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Part V explores how Batswana manage interdependencies and distinctions between kinship and politics on local, national, and transnational levels. It takes in three major events: in Chapter 13, a family party; in Chapter 14, a homecoming celebration for the first age regiment to be initiated in a generation; and in Chapter 15, an opening event held by a respected national NGO. Chapter 13 argues that family celebrations are catalysts for conflict, performing familial success and distinguishing home from village by demonstrating an ability to manage dikgang. In Chapter 14, families prove pivotal to regenerating the morafe (tribal polity), and initiation proves pivotal in re-embedding Tswana law in families – equipping them to better engage dikgang. NGO, government, and donor performances of success also rely on the performance of kinship; in Chapter 15’s opening ceremony, idioms and ideals of kinship legitimise the work of government and civil society agencies, establishing their precedence over the families they serve. But their everyday work is also permeated – even generated – by unmarked, conflicting kinship dynamics. In their interventions, these agencies unsettle both the interdependencies and distinctions Batswana customarily make between kinship and politics; and, in doing so, they may create more profound challenges than the AIDS epidemic.
This week, Batswana have welcomed into their family twenty-nine ambassadors from Canada. In diplomatic work, relations can be nurtured at personal level; nation-states are composed of individuals, and the international system is composed of nation-states, so it follows that individual relations facilitate better international relations.
Part I maps out the geographies of Tswana kinship, beginning in Chapter 1 with the Tswana gae, or home. The gae is a multiple, scattered place – stretching to include masimo (farmlands) and moraka (cattle post) – integrated by continuous movement, shifting residence, and care work that gravitates around the lelwapa (courtyard). For kin, both closeness and distance create dikgang; and while continuous movement enables balances to be struck, ‘going up and down’ produces tensions and dangers of its own. In Chapter 2, the building of new houses – a critical means of go itirela, or making-for-oneself – presents similar conundrums, requiring the mobilisation of resources among family in order to establish distance from them. When help is refused, dikgang generated are enough to stall building and self-making alike. These risks are marked in an epidemic era, where orphaned children may inherit early, and where NGO and government programmes may provide access to resources they might not otherwise have. Chapter 3 describes the spatial practices of these NGO and social work programmes, which show surprising similarities to the spatial practices of family – but also invert those spatialities and knock them out of sync, producing problematic alternatives to the gae, and new, intractable dikgang.
Pono came struggling up the dusty road towards me, pushing a wobbling wheelbarrow piled high with sacks of maize meal, sugar, vegetables, and odd toiletries tucked in around the edges. I hollered to catch her attention, and she looked up, throwing me a cheeky grin. Shortly, she pulled up in front of me to rest. ‘I’m from the shop,’ she said breathlessly, omitting the other obvious detail: she had been sent to take her food basket.
As Jacques Donzelot (1979) has shown in his history of ‘policing’ and philanthropy in France, political actors – including state and non-state agencies – have long prioritised access to families and provision for their welfare as key means of extending, stabilising, and reproducing power over time. I suggest that a similar project has animated the work of local, national, and transnational political actors in Botswana since at least the colonial era. Tswana families, in their turn, are constantly working to acquire and incorporate new resources and relationships, to enable the self-making of their members and the reproduction of kin groups over time. In Botswana’s time of AIDS, NGOs and government are important sources of those resources and relationships. The family and the state, NGO, or foreign donor are thus deeply reliant upon and implicated in each other; each establishes its relevance and sustains its growth through the other. But each also poses risks to the other that require containment and management. Efforts to generate social change find traction if they tap into this ‘immodern’ (Lambek 2013) interdependency, and can create the distinctions that enable a collective ethics; those that reject that interdependency, falling back on assumptions that the political sphere is naturally distinct from and encompasses the domestic, struggle to do so.
