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Botswana and Its People
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Botswana and Its People
Willie Seth, Botswana and Its People
ISBN 9780981425870
 
 

Introduction


THIS book is a general introduction to Botswana, the land and its people.

Readers are going to learn some basic facts about Botswana including its geography and history. Also covered in the book are the nation's resources including crops and minerals as well as tourist attractions.

The book is intended for those who are learning about Botswana for the first time and for those who are going to Botswana. It's also intended for the general reader who does not even intend to go to Botswana.

It also looks at some cultural aspects of Botswana and ethnic tensions which, although not highly pronounced as in many other African countries, pose a challenge to the nation's leadership in a country which prides itself as a role model on the continent in terms of democracy and harmonious relations among people of different tribes and races.

Tourists and students will find this book to be useful as an introductory work on one of the most vibrant, most prosperous, and most peaceful countries in Africa.

Even those who know a lot about Botswana may be able to learn a few things from this book.

And it's comprehensive enough to enable the reader to know about Botswana as a country and as a nation composed of people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Botswana also is one of the very few countries on the continent whose population is mostly composed of one ethnic group and only a few others.

Yet it is a land of stunning diversity in terms of its rich history, culture and way of life in spite of its very limited number of ethnic groups and sparse population in a vast expanse of territory which is also one of the largest countries in Africa in terms of area.

Botswana:

General Background


BOTSWANA is one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. And it has enjoyed peace and stability since independence more than 40 years ago; a rare achievement on this turbulent continent.

It also has practised multi-party democracy since independence, one of the very few countries in Africa to do so. It is, in fact, Africa's longest continuous multiparty democracy.

It also has a reputation as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, an achievement that would have been virtually impossible without robust democracy emphasising transparency.

But it also remained economically dependent on South Africa for decades and had to maintain economic ties with its powerful neighbour for sheer survival in spite of its opposition to South Africa's racist policies.

Botswana is landlocked. It's also is one of the largest countries in Africa. It has an area of about 232,000 square miles and is one of the 15 largest countries – out of 53 – on the continent. It's also the 45th largest country in the world.

But it's sparsely populated with only about 1.9 million people in such a vast expanse of territory. Most of them live in the eastern part of the country.

The country is sparsely populated because it's so dry, and the Kalahari desert constitutes a substantial part of Botswana. And most areas of the country are too arid to sustain any form of agriculture other than cattle raising and ranching.

Botswana is bordered by South Africa on the east and south, by Zimbabwe on the east and northeast, by Zambia at a narrow strip in the north, and by Namibia on the west and on the north. Nambia's Caprivi Strip forms the northern border with Botswana.

The country of Botswana is mostly an arid plateau at an elevation of 3,300 feet with the Okavango swamp – commonly known as the Okavango Delta – in the northwest, the Kalahari desert in the south and southwest, and mountains in the east. And it's predominantly flat.

The Kalahari desert covers about 70 per cent of Botswana's land area.

The Okavango River empties into the vast region of the Okavango Delta and Lake Ngami, forming a huge marshaland which is also a major tourist attraction. The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world.

The main rivers which flow through Botswana are the Limpopo and the Zambezi, the two largest rivers in southern Africa and some of the largest on the African continent. The third largest river in southern Africa is the Orange River in the Republic of South Africa.

The climate is semiarid and generally subtropical with one rain season averaging 18 inches per year and supporting savannah vegetation except in the Kalahari desert. But rainfall varies from 9 inches per year in the southwest to about 25 inches in the north.

Botswana also has warm winters and hot summers.

The country also has strong seasonal winds which blow from the west in the month of August, carrying sand and dust across many parts of the nation. The sand and dust sometimes obscures visibility.

The largest city in Botswana is Gaborone. It's also the nation's capital.

Located only 9 miles from the border with South Africa, Gaborone became the capital of Bechuanaland in 1965 as the country headed towards independence. And for many years, it was the fastest-growing city in the world, and with an excellent infrastructure.

Other important cities include Francistown and Selebi-Phikwe.

Francistown is the second-largest city, and Selebi-Phikwe, also spelt as Selibe-Phikwe is the third-largest but much smaller than the other two.

