Phuthego Phuthego Molosiwa
Botswana College of Open and Distance Learning
In the 1930s, migrant labour became the prime determinant of emerging infectious diseases, particularly tuberculosis, in the Bechuanaland Protectorate due to the repatriation of infected workers from neighbouring South African mines. The mining boom had led to an unprecedented increase in migrant labour and this in turn resulted in a high rate of tuberculosis infection and mortality. This article examines local perceptions of tuberculosis in the eastern Bechuanaland Protectorate from 1932 to 1964, when rates of infection and mortality were reduced with the help of medical breakthroughs in antibiotic therapy. While studies of migrant labour in Southern Africa have addressed political, social, and economic aspects of disease, nothing has been written about the multiple ways in which rural communities drew from their cultural repertoire to negotiate this emerging pathology. This article mines the extant medical records housed at the Botswana National Archives and juxtaposes them with oral testimony to examine and illuminate the culturally specific arenas in which the socio-ecological beliefs, values, and meanings of tuberculosis were created and contested among communities of eastern Bechuanaland.
Keywords: Tuberculosis, Migrant Labour, Beliefs, Nutrition, Bechuanaland, Bangwato Reserve