Part III explores the unique dikgang of reproducing kinship in a time of AIDS, specifically in pregnancy and marriage. Chapters 7 and 8 contend that, for the Tswana, intimate relationships become kin relationships through a gradual and carefully managed process of recognition, whereby they become visible, speakable, and known. Recognition is marked and achieved by dikgang – the collective reflection upon and negotiation of which involve wider and wider circles of kin. These dikgang are beset by the legacies of previously unresolved dikgang that echo across generations, making them especially fraught. Accumulating and successfully navigating these dikgang are key to self-making – in pregnancy for women, and in marriage for men. Chapter 9 argues that thinking of HIV and AIDS strictly in terms of risk overlooks the extent to which intimate relationships are ordinarily beset by risk; and it ignores the critical ways in which the management of such risks makes meaningful relationships, makes selfhood, and makes kin. If AIDS raises the stakes of such risks, it may do so more in terms of its effects on negotiating recognition rather than in terms of life and death – a possibility that goes some distance in explaining Botswana’s persistently high rates of new infection.
Part II explores the economies of care among kin. Chapter 4 explores the Tswana understanding of care as a combination of sentiment, material provision, and work that affects the physical and social well-being of others – and as a key resource in the contribution economies of kinship. But the things, work, and sentiment of care can be disarticulated and are subject to competing claims by family, partners, and friends, with implications for self-making projects. Chapter 5 examines the tensions that arise between these obligations to contribute care – especially among siblings – and the uncertainty about whether people will contribute what they ought, to whom, and for how long, which make contributions of care a volatile source of dikgang. Care, in these terms, is perpetually subject to crisis; the dominant public health frameworks that cast AIDS as a ‘crisis of care’ overlook the ways in which the Tswana family routinely faces, copes with, and even regenerates itself through such crises. Chapter 6 concludes with a consideration of how NGO and government interventions aim to provide care in the form of food baskets and feeding programmes – but dissociate these from specific people and relationships, inadvertently creating new crises by doing so.
Through a series of interlinked stories, the introduction presents the central figures of the book – the ‘Legae’ family, key friends and neighbours, the government social worker, and NGO staff and volunteers – and the village they live in, ‘Dithaba’. It contextualises them in Botswana’s history and reflects on key methods of research and writing: on being family, on being part of the problem, and on telling tales. It also sets out and situates the central argument of the book: that all of the ways in which Tswana families are made generate conflict and crisis – glossed in Setswana as dikgang – and that conflict and crisis in turn produce, sustain, and reorient kinship. Families, on this reading, emerge as unexpected sources of resilience and innovation in major socio-political crises such as the AIDS epidemic – and offer unexpected perspectives on the effects of HIV and AIDS, and of state- and NGO-led intervention.
Dipuo reacted to emergent trends in negotiating contemporary marriage by muttering ‘Re bona dilo’ – we are seeing things. The comment aptly summarises the central kgang of conjugal relationships among Batswana: the management of recognition. Seeing things, saying and hearing things, and knowing things – whether about a pregnancy or about a relationship moving towards (or through or away from) marriage – form and transform kinship by posing problems to be negotiated within and between families. The ways in which recognition is acquired, and the risks and opportunities that it presents, differ for men and women. But, for both, a full range of kin relationships are implicated: from intergenerational relationships, to sibling relationships, to conjugal relationships. Dikgang from the past may emerge unexpectedly and require navigation; dikgang of the future are anticipated in addressing those of the present. I suggest that pregnancy and marriage mark such potent means of both reproducing and reorganising kin relations because they draw all of these dikgang together, implicating and engaging the broadest possible range of kin in reflecting on and addressing them. Rather than marking disruptions in kinship practice that suggest significant social change or breakdown, the dikgang that commonly arise in Setswana pregnancy and marriage – and that have filled anthropological accounts of both since the colonial era – may be critical factors in continuously reconstituting and reorienting Tswana kinship, thereby securing its continuity and responsiveness to contexts of rapid change.
Some time after I had returned from fieldwork, I was chatting with Lorato on the phone and asked whether the family had been out to the lands recently. ‘Haish! Ke kgang,’ she replied – that’s a problem.