During apartheid in South Africa, Setswana was developed largely in the then Bophuthatswana homeland led by Kgosi Lucas Manyane Mangope, a Mohurutshe man, who has strong ties to the Bahurutshe of Manyana and the surrounding areas. At the time, as it is now, the heartland of the Setswana language was Botswana, the former Bechuanaland protectorate. Interestingly Mangope came to power in 1966, the very same year that Botswana attained her independence. Even then Mangope was a leader of the largest group of the Tswana people in the world as most Batswana were concentrated in the North West of South Africa, as is still now, though some Batswana in South Africa were found in the Northern Cape and Bloemfontein areas. While the Bophuthatswana media started well with a strong Setswana language and content, it increasingly became anglicized with Radio Bop and Boptv becoming predominantly English stations. The Botswana media on the other hand was dominated by Radio Botswana with content presented largely in Setswana and the Botswana Daily News writing in both English and Setswana. Botswana was also looked to as the capital of the liberated Batswana. For all Setswana native speakers; Botswana was how Bophuthatswana should be – free from Afrikaaner rule.
The dikgosi rule in Botswana was also regionally highly admired. The rustic life of the Batswana was something to marvel at. Batswana conducted their dances, their music, their weddings, their kgotla meetings, their rearing of cattle, their farming, their hunting, their respect for the elders, largely in the same way that their ancestors had done in centuries past. Yes, there were some changes and dynamism in their culture, but largely the culture had remained intact.
In the 80s and 90s on the language front, two names were particularly significant. One is the Lovedale trained MLA Kgasa, the son of the Reverent Kgasa of the UCCSA in Kanye. In 1976 he published the first Setswana dictionary: Thanodi ya Setswana ya dikole having worked on it for 10 years. This dictionary was later developed and improved by MLA Kgasa and Joseph Tsonope leading to the publication of a larger Setswana dictionary in 1995 by Longman called Thanodi ya Setswana. The publication of these two dictionaries set Botswana as the centre of the Setswana language. Another important person was Kgomotso Mogapi, a Mokwena man from Molepolole who churned out impressive Setswana grammar books called Thutapuo ya Setswana. There were a number of these books which outlined the details of Setswana grammar in the Setswana language. While comprehensive Setswana grammar texts existed before, such as the ones by Jones and Plaatje (1916), Sandilands (1953) and Desmond Cole (1955), all these were written in English. Mogapi’s texts were therefore refreshingly different in that they contributed to the expansion of the Setswana meta-language into the area of linguistics. Mogapi and Kgasa’s texts became widely used not just in Botswana schools. They became the regional sort-after-Setswana books. They brought pride to the Tswana speaking people of Southern Africa.
Since the attainment of independence in 1994 the country has taken some steps to develop the Setswana language. Of major significance is the establishment of a modern radio station Motsweding FM which was developed from the former Radio Tswana during the Mangope era. The country has also established the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) “in terms of the Pan South African Language Board Act 59 of 1995 amended as PANSALB Amendment Act of 1999. The Board was established according to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 106 of 1996) in order to: (a) promote, and create conditions for the development and use of official languages, the khoe and San languages and sign language; (b) promote and ensure respect for all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa, including German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telegu, and Urdu and; Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and other languages used for religious purposes in South Africa.” The Setswana language Board was therefore established to oversee the protection and development of the Setswana language. Additionally, lexicographic units were set up to oversee the compilation of dictionaries. This has resulted with very interesting developments of the Setswana language and culture across in South Africa. From the University of Pretoria to the North West University there has been an impressive explosion of research in the Setswana language. In the public sphere there is an awareness of the need to develop and preserve the Setswana language. There is pride in the language. Contrast this with what is happening in Botswana. In Botswana, the Setswana Language Board which used to provide direction to the Setswana language has collapsed. It was supposed to be replaced by the Botswana Languages Board, but such a board is yet to be established. In Botswana, English has increasingly become dominant in most spheres of human interaction like the media (both print and electronic), parliament, education and other areas.
The centre of Setswana has now shifted to South Africa, especially with Motsweding FM receiving wide listenership in Botswana. The influence of South Africa on Botswana is in particular obvious in the use of words which were only a few years ago only heard in South Africa, but have now become common in Botswana. Some of these words include ipelaetsa (query), lebogisa (congratulate) and setlha (a season). Botswana’s influence on South Africa has been felt in traditional Setswana music of Machesa, Matsieng and others. Language development structures are weak in Botswana and must be development urgently. Most importantly there is need for collaborative efforts between South Africans and Batswana to work together to develop the Setswana language.