Updated: Oct 5, 2020
On this day 54 years ago, under the leadership of Sir Seretse Khama, the magnificent country the NHFU calls home, gained its independence. To pay tribute to the spectacular nation of Botswana, I thought I would shed light on some of its history and culture by looking at its national symbols. National symbols are of great significance to a country, they tell stories of the past and represent unification by doing so. These official emblems instill pride in a nation and play a fundamental role in a country’s identity. We often forget why our leaders appointed us these symbols, so I am writing this in hopes of reminding you of the essence of each of Botswana’s patriotic symbols, why it is our duty to protect them, and what we can learn from them.
Two intertwined zebras, the national animal of Botswana. Photo credit: Hannah Gormley
First and foremost, the country’s black, white and blue flag. A beautifully simple yet significant emblem that the country is represented by. Botswana adopted its current flag to replace the Union Jack after gaining independence in 1966. At a time of such racial turmoil in surrounding countries, Botswana’s flag, with its medial black stripe and enclosing white stripes, signifies the racial diversity in the country as well as the harmonious cooperation that exists between people of different races. The black and white stripes are also tied to the Zebra, Botswana’s national animal. The sky-blue background of the flag is associated with rainwater, a priceless commodity in the vast, semi-arid terrain of Botswana. Written on the coat of arms a single word, “Pula”, meaning water in Setswana, as well as being the country’s currency, signifies the importance of rain, hope and confidence in the country.
In Botswana, rain is literally money. Photo credit: Hannah Gormley
As before mentioned, the national animal of Botswana, is the magnificent black and white striped Zebra. The reason behind the choice of this an extraordinarily significant animal, as well as the flag, is beautifully metaphorical. The black and white stripes represent the equality of all races and how people from different ethnicities and backgrounds can live together in harmony. Zebras are of the utmost poise and beauty and seeing them dazzled around the Okavango Delta, each with their own uniquely patterned black and white stripes, is a privilege. The zebra’s habitat is quickly shrinking throughout many African countries and today they are classified as near threatened. In two of the countries to which they were once native, Lesotho and Burundi, they are now extinct. Can you imagine an African savanna without its beautiful black and white stripes? If we don’t begin to realize the problem and quickly resolve it, sooner rather than later, Botswana will be faced with this same dire reality.
A dazzle of zebras run through frame. Photo credit: Liz Johnston.
The recently chosen national bird of Botswana is the largest flying bird native to Africa, the Kori Bustard. The Kori Bustard is one of the few birds that takes its English name directly from its Setswana name, Kgori. In Botswana culture, this proud symbol was considered the Chief’s bird and was not to be hunted or consumed by anyone except the Chief or whomever he gave permission to. Tragically, numbers of these royal animals have decreased over recent years as they have been hunted for Christmas feasts or sold to exotic bird collectors. As with the zebra, how could we fathom losing another of our proud symbols to extinction? If we can educate ourselves on the matter and spread awareness together, we can shed light on how unique of a bird the Kori Bustard is and why they need to be protected.
A carmine bee-eater catches a lift. Photo credit: William Steele.
After the first ever Botswana Democratic Party meeting was held underneath a sturdy viridescent Morula tree, the mighty Morula was declared the national tree of Botswana. Today, many animals and humans reap benefits from this ‘Tree of Life’, as it is locally known. The Vitamin-C rich Marula fruit is a favourite food to Giraffe, Rhinoceros and especially Elephant who distribute its seeds all over the country through their dung, which humans are then able to exploit. The harvest season of the Marula fruit, although short, is a significant time for the rural villages of Botswana, providing essential income and the ingredients for everyone’s favourite ‘Amarula’ liqueur. Botswana’s national flower, the Kalahari devil’s claw or Sengaparile, is just as significant. This flower is indigenous to the most barren corners of the country in the Kgalagadi, encapsulating Botswana’s history as a strong and stable nation. Traditionally, the tubed roots are cut open and dried before being made into tea and even packaged and sold. For many centuries, the plant has been used as a medicine to remedy a span of illnesses and was even introduced to western markets in the late 1800’s for its herbal remedies. Let us take a moment to appreciate and recognize the importance of the great Morula tree and the smaller, but no less mighty, Devil's claw flower.
A leopard, perched in a Morula tree, gazes at a passing bird. Photo credit: Hannah Gormley.
Reflecting on the symbols chosen to represent Botswana, I see that each was hand-picked with such honor and pride for their country and their people. With the world in such turmoil, injustice and uncertainty, let us look to the wise Batswana ancestors, the feisty zebra, the unique Kori Bustard, the mighty Morula, and determined Sengaparile, for wisdom and strength. A bright future is possible, if we work hard now to protect it!
Text written by Amy-Jean Beattie