The vast majority of the people in the country are the Bantu-speaking Batswana. They live mainly in the southeast around Gaborone, the nation's capital which is close to the border with South Africa.

There are also a few San and Khoi, so-called Bushmen, who live mostly in the Kalahari desert. And they have lived in the region that later came to be known as Botswana long before Bantu groups arrived from the north in the 1400s - and 1500s.

In recent years, Botswana also has been flooded by immigrants from Zimbabwe looking for jobs. The majority of them go to South Africa but there is a very large number of those who stay in Botswana, most of them illegally.

Their plight is a direct result of the fast-track land reform programme launched and implemented by the government of Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe that led to the seizure of land from white farmers; an ill-conceived policy which led to the disruption and destruction of the economy, forcing millions of people to flee their homeland. Their first destination was and continues to be Botswana.

But there are many people in Botswana who don't want them in their country. Probably the majority don't. As one Zimbabwean, Innocent Madonko, stated in an article in a Zimbabwean newspaper, The Chronicle, entitled, “Commentary on Poor Treatment of Zimbabweans in Botswana”:


Xenophobia against Zimbabweans in Botswana has reached alarming levels amid allegations that locals are being brutally assaulted and subjected to dehumanising and humiliating treatment by authorities in that country. Zimbabweans are also being deported en masse from Botswana and told never to set foot in Gaborone or risk being thrown in jail.

Their crime – they voted President Mugabe into power and 'assisted' the Government 'to take land from whites.'

'Go and till your land. What do you want in Botswana when you have taken land from whites?' they are repeatedly asked by the Botswana police who now conduct regular hunts to flush out Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwean cross-border traders, shoppers, immigrants and travellers this week revealed gross human rights abuses by law enforcement agents in Botswana.

While male travellers and immigrants complained of brutal assaults at the hands of Botswana’s notorious Special Support Group (SSG), army and police, female immigrants related harrowing tales of demeaning sexual abuse.

They said they are stripped naked, losing their money and other valuables to the police, some of whom demand sex from Zimbabwean illegal immigrants 'to save you from jail'.

Others accused male officers of indecently assaulting them. 'They put their hands into our undergarments and touch our private parts during searches. Body searches on female immigrants are done by male officers, especially the SSG, which at times strips us naked,' said an 18yearold female interviewed in the border town of Plumtree yesterday. Some officers demanded sex from female border jumpers, she said.

Botswana has intensified its drive to rid the country of Zimbabweans. Thousands of Zimbabweans have been flushed out of Botswana this year. Entry requirements for locals into Botswana have also been tightened.

Diplomatic sources in Gaborone said Botswana had tacitly declared war on Zimbabweans in the country – a scenario which was likely to strain relations between the two nations.

'Zimbabweans are being rounded up on a daily basis. They are being sent naked into prison cells where they are denied food for weeks. The beatings are severe in prisons. “Authorities take their money. Roadblocks have also been set up all over the country to fish out Zimbabweans. There is open hatred for Zimbabweans here,'the sources said....

In interviews at Plumtree Police Station, the deportees complained of beatings, sexual abuse and being denied food. Said Mr Wilbert Ngwenya (28) of Bulawayo: 'The SSG came to my house in Francistown at night. They bulldozed their way into the house and started beating me up. My neighbours also joined and beat me with fists and booted feet. "The SSG had sjamboks and sticks. They were ruthless and told me to go back to your (President) Mugabe in Zimbabwe.'

Another deportee, Mr Morgan Mpofu (27) said: 'During the course of the beatings, they will be telling us to go back to Zimbabwe where we are chasing away whites. They say we will starve because we can't farm and are chasing whites.'

Mr Thandazani Maphosa (20) of Bulawayo said he had been detained at Gerald Prison outside Francistown for three days without food. 'I was on the verge of passing out due to hunger when a sympathetic officer gave me a sandwich. The treatment we receive in Botswana is dehumanising,' he said....

Miss Abigail Moyo (18) of Lundi Park suburb in Gweru said sexual abuse of female immigrants was rife in Botswana. 'The police and the SSG always force themselves on us. Some girls are released from prison after spending some time with the authorities at their houses,' she said....

