last two weeks' contents are listed in detail on the main page, with a further two weeks also available on-line.

Two independent weekly newspapers are available on line. The latest issue of The Botswana Gazette, a mid-week newspaper, is available as The Botswana Gazette Internet Edition. It also has links to main African press and overseas tv news sources.

Stories from the last month's issues of the weekend newspaper Mmegi / The Reporter are carried as The Africa News Server - Botswana. You can also access Mmegi / The Reporter stories for up to year before through The Mail & Guardian Archive.

You can try news searches for "Botswana" etc. at

Also SABC3 television for news bulletins etc.

For other news stories on Botswana filed overseas try

Deja news, just discovered, files the most recent items on the net on Botswana in a number of European languages (including English) and keeps bang up to date, so that you see today's item at least tomorrow. Type in "Botswana" next to Messages.

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Copyright © 1999 Neil Parsons

The Botswana History Pages by Neil Parsons may be freely reproduced, in print or electronically, on condition
(i) that full acknowledgement of the source is made.
(ii) that the use is not for profit

Last updated 19 August 1999