The Botswana Local History Project

1. There is a tradition of undergraduate work (student research projects) on Botswana’s local history as evidenced in the University of Botswana BA History and Archaeology dissertations that can be accessed here: [in fact this is a full list, 1976 – 2016]. The tradition was initiated by Professor Leonard Ngcongco and contributed to the establishment of the reputation of the History Department at the University of Botswana. A report of an interview in 1996 with Professor Ngcongo can be found in an online version of PULA Journal of African Studies. vol 11. no. 1 (1997).

Professor Lily Mafela writes: “The Dairy Hut was built in the early 1930s, but alas it was left to crumble due to termite destruction. Given that my undergraduate degree was on the subject of dairying,  I happened to take interest in it and took pictures of it before it was destroyed.”

2. Before c2000 some of the final year undergraduates, although not all, returned to the areas where they had done non-military community service to investigate aspects of Botswana’s history as experienced locally. In other cases, they were obliged to do their dissertation research in different areas to those allocated to them for the former experience. This was the “Tirelo Sechaba” scheme [literally “work for the community”].  

This is an image of Women’s Education in Mochudi is c.1940s. It is from the Botswana National Archives and Record Services.

3. The strength of these dissertations was in their use of primary sources, both oral and documentary. They also illustrated a wider and significant principle: that local examples can act to “particularise” episodes or situations in national history, along the lines of “this is how this was experienced here”. This “view from the village” stance on reflecting national history was used in the work of British historian and documentary film-maker, Michael Wood. 

This is an image from 1895 of women, observed by one of their children, thatching a hut at Palapye.

4. Children (pupils/students) will inevitably gain more ownership of the history they do in schools if it is about a locality or an extended demographic group that is familiar to them. This is a universal principle, and there are educational theories to back this up. Also, they would be more likely to internalise the objects of learning if there is an opportunity to see their own identities in it, or if, more simply, if they can identify with it.

These are the Ladies’ Temporary Quarters at the Palapye Mission Station in 1895.

5. Another set of theories which is relevant here is linked with the need to introduce children even at an early age to the methodology of history, bearing in mind that with younger children, stories are often the best way to approach history. In addition, pictures or photographs can bring history to life as well as artefacts, music and song. 

This is a photograph of the staff at the Tiger Kloof Native Institution in 1925. This developed into Moeding College.

6. The teacher too can take ownership of the history being taught by adopting the stance of “teacher-as-researcher” in order to provide an example to empower the children/pupils/students to act as historians and make enquiries albeit with support not only from the teacher but also as part of a community-school-student network. The teacher, community and school pupils could be seen as working together in active harmony to co-create and take joint ownership of historical knowledge. 

This shows Bechuanaland students at Lovedale Institution, which was one of a few South African liberal institutions that catered for an emerging Black elite, and significantly, it also attracted students from Bechuanaland Protectorate and across the sub-region.

7. If a teacher can commit to a systematic approach to using local history in this organic way it might be associated with extended professionalism.

This shows Chief Khama’s “Sanctum”. Is this also at Palapye?

8. It would be possible to regard a series of mini-sessions on local history in particular places in Botswana as case-studies through which children’s educational progress might be evaluated in tandem with their historical understanding.

9. Professor Lily Mafela, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Botswana, has written this article about history education in Botswana: 

[Mafela, L. (2021). The quest for inclusive and transformative approaches to the history curriculum in Botswana. Historical Encounters, 8(2), 54-72]. It can be accessed here:

10. The Exeter Branch of the Historical Association in sharing these perspectives and these images is offering to give positive moral and intellectual support to teachers, communities and university staff in Botswana who are seeking to develop new local history projects. It is hoped that this can in the near future be run in tandem with similar projects in the Exe Valley of Devon, in the district of Exeter.