Meanwhile, a consortium of businessmen in Bulawayo has pledged to form an association to assist Zimbabwean immigrants, cross-border traders and travellers to Botswana.

The group plans to lobby the Government to put in place stringent entry requirements for Botswana and South African nationals to protest the ill-treatment of Zimbabweans in the two countries.

'What we are saying to the Government is that we have been too lenient to them (Botswana and South Africa) yet they are hostile towards our people. For instance, we require visas to go to South Africa and yet South Africans have a free reign in Zimbabwe. We treat the Batswana nationals here with respect but they do not return the favour to our people in Botswana,' said Mr Charles Kaviza.

Mr Bernard Choto, the managing director of Bensa Power and Mechanical (Pvt) Ltd, a Botswana-based company, said it was time the two countries' nationals treated Zimbabweans with respect.

'Enough is enough. Batswana and South Africans must treat Zimbabweans with respect. We want to send a signal to law enforcement agents in Botswana that if they ill-treat our people there, we will do the same to their nationals here. After all, Zimbabweans are developing these two nations. We will end up having to resort to a tit-for-tat scenario. Our association will make sure that for every Zimbabwean harassed in Botswana or South Africa, ten of these countries' nationals will face our wrath here, he charged.

Mr Tinashe Chikara, who is also behind the formation of the new association, said the Botswana Government had always been sympathetic to whites in Zimbabwe, hence the xenophobia against the country's nationals.” - (Innocent Madonko, “Commentary on Poor Treatment of Zimbabweans in Botswana,” in The Chronicle, Zimbabwe, 2 October 2002).


The wrath has been directed against other Africans as well. But it's also the kind of hostility which should be looked at in its proper context; which does not mean it's justified. But it may be understandable, taking into account the enormous burden Botswana has to bear when coping with the influx of these immigrants.

Many people from other African countries have also moved to Botswana because of its thriving economy and stability. And the influx has sometimes led to tensions between the immigrants and the people of Botswana who feel that they are being swamped by foreigners who flee their home countries because of economic and political problems in those countries.

Yet, Botswana is just another African country in terms of history and evolution. It has just done better, far better, than most countries on the continent whose leaders should emulate what Botswana has done instead of presiding over economies which make it impossible for their people to survive and thrive in their home countries, forcing them to seek greener pastures elsewhere including Botswana.

The country of Botswana got its name from the Tswana, the largest ethnic group in this former British colony. Before independence, it was known as Bechuanaland.

The people of Botswana are collectively known as Batswana regardless of race and ethnicity.

The term “Batswana” is also used to identify the country's largest ethnic group who constitute the vast majority of the total population. Their language is called Setswana.

There are about 80 per cent Batswana – also known as Tswana – and 11 per cent Kalanga who are the second-largest ethnic group.

The Kalanga, whose language is known as Ikalanga and is a “dialect” of Shona, the main language of Zimbabwe, live mostly in Zimbabwe. About 190,000 of them live in Botswana. Some sources claim their population is bigger than that.

Linguistic evidence suggests that the Kalanga originated from South Africa in what is now the Limpopo and Drakensberg area and settled in the northern part of Botswana and Zimbabwe.

They live mostly in northeastern Botswana. And those in Zimbabwe across the border with Botswana live mostly in the southwestern part of their country around Bulawayo and whose dominant tribe is the Ndebele who also migrated from South Africa.

The third-largest group in Botswana is the Basarwa with about 3 per cent of the population. They are Khoisan and the largest group among the so-called Bushmen.

The rest including the Kgalagadi and whites constitute about 7 per cent of Botswana's population. In fact, Botswana has one of the highest percentages of white citizens in Africa. Whites constitute about 3 per cent of the total population.

That's about 57,000 of them in a country of about 1.9 million people. And most of them speak English or Afrikaans which are also the main languages spoken by whites in neighbouring South Africa.

The Batswana, who the largest ethnic group, originally came from South Africa where they are still known as the Tswana.

In terms of ethnic identity, the Batswana in Botswana are not different from the Tswana in South Africa. They are the same people but use different names to identify themselves because they live in two different countries which also happen to be neighbours.

