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Botswana Coat of Arms

Last modified: 2013-11-20 by bruce berry
Keywords: botswana | zebras: 2 | pula |
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[Botswana Coat of Arms] image from this site, reported by Dov Gutterman, 8 Mar 1999

Coat of Arms were adopted on 25 January 1966

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Botswana Coat of Arms

The shape of the shield is rather strange, as it is a shape used in East Africa and not by the Tswana tribes. The cog wheels symbolise mining and industry in the country. The waves symbolise the (few) rivers in the country, and the importance of water. The bull's head symbolises the importance of cattle herding for the economy of the country.
The supporters are two zebra (Equus zebra), which are common among the wildlife in Botswana. The supporters hold an elephant's tusk, as a symbol for the former ivory trade, and a ear of sorghum, the main local crop.
The motto Pula means 'rain', indicating the importance of rain for the country.
Source: Ralf Hartemink's website.
Jarig Bakker, 24 Jan 2002

Both the currency and national motto of Botswana are Pula which means 'rain'. To a Motswana, pula means more than just the wet stuff which falls out the sky: it stands for luck, life and prosperity.  In Mmabatho, in the former South African Homeland of Bophuthatswana, one of the most impressive pieces of architecture is the water tower in the symbolic shape of two hands holding aloft a bowl.  Probably not really surprising imagery for such a dry region.
Stuart A. Notholt, 3 November 1996

I have read that the shield of the arms of Botswana--of the same type as those of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda--is not really appropriate for that country. Why is that?
Juan Jose Morales, 18 Mar 2008

The information I have (taken from Pedersen [ped70]) seems to indicate that the arms are quite appropriate? According to Pedersen the three cogwheels represent co-operation between the tribes and the country's industry. The ox head symbolizes cattle breeding and the stem of millet stands for agriculture; the elephant's tusk and the supporters are for the fauna of the country while the motto "Pula" means "rain" and is also a greeting.  Again, according to Pedersen the Zebras were chosen for two reasons: Firstly because they were not the totem of any of the country's tribes (and therefore politically neutral), and secondly
because their black and white colouring symbolizes the inhabitants of the state as one people.

The blue barrulets wavy obviously symbolize water, but Pedersen is silent on the subject of which river (if any) they represent?  The shape of the shield is patently African, as are its charges and the supporters, so it is difficult at first glance to see quite how they could be inappropriate?
Christopher Southworth, 18 Mar 2008

The shield bearing the Botswana arms is similar to a Zulu shield, but the Tswana aren't Zulu. The shield commonly used for Tswana heraldry is much smaller and has large gaps on either side, a bit like two letters C that are placed with their arcs facing each other. It's not actually a war shield, but used for practice in stock fighting, I believe.

The shields of the Tswana are somewhat similar to those of the related Basotho. A specimen of their shields can be seen in the previous Lesotho flag.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 18 Mar 2008

To add my bit to previous answers, the Tswana forms part of the overall Sotho language group including Setswana, Pedi (North Sotho) and the Sotho of Lesotho (South Sotho). The languages are distinct but related and they have similar cultural practices. They are quite distinct from the Nguni nations which includes the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Tsonga and Ndebele, who all also speak distinct but related languages.

While the Zulus and all the other related warrior nations and even non-related nations all the way up the East African coast, used oval shields as can be seen for example on the Swazi, Kenyan and former KwaZulu flags, the Sotho-related nations used different shaped shield, as was for example shown on the former Lesotho flag, but they were not of a standard pattern. There is, however, a connection with the oval shield, but whether this inspired the oval shield on the Borswana Arms, I cannot say.

The connection came from the Ndebele who under the chieftainship of Mzilikazi, one of Shaka Zulu's generals who fell out with his king about the number of cattle raided from the Swazi that should be the king's portion, then removed himself and his Khumalo clan from Zululand and fled all the way to what is today the North West Province of South Africa. Here he set about creating his own empire by
subjugating the surrounding Tswana and Barolong tribes, until he made the mistake of attacking the incoming Voortrekkers, and was then driven out of the area into what is now Matabeleland in present day Zimbabwe, establishing a settlement near modern-day Bulawayo. It might be that the Ndebele, who were an offshoot of the Zulus, have left a permanent imprint on the Tswana as far as the shield shape is concerned.
Andries Burgers, 19 Mar 2008

Although I am not an Africanist, could the lines symbolising water on the arms of Botswana be an oblique reference to the Okavango Delta, which is one of the world's greatest natural heritage sites, and located in the north of the country? 
Ron Lahav, 19 Mar 2008

The Okavango River starts in the Angolan highlands and has its delta in the North west of Botswana, which is a World Heritage Site. It is the only major river as far as I know whose delta ends
in the middle of a continent and not the sea. Apart from diamonds, the tourist potential of the Okavango Delta is the greatest national asset of that nation. It is the only African nation which has a record of consistent economic growth since independence, which has never been involved in war and has been a functioning democracy ever since its creation. Pula means rain, the word is a greeting as well as blessing and the Botswana currency is also called the Pula (BWP).
Andries Burgers, 20 Mar 2008

According to Talocci 's "Guide to Flags of the World" (1982) [tal82]:
"The vital importance of rain is symbolized by the water sign and the word pula (meaning "rain"), which is also used as a greeting".  Therefore the blue and white wavy lines in the Botswana Arms do not represent any river.
Martin Grieve, 20 Mar 2008