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Beef as intangible cultural heritage in Botswana: a documentary review


This article reviews the critical role of cattle and beef production, consumption practices, and symbolic values, among other elements, in instituting Botswana’s beef heritage. The rise of gastronomic tourism and the dearth of literature on Africa’s intangible food heritage has necessitated such a review. Using a document analysis methodology with Google, Google Scholar, and Web of Science Core Collection, the article narrates how the historical, economic, and sociocultural reliance on cattle led to a distinctive intangible beef heritage in Botswana. In conclusion, the article motivates the recognition of seswaa, a beef-related cuisine, as worthy of inscription under UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and for the continued documentation of food heritage amidst the limited regional studies of such in Africa.

Background of the study

Cultural tourism is emerging as one of the fastest-growing segments, accounting for an estimated 40% of global tourism revenues [110]. Cultural tourism is centred on heritage and religious sites, crafts, festivals, and gastronomy, amongst other subsegments. The segment is now a leading priority in the national tourism policy frameworks of at least 90% of 156 member states [111]. This is primarily because of UNESCO’s drive to harness the global protection of local cultural assets by introducing the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) [108], hereafter referred to as the Convention in this article. The mandate of the Convention was to safeguard ICH [108].

However, scholars are divided on whether culinary or food traditions should be safeguarded. Regarding food heritage, described by Romagnoli [47, 109]. On the other hand, supporters of the Convention, like Deacon [24], were optimistic that culinary traditions could be safeguarded with careful research and proper attention to the requirements of UNESCO’s intangible heritage nomination process.

The goal of creating a destination identity around traditional foods echoes the momentum of safeguarding culinary traditions. This is because unique food-related aspects of a destination are perceived as essential resources with the potential to create a unique value proposition [42, 52, 99] that supports the goals of the Convention. In response, there has been some growing interest in documenting the food heritage of African countries. For example, Oktay and Sadıkoglu [81] studied the culinary cultures of four African countries, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, and Morocco, and noticed how they were all influenced by Western cultures. Gagaoua and Boudechicha [34] also documented the food preparation techniques of traditional meat products, which represented the ancient cultural heritage of North Africa and the Mediterranean. The authors noted how the lack of food preparation knowledge, commercial availability, and the gradual decadence of traditional meat practices in North Africa due to globalization led to the extinction of most products.

Though literature is emerging on the importance of gastronomy in a destination's brand activities [52, 99], there is limited literature on the features of gastronomic heritage resources that could be used to define gastronomic destinations [55]. As Lin et al. [55] suggested, systematic studies of gastronomy as an intangible cultural heritage of tourist destinations are rare. This is also exacerbated by the lack of consensus on what constitutes gastronomic heritage at the UNESCO level [92]. Conclusively, Okech and Timothy [80] noted that African food heritage is underrepresented in the academic literature. Limited research exists specifically on the food heritage of Botswana.

Botswana is a medium-income country located in the southern part of Africa (Fig. 1). The country shares its borders with Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It covers an area of 581,730 km2, and close to 46% of this area is dedicated to commercial and traditional agricultural production from crops and livestock [44].

Fig. 1
figure 1

Botswana (Source: GISGeography, 2023 [35])

Cattle production is a critical agricultural activity that accounts for an estimated 80% of the farm GDP [44]. The semi-arid climate and erratic rainfall the country receives has traditionally favoured pastoral over arable farming [17]. Botswana currently boasts a population of 1,596,605 cattle [98], with 80% in the communal/traditional sector and 20% in commercial farmlands [11]. Cattle production is critical for rural livelihoods and sustenance, as it also caters to the most significant proportion of the rural workforce [63, 94].

In the case of Botswana, Chikanza and Graham [18] and Kasimba et al. [46] specifically argued that the country has a strong culture that can be embodied through traditional foods, however, there has been limited research in this field. Sello [95] and Bultosa et al. [16] further advocated the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the evolution of Botswana's cultural food practices and tendencies, arguing that such a wealth of information was vital in driving solutions to the challenges of food and sociocultural sustainability. Therefore, in the context of this study, the recognition of a food heritage for Botswana, while serving the interests of cultural heritage preservation, would also promote social cohesion and cultural sustainability, albeit with challenges associated with loss of authenticity.

