The arms of Bophuthatswana, registered by the State Herald in Pretoria on 8 September 1972, may be blazoned:
Arms: Upon a Tswana shield per fess (at nombril point) gules and vert a mine headgear in chief and, in base, three heads of mabele seeded in bend dexter and, sinister a bull’s head caboshed in bend sinister, all or. The shield is supported by a spear and a war axe crossed in saltire and, in pale, a traditional plumed staff.
Supporters: Two leopards rampant gardant proper.
Motto: Tshwaraganang lo dire pula e ne.
The shield is a typical Tswana shield, shaped entirely differently from other shields familiar in heraldry. It is based on a tradition where shields are not used to protect the body in warfare – in contrast with Nguni tradition, where the shield (before the Shakan reforms) was the height of a man, and warriors hid behind the shield to ward off spears, before rushing forward to retrieve the spears and hurl them back at the enemy.
The Tswana shield is a small one, perhaps 300 mm across, used in the stick-fighting exercises that are traditional in both Sotho and Nguni cultures. (Sotho is used here as embracing not only North and South Sotho but also Tswana, or West Sotho.) Like the Nguni shield, it is traditionally made of cowhide.
Curiously, a Tswana shield also appears in the arms of the non-independent homeland state of QwaQwa, a South Sotho district.
The shield is not divided evenly into two colour zones; rather, the division is lowered. (“Nombril point” is a point equidistant from either side, but lower than the vertical centre.)
headgear is an especially ugly element in the arms, since its industrial ambience is contrary to the more symbolic nature of devices usually found in coats of arms. It symbolises the state’s mineral wealth, especially the platinum mines of the eastern districts near Rustenburg and Sun City. It is a
very modern headgear, with a large proportion of concrete construction; older mine headgear in South Africa was traditionally built of iron or steel girders. For an example of this older type of headgear, see the Great Seal of the Transvaal Colony.
The grain crop illustrated is mabele (to use its Sotho-Tswana name), also known as grain sorghum or millet. Its botanical name is Sorghum bicolor. It is not indigenous to Southern Africa, having first been cultivated in Ethiopia, but it is one of only two grain crops commonly produced in the subcontinent that are of African origin. The other is babala millet, also called bulrush or pearl millet, which is grown more widely in Africa than any other grain crop.
The bull’s head is typical of the cattle of the Batswana. The breed is similar to the Nguni strain traditional in the coastal regions, and has the same origin: both the Basotho/Batswana and the abaNguni acquired their cattle and cattle culture from
the Khoikhoi, who in turn acquired their cattle and vocabulary from a now-extinct Nilotic people. The term caboshed means that the head faces forward with no sign of a severed neck.
are traditional among the Sotho – the long throwing-spear and the war-axe, both with metal blades produced by traditional blacksmiths. The plumed stick is a sign of chiefly authority.
(Leo pardus) also represent chiefly authority: it is traditional in Southern Africa that only chiefs may hunt leopard, and only chiefs or those deserving of special favour may wear leopard skin. The leopards are gardant – they face the viewer and can be held to guard the nation.
A leopard’s head appeared in the Bophuthatswana flag.
The motto, Tshwaraganang lo dire pula e ne, translates as: “If we stand together and work hard, we shall be blessed.” The word pula literally means rain, which is seen in Tswana culture as a sign of blessing. The traditional Tswana greeting is “Pula!”, and this word on its own is also the motto of the Republic of Botswana.
About the state:
The name Bophuthatswana means “all the Tswana people” – this is an irony, since half the Tswana nation is to be found outside South Africa, in Botswana. Also the state did not include within its territory the many thousands of South African Batswana living in towns and cities, and on white-owned farms.
But in terms of apartheid policy they had voting rights in Bophuthatswana and so exercised their democracy vicariously. Nonetheless the idea behind the creation of the state was to group together all the Tswana-speakers in South Africa, and it did comprise all the tribal trust lands belonging to Tswana tribespeople.
The tribal trust lands which made up Bophuthatswana were to be found in three provinces of pre-1994 South Africa: the traditional Tswana lands were spread across the far north of the Cape Province and the west of the Transvaal, right across to the middle of the Transvaal Province.
A bit of an anomaly is the Thaba Nchu district, part of the Orange Free State until Bophuthatswana was created. It lay in lands traditionally home to Basotho, and was settled by Tswana-speakers as a result of the Difaqane (or Mfecane, as the abeNguni call it). The people of Thaba Nchu are Rolong and
originate from what is now southern Botswana. Their chief, Moroka, led them southwards to the Langeberg (now in Northern Cape Province) because of population pressure.
However, he noticed that that area was filling up with refugees from the Difaqane, and decided to buck the trend and trek eastwards, eventually settling at the foot of a green mountain which he called Thaba ea Ntsho. He played host to the early trek parties of the Great Trek and was left by the burgers of the Oranje Vrij Staat to run his own affairs. After his death his heirs quarrelled and the OVS took control of his district.
Bophuthatswana spent a number of years as a non-independent homeland state, but chose to take advantage of South Africa’s offer of “independence”, attaining this status on 6 December 1977.
Aside from Thaba Nchu, the districts of Bophuthatswana (reflecting the main tribes) were:
1. From the Cape Province: Ganyesa, Thlaping-Thlaro, Taung, Ditsobotla and Molopo.
2. From the Transvaal Province: Lehurutshe, Madikwe, Mankwe, Bafokeng, Odi and Moretele.
The Moretele district fell into two parts: a western sector (Moretele 1), adjoining Odi and lying just west of national highway N1 running north from Pretoria; and Moretele 2, lying east of Hammanskraal in what had previously been part of the Settlers district.
Like the other three “independent” homeland states, it ceased to exist on 27 April 1994. Most of Bophuthatswana has been absorbed into North-West Province, but Thaba Nchu was returned to the Free State, while Moretele 2 became part of Mpumalanga.
Languages of Bophuthatswana:
The primary language of Bophuthatswana was (and, since the demise of the state, remains) Setswana. Most Batswana (in all three provinces) also spoke Afrikaans, chiefly in their dealings with employers, officialdom and traders. Schools under the so-called Bantu education system did little teaching in the vernacular, preferring to teach in English, Afrikaans or both. Effectively this meant that most Batswana schoolchildren had to cope with Afrikaans as medium of instruction from senior primary upwards.
However Bophuthatswana chose, shortly after its independence, to drop Afrikaans because of its associations with apartheid, and instead to use English not only in schools but also in its administration.
Comments, queries: Mike Oettle