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Botswana, The Catholic Church in


The Republic of Botswana is an arid, mostly agricultural country in the interior of Africa, bordered on the west and north by Namibia, on the northeast by Zimbabwe, and on the south and southeast by the Republic of South Africa. The terrain is flat, rising to gently rolling hills and the southwest is encompassed by the Kalahari Desert. Although Botswana's natural resources include diamonds, copper, nickel, salt and silver, large-scale diamond mining only began in the 1980s. Agricultural crops include sorghum, corn, millet, nuts, beans and livestock. One of Botswana's principal exports has traditionally been human labor, as many citizens went to work in South Africa or Zimbabwe, sending much of their earnings home to support the family left behind.

Known as Bechuanaland from 1884 to 1966, the region was a British protectorate administered by a high commissioner together with Swaziland and Lesotho (formerly Basutoland). Most of the population lives along the eastern border. Commercial developments in the country operate in the Western capitalistic model, while the tribal, communal system of property ownership prevails elsewhere.

History. The Holy Ghost Fathers established the first Catholic missions c. 1880, but were ultimately unsuccessful. In 1889 the territory was confided to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and the German Oblates began laboring in the southern section in 1923, establishing a mission near Gaborone five years later. In 1930 Mariannhill Missionaries began to labor in the northern parts. The Prefecture Apostolic of Bechuanaland, created in 1959 and entrusted to the Passionists, included the entire country.

Although the Church supported the country's policy of harboring refugees from South African apartheid policies during the latter half of the 20th century, by the 1990s the strain of supporting refugee populations from both South Africa and violence-torn Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) had proved detrimental. While for some more affluent refugees, Botswana served as a stopping-off point to acquire air transportation to another refuge, for thousands of others, it served as a temporary home during

their wait for the return of political and social stability in the country from which they had fled. International aid met the needs of refugees to some extent, but the increasing number of clients and the delay in the arrival of aid caused considerable suffering among the new arrivals.

By 2000, the Catholic Church remained a minority faith in Botswana, and had 42 parishes, seven diocesan and 40 religious priests, and approximately five brothers and 40 sisters. The Church operated nine primary schools and six secondary schools in the country. Due to the increasing wealth of the region as the diamond mining operations expanded in the 1990s into 2000, the Church was able to turn from issues of survival to deal with such matters as unemployment, family life and countering the negative effects wrought by rising affluence. The government supported full religious freedom, and provided no financial subsidy to any religious group. One challenge addressed by the Church in Botswana was adapting the teachings of the Church to the region's African culture. Another was the spread of HIV/AIDS, which was estimated to have infected a third of the population by 2000the highest rate of infection of any nation in the world.

Bibliography: w. e. brown, The Catholic Church in South Africa (New York 1960). Bilan du Monde, 2:123124. Annuario Pontificio has information on the diocese.

[j. e. brady/eds.]

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