The Tswana lived as herders and farmers when they came into contact with Europeans and the majority of them still live that way although a significant number of them have also adopted new lifestyles as a result of modernisation – Westernisation – and migration to urban centres.

The lifestyle of many people in Botswana has also changed because of the nature of employment, especially working in the mines and other modern sectors of the economy.

But most of the people live the traditional way as they have for hundreds of years, besides modern conveniences being accessible to a significant number of people whose lifestyles have also changed because of external influence and modernisation.

The so-called Bushmen have resisted external influences but have sometimes been forced by the government to change their lifestyle and modernise.

In 1885, the area of what is Botswana today came under British control and came to be known as the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

The protectorate was established when the Bechuana people – the Tswana – led by Khama the Great and other chiefs sought protection from the British against the Boers in Transvaal, the northern province of South Africa, who wanted to take over the territory when Transvaal was a republic under Boer – predominantly Dutch – control.

The Tswana fought the Boers and after the British established a protectorate called Bechuanaland, the Tswana were split into two groups.

The northern part of the protectorate later came to be what is Botswana today, and the southern part of the territory was incorporated into the Cape Colony of South Africa in 1895. Today, that portion is now part of the Northwest Province of South Africa.

And the majority of the Setswana-speaking people live in South Africa today, not in Botswana.

From 1909 – 1955, South Africa made several attempts to annex Bechuanaland, what is now Botswana, but failed to do so mainly because of British opposition to the idea. South Africa also wanted Basutoland, now Lesotho, and Swaziland to become part of its territory.

But in 1909 the people of the three territories – all of which were under British rule – were assured by their colonial rulers that they would not be forced to become part of the proposed Union of South Africa which was formed in 1910.

The union itself was a product of the British since they are the ones who ruled South Africa. And the territories of Basutoland, Swaziland and the Bechuanaland Protectorate, themselves under British rule and collectively known as the High Commission Territories, were covered under a provision which stated that they could be incorporated into the Union of South Africa in the future although they were deliberately left out when when the union was formed.

When the National Party came to power in South Africa in 1948 and instituted apartheid and withdrew from the Commonwealth in 1961, the idea of incorporating the three British territories into the union was abandoned.

In 1948, Bechuanaland was thrown into turmoil when Seretse Khama, heir to the throne of the leading Bamangwato tribe, married a white English girl, Ruth Williams, when he was in Britain where he attended Oxford University.

The marriage created a storm. And Ruth Williams' family members were subjected to all kinds of insults not only in Britain but from different people in other countries including the United States. According to Jet magazine, a black American publication, Chicago, in its report “Seretse Khama's Inlaws Tell of Insults,” 17 July 1952:


“Seretse Khama's sister-in-law, Muriel Williams, while taking a vacation in America, said the political tempest caused when her sister, Ruth, married Chief Khama has not entirely died down.

'My mother still gets insulting letters from people here in America, South Africa and a few English people,' she said.

'Seretse's marriage to my sister caused a greater storm in England than the White-Cannon marriage stirred up here because, after all, my brother-in-law is an international figure and a ruler,' Miss Williams declared.

In America, she is house guest of Josephine Fulton in Chicago. The women met when Miss Fulton visited England last year.”


Some of his people, the Bangwato, were also opposed to the marriage. The British, who were also opposed to the marriage and were then the rulers of Bechunaland, forced Seretse Khama to live in exile. But when he renounced his claim to the chieftainship, he was allowed by the British colonial rulers to return to Bechuanaland in 1956.

His people still accepted him as their leader and supported him when he formed the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) in 1962 which led the country to self-government in 1965.

From the time it became a British protectorate, Bechuanaland had its capital in South Africa. Until 1961, Bechuanaland was administered by a resident commissioner in Mafikeng, South Africa, who was responsible to the British high commissioner for South Africa.

In 1965, the capital was moved from Mafikeng, South Africa, to Gaborone which had been established as the new seat of government for Bechuanaland.

The first general election was held in 1965 and the Bechuanaland Democratic party (BDP) won an overwhelming majority. Seretse Khama became prime minister.

The country won independence from Britain on 30 September 1966 and was renamed Botswana. Sir Seretse Khama was elected by the national assembly as the first president of the new republic.

