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A statistical and qualitative analysis of the application of the 1972 Societies’ Act

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Wim van Binsbergen


ABSTRACT. Tension between coercion and consensus is inherent to any state system, and informs state-church relations. Post-Independence Botswana is of comparative interest in that the Botswana political culture has emphasized national consensus as the state elite’s main stategy in controlling the civil society. While churches constitute a power-base irreducible to the state, state-church interaction offers insights in the state elite’s options of furthering its dominance without exploding consensus. The Societies Act (1972) defines the setting for such strategies, which vary from co-optation and state use of a religious idiom, via bureaucratic interference beyond the letter of the law (e..g. in state control over the nomenclature of churches) to the imposition of an alien bureaucratic logic. Limiting cases are provided by religious organizations pursuing a historic non-Christian idiom in the trappings of a church. The conclusion problematizes the proliferation of formal organizations in modern Africa, and argues the limited applicability of the acquiescence concept As elaborated by Matthew Schoffeleers.

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Part I Introduction: The Botswana post-colonial state between coercion and consensus[1]
Part II. Towards a quantitative profile of Botswana churches (a)
Part III. Towards a quantitative profile of Botswana churches (b)
Part IV. Pastors and bureaucrats: qualitative aspects of church-state interaction in the context of the Botswana Societies Act
Part V. Conclusion: Beyond acquiescence


[1]       Field-work was conducted in November 1988 to October 1989, August-September 1990, June-July 1991, May 1992, October 1992 and February, 1994, in Francistown and rural communities in Botswana’s North-East District, with a short excursion into southwestern Zimbabwe, and consultation of government files in Gaborone. I am greatly indebted to the Applied Research Unit, Ministry of Local Government and Lands, Republic of Botswana, for their hospitality extended to me as a visiting researcher; to the African Studies Centre, Leiden, the Netherlands, for leave of absence and research funds; to my wife and children for whole-heartedly sharing in the field-work; to Chuke Amos, Ennie Maphakwane, Edward Mpoloka, Joshua Ndlovu, Dikeledi Moyo and Rebecca Siska for research assistance; to church leaders, adherents, ritual leaders, adepts, neighbours, friends, and respondents in the Francistown region; to officials both in Francistown and Gaborone. Under the Botswana Societies Act (Republic of Botswana 1977: section 30), the records of the Registrar of Societies are open for consultation by the public, and I am greatly indebted to the Registrar of Societies and individual officers for facilitating my perusal of the files in every conceivable way. Finally I wish to express gratitude to Matthew Schoffeleers, Robert Buijtenhuijs, Bonno Thoden van Velsen and Emile van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal for valuable comments made on an earlier draft, which was presented at the conference on ‘Power and Prayer’, Institute for the Study of Politics and Religion, Free University, Amsterdam, 10-14 December 1990. A much shortened version of the present argument, without any of the statistical analyses on which it is largely based, appeared as van Binsbergen 1993a in a collective volume entitled Power and prayer: Essays on religion and politics, VU [ Free University ] University Press, eds. Mart Bax & Adrianus Koster.



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