OMANG is now a Setswana “word” that means “identity card”. So, if someone asks: “Do you have your Omang?” that translates to “Do you have your identity card”. The word is fairly new since Botswana only introduced identity cards in the late 1980s. This means that before the late 80s, the word “Omang” did not exist. The “word” Omang is actually technically an interrogative sentence, i.e. a sentence that asks a question. Omang is a sentence made of a subject “O” (you) and the interrogative form “mang” (who). As a sentence it translates to: “Who are you?” The two words have now been joined together to form a single word “Omang” which now has a unique meaning: “identity card”.
It must be said however that the question “O mang?” is itself confrontational and hostile. Contextually it is the kind of question that you pose to an unknown and uninvited person knocking on your door at night. It is much more hostile than the English expression: “Who is it?” which lacks the hostile connotations. Inbuilt in it is a sense of fear and suspicion and not just pure inquisitiveness. It is impolite and aggressive to pose the question directly to an individual. You might have to rephrase the question to “Leina la gago ke mang?” “What is your name?” in face to face discourse.
Officially Omang “is a document that is used to show that one is a citizen of the Republic of Botswana.” It is principally about identity and belonging. It separates those who belong to the Botswana society from those who don’t. Those who lack Omang are “those who come from elsewhere” “batswakwa” (literally: “those who come from there”). Therefore if one is confronted by the police or government officials with that confrontational and hostile question: “O mang?” it is this document which will assert one’s identity. I am therefore convinced that the name “Omang” referring to an ID was not well thought of carefully because “Omang” is a question when the ID document is an answer. The ID document answers the question “O mang?” It doesn’t ask it. It answers by declaring one a Motswana. The document should have been called: “Ke Motswana” since it asserts one’s status as a Motswana; or even more accurately as a Botswana citizen.
** thinking allowed/aloud with my friend Ann Gollifer…