WHY TRAVEL TO BOTSWANA?
A truly pristine wilderness – wild and unspoilt.
The lush and fertile Okavango Delta.
The mysterious and compelling Kalahari Desert and Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
The greatest populations of elephant.
The largest variety of mammals in Africa.
The Kalahari – the desert with the greatest species diversity in the world.
The Makgadikgadi – host to Southern Africa’s last great zebra and wildebeest migration.
The Bushmen – an ancient culture that is in harmony with the natural environment.
A stable democracy built on a sound economy.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The earliest modern inhabitants of southern Africa were the Bushman (San) and the Hottentots. They have lived an almost unchanged lifestyle in the country since the Middle Stone Age.
Migrants then came to the country from the north and west and particularly from the east and south. The group which eventually emerged as most numerous, and dominant, were the Batswana. Their pattern of dividing and migrating saw the formation of many Tswana tribes, and their eventual occupation of all areas of the country.
Located in the centre of Southern Africa and covering an estimated area of 581 730 square kilometers making it the size of France. Botswana is bordered by Zambia and Zimbabwe to the northeast, Namibia to the north and west, and South Africa to the south and southeast. At Kazungula, four countries - Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia all meet at a single point mid-stream in the Zambezi River. The shortest border in the world!
The vast Kalahari Desert, the largest continuous stretch of sand in the world, covers 84% of Botswana, extending from the Orange River in South Africa to the equator in Gabon. With the exceptions of the Okavango and Chobe areas in the north, the country has little permanent surface water.
Earlier travelers to the region referred to it as a 'thirstland'. 'Desert', however, is a misnomer: Most of the Kalahari is covered with vegetation including acacia woodland and golden grasslands. This empty and pristine terrain is occasionally interrupted by gently descending valleys, sand dunes, large numbers of pans and, in the extreme northwest, isolated hills, such as Aha, Tsodilo, Koanaka and Gcwihaba. The clay pans fill with water during the rainy season and their hard surface layer ensures that water remains in the pans and is not immediately absorbed creating life-giving sustenance to game and birdlife.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve extending over 50 000 square kms, was set aside in 1961 as a haven for the Bushmen in which they might continue their traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering from the desert. The reserve and empty lands around it support tens of thousands of desert antelope – gemsbuck and springbuck, Lions, leopard and cheetah.
In the north-west is the the Okavango River – 15,000 sq.kms are covered with a glistening network of crystal clear water channels, lagoons, swamps and islands. This unique freshwater system is the pulsing heart of Northern Botswana’s wilderness, growing with the dry season, shrinking as the wet weather returns. The largest permanent inland delta system in the world, only slightly smaller than Israel, it sparkles like a precious jewel in the Kalahari Desert sand, an ecosystem of a size and intricacy rivaling any on earth.
Within Botswana’s wilds, live some of Africa’s last great free-roaming herds of Cape Buffalo, zebra, antelope, and above all… elephants. Botswana’s elephants have been the beneficiaries of the nation’s stability and the national herd numbers 120 000 animals or more; the largest concentration of elephant in the world.
In complete contrast, the northeastern region of the Kalahari Basin contains the Makgadikgadi Pans – this huge expanse of pristine, sugary white landscape is bigger than Switzerland. Once a large river-fed lake, the Makgadikgadi Pans now lie saline and empty. The pans are littered with stone tools and artefacts dated from between 2,000 to 500,000 years old! During the wet season 35-75,000 zebra and wildebeest migrate into the area with regular sightings of lion, cheetah and other predators who follow in their wake, this is southern Africa’s last surviving zebra and wildebeest migration. Hundreds of thousands of flamingo appear from nowhere to feed as long as the water lasts. Also a permanent haven for desert species such as the captivating and engaging meerkat and the elusive brown hyaena, the third rarest carnivore in the world!
CLIMATE & SEASONS
Botswana's climate is semi-arid. Though hot and dry for much of the year, life-giving rains fall during the summer months. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all.
Jan – Mar: Summer:
High rainfall and high temperatures. Highs range from 35°C to 45°C. Lows around 18°C.
April – May: Autumn:
Dry and warm, cool evenings and mornings.
Jun – Aug: Winter:
No rainfall. Cold nights and early mornings. Days are sunny and generally warm.
Temperatures range from 15°C to 30°C. Nights can drop below freezing in some areas.