Seretse Khama served as president until his death in 1980. Almost 30 years later, his son, Ian Khama, a soldier, also became president of Botswana in April 2008.

His whole name is Seretse Khama Ian Khama and he was a Lieutenant-General when he became president. He was also the leader of the Botswana army which is officially known as the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).

Botswana also suffered for many years especially in the seventies and eighties because of its opposition to apartheid and support for racial justice in South Africa.

It was subjected to many reprisals by South Africa's apartheid regime including an attack in Botswana's capital on 14 June 1985 directed against South African freedom fighters based in the city.

South African troops raided the headquarters of a South African black guerrilla group based in Gaborone and killed 16 persons in one of the most dramatic military attacks on the countries of southern Africa by the apartheid regime.

Botswana provided sanctuary to refugees and anti-apartheid activists from South Africa in the seventies and eighties but couldn't do more to help them because of the country's dependence on its white-ruled neighbour and because of South Africa's military might.

Botswana was almost totally dependent on South Africa economically in terms of access to the sea and employment for tens of thousands of its citizens working in the mines in the land of apartheid.

The apartheid regime continued to pursue its campaign of destabilisation in Botswana and other neighbouring countries to discourage them from supporting the struggle for racial justice in South Africa.

But in spite of that, Botswana and other countries in the region did not stop providing material, moral and diplomatic support to the freedom fighters until apartheid ended in 1994.

Botswana was also attacked by the forces of the white-minority regime in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, because of its support to the freedom fighters in that country.

And through all those years, and in spite of all the problems including attacks by the apartheid regime and the Rhodesian forces the country had to endure, Botswana enjoyed unprecedented economic growth unmatched on the continent.

In fact, the country has had one of the highest economic growth rates not only in Africa but in the entire world for decades since independence in 1966.

When the country won independence, the only known minerals during that period were manganese and some gold and asbestos. It was not until large deposits of diamonds, nickel and copper as well as other minerals were found in the following years that the country's fate and fortunes dramatically changed. And it has never been the same since then. In fact, Botswana has some of the largest diamond deposits in the world.

The discovery of substantial mineral deposits in the 1970s rejuvenated Botswana's impoverished economy, fuelling unprecedented economic growth.

It is the export of diamonds probably more than anything else which has fuelled Botswana's economic growth since the 1970s.

In fact, Botswana's diamond mine at Jwaneng is the world's largest. And it provides many jobs for the people of Botswana. The country also is the largest producer of diamonds in the world, surpassing South Africa.

Not only have diamonds played the biggest role in fuelling the country's economic growth; they constitute more than one-third of Botswana's gross domestic product (GDP) and 70 – 80 per cent of its export earnings.

Foreign investors have played a major role in the country's economic development especially when American and British interests developed a major diamond mine at Orapa. And a large copper-nickel mine began production at Selebi-Pikwe in 1975, boosting the country's economic growth.

Mining is the largest sector of the economy and diamonds the dominant mineral. Other minerals such as copper, nickel, asbestos, manganese, iron ore, silver, soda ash, potash, and salt have also played a significant role in the country's economic development.

The country also has vast deposits of coal. Its coal deposits are considered to be some of the largest in the world and there are plans to convert coal into liquid fuel for motor vehicles and industrial plants.

Other minerals have also been found. They include platinum, sulfur, plutonium, and antimony.

And in 2007, large quantities of uranium were discovered. Mining is projected to begin by 2010.

Cattle raising and export of meat and hides are some of the main economic activities in Botswana and the country is far ahead of most of the countries on the continent in terms of ranching. Its climate has been compared to that of Texas in the United States where ranching is also a major economic activity.

Another important sector of the economy is textile production although it's dwarfed by South Africa's next-door because of the highly developed nature of the economy of Botswana's southern neighbour. Still, the manufacture and export of textiles continues to be a major economic activity in Botswana.

Botswana also has a vibrant agricultural sector but it's not large like mining.

Agricultural products include maize, groundnuts, sorghum, millet, sunflowers and beans. Cotton is another important cash crop but water shortage and lack of sufficient irrigation facilities have hampered agriculture. And only a small percentage of the land is used for farming and growing crops.

South Africa is the principal trade partner and the primary market for Botswana's beef.

