Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Morula Tree

One of the things I have just loved about my sabbatical is all of the reading I have been able to do, in particular Botswana history and politics. It has been fascinating to learn so much about another country in southern Africa, having spent so much time in the past on one, Namibia. I have been surprised, though should not have been, at how very different Botswana politics and history are. One of my special interests has been the formation and emergence of political parties in Botswana, as it is clear that they are a big part of the answer to my research question. I have been scouring books and articles looking for any references to women having been involved in this process. And (as I suspected), with one exception, I cannot find any. Parties emerged much later in Botswana than in the rest of Africa, including neighboring countries. Indeed there was not really much of the nationalist mobilization in Bechuanaland that there was in other territories. Certainly there were no liberation movements that resorted to armed struggle as in almost every one of Botswana's settler colony neighbors. [This would create enormous challenges for desperately poor and isolated Botswana at independence. With the later discovery of diamonds and the slow march to freedom in neighboring countries the situation would change, albeit haltingly.]

So what does that have to do with a morula tree? Well, the first significant political party to emerge in Botswana was the Bechuanaland [Botswana] People's Party in 1960 which attracted an early following especially along the 'line of rail' from Lobatse to Francistown. The BPP had a lot of external African support and southern African influence, having been started largely by miners and other workers returned from South Africa. It won three seats in the first parliament though eventually suffered the consequences of debilitating splits. The next significant party to emerge was the Bechuanaland [Botswana] Democratic Party in 1962 founded by, among others, Seretse Khama and Quett Masire, the northerner and southerner, 'chief' and 'commoner,' who would be Botswana's first president and vice president (and second president). The BDP had extensive rural support, important in the early years in Botswana, and won 28 of 31 seats in the first parliament. Indeed, it has been the 'ruling party' ever since, though with diminishing support in recent elections. The BDP held its first public meeting under this morula tree in Gaborone, nearby present day Government Enclave. The meeting was meant to be held in Mochudi but permission was denied by the chief. This is another striking difference between Botswana and neighboring countries: the continuing power and legitimacy of chiefs in Bechuanaland during the protectorate period. One of the goals of the BDP was to remove some of the chiefs' powers, preferably without them realizing it.

We know morula trees from Namibia, where they are common in the North. They also appear to be quite common in Botswana. There is a large one outside Kuno's classroom at Thornhill and he tells me that he regularly eats the still raw green fruits. They are routinely sold on the roadside and in the markets when they are much riper and yellow. The increasingly popular Amarula is made from morula fruits. So today, while Mave was working on her French project at a friend's house (she is a much more reluctant explorer), Kuno and I set out to find The Morula Tree. It is situated off of a busy road, between the high walls of the US Embassy and Debswana's Orapa House - would not be a good meeting place today! A sign in Setswana indicates that the morula tree is a national monument. The bus and train stations are just over the pedestrian bridge nearby so we took the opportunity to visit those as well. The stations provide the venue for a vast market where the usual foodstuffs and wares are sold and taxis and kombis to all destinations can be hired. Kuno and I tried the roasted maize that I have been eyeing for some time. This was one of my favorites on River Road in Nairobi as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya. Also in abundance - sweet reed, a lighter thinner sugar cane, that is available on the roadside all over town these days.

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