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Botswana - Religion

Officially, Botswana is said to be sa Christian country, although the number of practising Christians is estimated at only around 20% of the population. Many people still maintain dual religious practices, between Christianity and traditional religious worship. The US government estimates the total population is 2.2 million (July 2014 estimate). According to a 2006 demographics report published by the country’s Central Statistics Office, 63 percent of citizens are members of Christian groups, 27 percent claim their religion as “God,” 8 percent espouse no religion, 2 percent are adherents of the traditional indigenous religion Badimo, and all other religions comprise less than 1 percent of the population. Anglicans, Methodists, and members of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa make up the majority of Christians. There are also Lutherans, Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, Mennonites, and members of other Christian denominations. According to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 8,000 Muslims, many of whom are of South Asian origin. There are small numbers of Hindus and Bahais. Immigrants, including foreign workers, are more likely to be members of non-Christian religious groups than are native-born citizens.

The constitution provides for religious freedom under its broader protections of freedom of conscience. The constitution permits the government to restrict religious freedom in the interest of national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health when the restrictions are deemed “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society,” but it has never done so. The constitution provides that every religious group may establish places for religious instruction at the group’s expense. The constitution prohibits forced religious instruction, forced participation in religious ceremonies, and taking oaths that run counter to an individual’s religious beliefs.

Although it was common for government meetings to begin with a Christian prayer, members of non-Christian groups also occasionally led prayers. Optional religious education is part of the curriculum in public schools; it emphasizes Christianity but also addresses other religious groups in the country. There are private Christian and Muslim schools, and government regulation of private schools did not distinguish between religious and non-religious schools. Some Christian organizations reported that some of their missionaries had difficulty obtaining residence permits for missionary work. The Department of Labor and Home Affairs attributed this difficulty to a gray area in the immigration “points system,” developed several years ago and implemented gradually, that provides greater weight to missionary work tied to development projects than to proselytizing. Some observers, however, suggested considerations outside the points system affected the awarding of visas for specific religious groups.

By other estimates, approximately 30 percent of Batswana belong to one of the Christian churches (most are Catholic or Anglican), while over 65 percent adhere to the practices of the African Religion or still follow traditional beliefs. The African Religion comprises a variety of churches: the Healing Church of Botswana, the Zionist Christian Church and the Apostolic Faith Mission, for example, and these belong to two main movements: the African Independent and Pentecostal churches. These are indigenous religions that practise an integrated form of worship, combining the Christian liturgy with the more ritualistic elements of traditional ancestral worship.

Before the arrival of the colonial missionaries, the people worshipped Modimo, a greater God or Supreme Being who was also representative of the ancestors. They believed that a supernatural being was responsible for the creation of both humankind and the other animals and plants. For this reason, their cosmology reflected a strong connection between people and the natural environment. For those that still follow a traditional belief system, ancestral worship is central to their daily religious practice, as it is believed that, if appeased, the ancestors will protect the family, strengthen the community and keep away ill omens.

The most important value held in Botswana is that of BOTHO (highest respect, honour, esteem that one holds for another human life). The society expects and requires its members to have Botho, which is manifested through good manners, humility, compassion, kindness, respect, gentility and observance of traditional norms and behavioural code. Botho forms the fabric of the Botswana value-system. Other values which also form the national principles of Botswana include Democracy, Development, Self-reliance and Unity.

People of Botswana strongly believe in the value of consultations within the society to ensure peace through consensus. The process of MORERO (consultation) at inter-personal, family, and community levels is considered an invaluable asset in the ability to reach and sustain agreements. Communities and even Government consult at the KGOTLA.

The DINGAKA (traditional doctors) have a very extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs and plants. The various herbs, roots, leaves, barks and so forth are known to cure a range of illnesses including snake bites, pain, common flu, impotence and many more. Other plants are believed to be excellent aphrodisiacs. The medicinal herbs have been used over the centuries by Dingaka to heal and even cure diseases for which there are no modern medicines.

Moreover, the Dingaka claim to have extraordinary powers, ranging from the power to order lightening to strike someone, providing lucky charms for job promotion, fixing unsteady marriages, etc. Using their divining bones, the Dingaka claim to be able to detect their client's problems and even give protective medicines to solve them. There is a general recognition of the importance of traditional medicine within the health delivery system of Botswana. Those who wish to practice are required to register with the Botswana Dingaka Association and their practice is regulated. With more exposure to other foreign beliefs and education, however, a growing number of citizens dismiss this type of medicine. Nonetheless, there are others, even among the educated, who use the services of the traditional doctors and keep it a closely guarded personal secret.

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Page last modified: 21-06-2016 14:00:31 ZULU