Sept – Oct: Spring:
Dry and warm. October can be extremely hot.
Nov – Jan: Summer. High rainfall and high temperatures. Highs range from 35°C to 45°C. Lows around 18°C.
HEALTH & MALARIA
Compared to most parts of Africa, Botswana is not a risky place to visit from a health perspective. In spite of this, there are certain precautions visitors should take even though there are no legal requirements for taking these precautions. Botswana requires no inoculations except for visitors from yellow fever zones.
We recommend precautions be taken for malaria. Please consult your doctor.
As temperatures get very high here please stay hydrated! The water in Botswana is safe to drink.
Bushmen were the first known inhabitants of Botswana. They have lived in the Kalahari for at least 80 000 years but, no-one can say why they chose the Kalahari as their home. 120 000 strong, the Bushmen are not threatened as a race, but, their hunter-gatherer way of life is coming to an end due to various political and socio-economic factors.
By the beginning of the 13th century, the pastoral ancestors of the Tswana tribes had drifted south to settle, split and settle again. In the 18th century, still other Tswana tribes, driven north by the warlike Zulu, claimed the more hospitable eastern portion of the land.
White Afrikaners in ox wagons, descendants of the Dutch who landed on the Cape of Good Hope, came next, squeezed from the South by colonizing Britons. Expansionists themselves, these Boers (Dutch for “farmers”) clashed with the Tswana – who brought the wheel full circle by soliciting protection from Great Britain. And Britain, eager to secure a route north from its Cape Colony to its mines in central Africa, was only too willing to oblige. Thus, in 1885, the Bechuanaland Protectorate was born. And, for the next 80 years, the Union Jack fluttered over this flat and arid land.
Since independence, refugees fleeing racial strife have continued to spill into Botswana: colourfully garbed Herero from Namibia to the West, artful Hambukushu from Angola, industrious Kalanga, other blacks and whites from other troubled borderlands – Zimbabwe and Zambia to the north, the Republic of South Africa.
Botswana has always offered sanctuary, tolerance and freedom.
Batswana are the most numerous people in the country, forming about 50% of the population and speaking the Setswana language. (Batswana also refers to the citizens of Botswana.) The total population is estimated at 1.86 million and growing at a rate of 3.5 % per year. About 43% of the population being younger than 15 years of age and over 50% of the population settled in urban areas.
Potable water, health clinics and public schools have been brought to virtually every village in the land. In the 1980s, when a devastating drought left a trail of starvation and death across much of the rest of the continent, Botswana’s sound planning and food distribution programme carried it through without a single loss of life.
Villagers listen attentively to their Chiefs in the kgotlas, the forum for discussion of community affairs. Their tribal chiefs will not make decisions until they have considered the opinions of all who wish to speak. They know that their power is only as great as the support of the people.
This democratic precedent helped to ease Botswana into parliamentary government at independence.
On September 30, 1966 the country, previously a protectorate territory of the British Empire, became the independent Republic of Botswana with Sir Seretse Khama as its first President.
The constitution of Botswana adopted on September 30, 1966 provides for a republican form of government headed by the President with three main organs of government - the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.
The President is the personification of the State and is head of the Executive, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic, and an integral part of the Legislature.
The President has the power to dissolve Parliament, select or dismiss the Vice-President, Ministers and Assistant Ministers, and also has the prerogative of mercy. In international affairs, the President as Head of State has the power to declare war, sign peace treaties and to recognize foreign states and governments
Once one of the world’s poorest countries, Botswana has become a successful free-market, multi-party democracy, underwritten by a subsequent discovery of diamonds. Mineral wealth and thriving tourism industry have made Botswana into one of the best financed of developing nations.
Freedom of speech, the press and religion are all constitutionally guaranteed.
50 years ago, diamonds were discovered on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Since then, Botswana’s growth has been steady, until recently, it has averaged around 13% per year, among the most successful in the developing world with treasury reserves in healthy credit.
The European Community (EC) granted an aid package to Botswana in the form of a preferred price for export beef taking in more than half of Botswana’s beef exports and paying out four times the world price. The national herd has grown exponentially as a result and numbers about 2.6 million cattle today.
However, a host of issues engulfs the cattle industry - communal versus private ownership of land, environmentally destructive overgrazing and lastly, quarantine fences that were erected to isolate cattle but, also impeded the migrations of wildlife.