With about the same area and climate as Texas, Botswana has specialised in cattle raising for decades.

Financial services also constitute another important sector of the economy. And Botswana's capital, Gaborone, is one of the most important financial centres in southern Africa and on the entire continent.

Gaborone also is the headquarters of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the largest and richest economic bloc on the African continent. It has fourteen member countries including the continent's powerhouse, South Africa, and some of the potentially richest countries on the continent: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola.

The other member states are Botswana itself, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mauritius, and Madagascar. Seychelles was also once a member of SADC from September 1997 until August 2005.

The economic bloc also promotes political and social integration. It also deals with security matters affecting the region and works closely with the African Union (AU), with Botswana playing a central role as the headquarters of this regional organisation. And it plays an important role in the economy of Botswana.

Tourism also is one of the main sectors of Botswana's economy.

For decades since independence, tourists from South Africa and Zimbabwe visited Botswana and many of them went to gamble at the casino in Gaborone. They also went to hunt, fish, watch birds and photograph at the parks in the Okavango Delta region, the Chobe game park and the Khutse game reserve.

Botswana has some of the best bird and game sancutaries on the African continent and tourism is still growing fast because of the country's extensive nature preserves and good conservation practices.

And visitors from the region still go to Botswana in large numbers although tourists from Zimbabwe became a rare sight after Zimbabwe's economy collapsed in the late 1990s.

Botswana also draws tourists from around the world, mainly from Europe and North America and is one of the major tourist destinations in Africa like Kenya and Tanzania.

Other attractions include Stone Age rock paintings on the cliffs of Tsodilo Hills which is the highest point in Botswana.

The Kalahari desert covers much of southern Botswana and the Okavango River forms an extensive swamp in the northwest.

But in spite of having a strong economy, Botswana has not been spared the scourge of drought that has ravaged the economies of many African countries through the decades including the ones in southern Africa. For example, from 1981 to 1982, drought destroyed about 75% of the nation's crops. It was one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history and on the entire continent and the country was forced to appeal for international aid to prevent starvation.

Droughts are relatively common in Botswana although the country has a subtropical climate. And it has continued to experience periodic droughts through the decades. It also has limited fresh water supplies, making things much more difficult in a country which also faces serious problems of desertification and overgrazing.

But Botswana has been able to develop and prosper because of good leadership, good policies, fiscal discipline and proper management of its resources unlike most countries on the continent which have mismanaged and squandered their resources because of corruption, tribalism and outright incompetence.

Careful management of resources and proper planning has enabled Botswana to transform itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income nation with a per capita income of $15,000 in 2007.

Some sources claim Botswana is already a high-income country with a per capita gross domestic product of $29,516 in 2008.

That's in sharp contrast with most countries in Africa whose per capita income is less than $500 in spite of the fact that many of them are potentially richer than Botswana in terms of natural resources including minerals and arable land.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, a country even richer than South Africa in terms of minerals and potentially one of the richest countries in the world, is a typical example. Others include Tanzania, a country also rich in minerals and abundant agricultural land but whose socialist policies ruined the economy for decades.

The list goes on and on, leaving Botswana virtually in a class by itself.

In fact, Botswana has been accorded the highest status by two major investment services as the best credit risk in Africa.

For years, the country has earned the highest credit rating in Africa and one of the highest in the entire world. It also has billions of dollars in foreign exchange reserves unlike most countries in Africa. Most of the billions in other African countries have been stolen and deposited overseas by corrupt leaders and government officials.

In 2004, Transparency International identified Botswana as the least corrupt country in Africa and had higher ranking than many European and Asian countries.

Botswana has also been rated by the World Economic Forum as one of the two most economically competitive nations in Africa. The other one is Mauritius.

Also many mining companies from different countries have offices in Botswana, attracted by the country's potential growth of the mining sector, its vibrant economy and competitiveness as well as transparency.

The country is unquestionably one of the best investment areas in the world. It's also one of the best to live in, not just to visit. It also has excellent race relations between blacks and whites as well as other non-blacks.

But, in spite of its economic success, ....

Source:

Willie Seth, Botswana and Its People,

ISBN 9780981425870.