Department of History Reflects on Place Names in Botswana

Department of History and Botswana Society organised a workshop at UB Conference Centre on February 26, 2020 to reflect on Botswana’s historical and cultural heritage in the naming of places, institutions and landmarks.

The aim of the workshop was to contribute towards community engagement and conscientize society on the significance of its past and impact on everyday lives. The project was also part of the domestication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Botswana context, as well as a contribution to the realisation of the country’s National Development Plan 11.

The workshop attracted, among others, retired senior public servants, former Cabinet Ministers, Mr David Magang and Mr Thebe Mogami, former Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, Mr Phillip Matsetse, Chief Justice Terrence Rannowane, UB Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Happy Siphambe, former UB Vice Chancellor, Professor Bojosi Otlhogile, Deans, Academia, senior government officials and members of the public.

Speaking at the event, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Professor Andy Chabanne, said it was an intrinsic part of human nature to give names to places, streets, and landmarks to distinguish them from others and avoid confusion. Professor Chebanne said names played a critical role in existence hence it was important to engage communities in naming places or landmarks because it created a heritage and history that informed existence.

Whereas some street, place and landmark names seem meaningless, there is a wellestablished tradition of giving names that reflect important historical developments or honouring important personalities who played a critical role in various capacities in the development of their communities or societies, observed UB History Lecturer, Dr Boga Manatsha.

Dr Manatsha said many wards (dikgotla), streets, institutions, and sections or parts of towns and cities had names that one way or the other reflected important historical developments in Botswana. He said some names reflected a colonial legacy that was highly contested such as in 2014 when Francistown City councillors demanded replacement of some colonial street names in the city with local or indigenous ones.

In addition, Dr Manatsha explained that there was a long established tradition in Botswana whereby institutions, places, streets and landmarks were ascribed names which may appear neutral and not reflective of the country’s key historical events or personalities.

Few years ago there was an effort in Gaborone and the new names drew criticism from some members of the public forcing the city council to make further change to replace some place names in the city such as Block Seven and Block Eight, observed Dr Manatsha

Meanwhile, Former UB Vice Chancellor, Professor Bojosi Otlhogile, said there was nothing mythical about naming places. Professor Otlhogile said people named places to reflect their beliefs, history, aspirations and culture.

He added that some name them after hills, rivers, heroes (and rarely after villains), leaders, famous stories or events. He also noted that Batswana needed to be courageous in taking and dominating spaces. Professor Otlhogile noted that other factors that influenced place names were industrialisation and migration.

When the three sons of Kwena split up they founded GaNgwaketse, GaMmangwato and Kweneng. Ngwato’s children later split in the process founding GooTawana. Interestingly, the Kalanga who did not believe in the clustering of villages have equally founded villages named after the founders who left the main group Nshakashogwe, Moroka, Matenge, said Professor Otlhogile.

Source: University of Botswana