Indigenous Children’s Rights and Well-Being: Perspectives from Central and Southern Africa


Number of remote area Dweller settlements




















Northwest (Ngamiland)



Southern (Ngwaketse)



Totals: 8 districts



Note: The Ghanzi District settlements do not include the communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve of which there were nine before the resettlement; Data from Cassidy, Good, Mazonde, and Rivers (2001) and the Remote Area Development Program and from the various district councils

Table 15.2
Data on education among remote area dwellers in Botswana





Settlement residents

32,206 (census for 64 settlements)



Primary school students

13,489 (enrolment for 63 schools)



Secondary school students




Tertiary level students




Notes: Data obtained from Economic Consultancies, Ltd. Remote Area Dweller (RAD) children at all levels are, by definition, “Needy Students” in terms of the Botswana government’s Remote Area Development Program operational guidelines. 2001—RAD Needy Students: 16,617. 2002: 18,977. 2003: 19,364

From an educational standpoint, one of the critical problems facing San families in Botswana is the high dropout rate from school among San children (Kann et al., 1990; Kann, Mapolelo, & Nleya, 1989; Hays 2004, 2007, 2011; Kiema, 2010; Sekere, 2011). Various reasons for this situation have been given for the poor retention rate. These include the following:

  • The educational systems in Botswana tend to emphasize the dominant culture, in the case of Botswana, Tswana culture, rather than the cultures of indigenous and minority groups.

  • The primary schools generally are staffed by teachers who have cultural backgrounds and speak languages different from those of the San children.

  • Teaching methods are employed that sometimes fail to take into consideration the cultural background of the students and which are unfamiliar to them.

  • There is often a separation of students from their families since many of the remote area schools in Botswana are boarding schools, leaving the children in a position where they lack a family support system.

  • Disciplinary standards sometimes include corporal punishment, something that causes resentment and dissatisfaction on the part of San children and their parents.

  • Parents may be unable to provide sufficient economic support for their children to attend school (e.g., having the cash to pay for school uniforms and shoes).

  • Parents may need their children’s labor at home.

  • San parents feel that they lack a say over decision-making in schools.

  • Participation in Parents–Teachers Associations is low.

The consequences of these factors include a high dropout rate from school among San and other minority group children in Botswana’s remote areas, and there are difficulties faced by those students who do remain in school, not least among them poverty and, in some places, hunger.

It is important to note that the structural violence often afflicting San in the larger societies in which they live continues to have deleterious effects on their education as on other areas of life. Interethnic strife is frequent in school contexts and is often sufficient to contribute to San student absenteeism and educational failure. Requiring children and their parents to leave their ancestral territories and move to new places has effects on the social relationships of children, kin, and non-kin. The relocation process sometimes has wrenching effects on the abilities of students to learn and get along with others. Resolution of conflicts at the local, regional, and national levels will go a long way toward ensuring that indigenous and other students have the opportunity to attend school and get skills training in nonformal settings. Governments, civil society, and indigenous communities all need to pay greater attention to establishing safe, healthy, and supportive environments in schools and communities which, in turn, will contribute to social sustainability.

While social and physical infrastructure was provided in recognized remote settlements by the Botswana government, there was little emphasis on job creation or on the provision of income generation opportunities; as a result, unemployment levels were high, and families had a difficult time earning a living other than depending on transfers from relatives. It was not uncommon for children in remote area settlements to go hungry. One of the reasons that parents send their children to school, according to San and others in Botswana, is so that their children could get food. This, they say, reduces the pressure on families to supply food to their children. The government of Botswana provides a number of different kinds of livelihood supports and feeding programs to its population. Table 15.3 presents data on some of these programs, with a breakdown of food rations that are provided per person in the various beneficiary groups identified by the

Table 15.3
Food rations provided per person by Beneficiary Group in the Republic of Botswana

Beneficiary Group

Maize Meal

Sorghum Meal

Vegetable Oil


Corn-­Soya Meal (CSM)

Powdered Milk

Vulnerable groups (drought ration)
0.025 L/day
100 g/day

Vulnerable groups (non-­drought ration)
0.020 L/day
100 g/day

Primary school students
100 g/day

0.015 L/day

60 g/day
10 g/day

Remote area dwellers (RADs)

12.5 kg/month
1 L/month

3.5 kg/month

Note: Data obtained from Chris Sharp, Economic Consultancies, Ltd. Botswana

Botswana government. Children, when asked why they go to school, will often say that they go for the food as well as for the opportunities to learn and become “good citizens.” One of the advantages of the approach taken by Botswana to rural development is that it provides a diversified set of opportunities for people to access social services and meet some of their nutritional needs.

African indigenous peoples generally have had complicated experiences when it comes to education. In the past and in some cases today, indigenous children are required to leave their homes and families and go to what in North America were known as residential schools and in Africa as mission schools (Smith, 2010). In these institutions, indigenous children often were not allowed to speak their own mother-tongue languages or to practice their own cultural traditions. Assimilation policies were aimed at enculturating indigenous and minority children in the languages and cultures of the dominant society. In the past, indigenous African peoples’ cultural traditions were rarely reflected in educational curricula, and as a result, indigenous children often found themselves marginalized in the education process.

A major problem facing San in Botswana (from their perspective) is the degree to which they are able to learn mother-tongue languages in schools. Except for the Nharo education program carried out in D’Kar, Ghanzi District, by missionary linguists, no other mother-tongue San education language activities occur in Botswana. According to assessments of language use among San in Botswana (Cassidy et al., 2001), fewer than 10 % of all San today speak their own language(s) better than they speak Setswana. In other words, the vast majority of San today tend to speak the dominant language in the country, much to the chagrin of the elderly, many of whom wish to retain their languages and cultures. San children are not learning their mother-tongue languages as much as they did in the past, and this has implications for language survival.

The language policy of the government of Botswana is that Setswana and English are the official languages of the country (Biesele & Hitchcock, 2000; Hays, 2011). Mother-tongue San languages are not taught to San or other minority children in Botswana schools. There is a movement in Botswana among minority groups (e.g., the San, Nama, Bakgalagadi, Yeei, Herero, and Kalanga) to promote minority cultural rights and to liberalize the educational process (Biesele & Hitchcock, 2000; Hays 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011). All of these groups are agitating for greater recognition of their cultural rights, including the right to have their children taught in their own languages.

The difficulty that San and other minority communities face, however, is how to go about establishing mother-tongue language programs. Lessons can be learned from the fine work carried out in D’Kar by the Kuru Family of Organizations and work that is ongoing in Namibia (Biesele, this volume) and South Africa (e.g., with the ‡Khomani in South Africa). It remains to be seen how Botswana will deal with the issue of language education, but indications are that the position of the government may be evolving toward a more inclusive approach (Hays, 2006, 2011). This evolution is, in part, a response to rising pressure to recognize minority rights in Southern Africa. San themselves have called for a more multicultural approach to education and a more positive environment in school settings (Kiema, 2010; Sekere, 2011).

Preschool Education Among San in Botswana

In 1975–1976, a schoolteacher from Long Island, Larry Northam, spent a year in the Kalahari Desert working on issues relating to education and the development and well-being of the San. At the time of his visit, he expressed the opinion that San children would be better able to complete their primary and secondary educations if they had an opportunity to attend preschool.

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Feb 14, 2017 | Posted by in PEDIATRICS | Comments Off on Indigenous Children’s Rights and Well-Being: Perspectives from Central and Southern Africa
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