Based on the preceding arguments, the main aim of this article was to document Botswana’s cattle and beef farming and consumption practices as part of the country’s beef heritage. Amidst the lack of a universal consensus on what constitutes gastronomic heritage, the study adopted the term food heritage to account for this form of heritage. The article analysed the features of food heritage that could be considered representative of Botswana’s beef heritage and worthy of inscription on UNESCO’s Representative List. The food heritage features developed by Zocchi et al. [115], i.e., agricultural products, ingredients, dishes, cooking implements, techniques, and recipes, the symbolic dimension of food (e.g., rituals), eating practices, behaviours, and beliefs, were specifically reviewed using documentary evidence, thus adding value to the knowledge of the food heritage landscape of Africa.

Research methods

Research design

Document analysis, a systematic procedure for reviewing and evaluating documents relevant to historical and cross-cultural research, was used as the critical analytical method [15]. This method examines and interprets data to elicit meaning and develop empirical knowledge from print or electronic sources [15].

Data collection: document sources and search scope

The critical data sources were Google Scholar (GS) and Web of Science Core Collection (WoSCC), some of the most significant citation databases. They were selected based on their timelines (e.g., covered articles as far back as 1915), accessibility (databases that were under subscription by the University of Botswana [UB] Library), and quality in terms of their accuracy with search results [90]. The two databases search for articles indexed by publishers, libraries, repositories, or bibliographic databases [85]. In addition to GS and WoSCC, Google was also used to retrieve relevant sources of grey literature [86].

Data collection: inclusion and exclusion criteria

The scope and quality criteria used in this article were guided by Gusenbauer and Haddaway [38], who suggested three indicators: relevance, reproducibility, and transparency. The main goal of the author was to select databases and search systems that provided appropriate coverage of the selected search query, [(Beef OR Cattle) AND (Heritage OR Culture) AND Botswana]. The inclusion of multidisciplinary databases, such as GS, and the exclusion of discipline-specific databases, such as IEEE Xplore, was considered crucial at this stage. The ability to manipulate the search query by the author with GS and WOL (using advanced search options) to derive meaningful search results was also favourable. Considering these points led to the inclusion of sources under the UB Library subscription, with the expectation that university databases provide access to a wide range of resources [73]. Secondly, regarding reproducibility, if the search query produced similar results later, the results would be considered consistent [38]. Lastly, to account for transparency, a detailed step-by-step procedure of how the search results were analysed was provided [38]. Overall, the scope and quality criteria followed are listed in Table 1.

Table 1 Scope and inclusion criteria

Google was used for information specific to (1) country statistics and (2) seswaa (a beef-related cuisine). Internationally accredited authoritative sources (e.g., International Trade Administration), local authoritative sources (e.g., Botswana Meat Commission), and other grey sources (e.g., newspapers and blogs) were used.

Data analysis procedure

The analysis involved skimming, reading, and interpreting the sampled documents [15]. First, skimming involved scanning and screening the records in GS and WoSCC for search query terms in the title, abstract, or keywords (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Flow chart of the document selection process

Documents that met the skimming criteria were exported as Microsoft Excel citations. Any duplicate sources were removed. Skimming on Google involved searching for documents with specific country statistics and information on seswaa in the title and result snippets. The second step involved reading all the documents and copying relevant information onto a Word document. In the third step, the text was organized into groups and coded based on its relevancy to the article’s aim, using a reflexive thematic analysis method. This method led to a coding process that helped uncover new meanings and themes in the data [73]. A series of validation steps by the author with a reviewer was later used to increase the validity of the interpreted content.


Overall, while document analysis gave the researcher access to data that would otherwise take enormous time and financial resources to collect, its main disadvantage was working with limited data [73], as credible electronic data sources on specific topics (for example, on the history of some beef-related cuisine) were not available. In the future, triangulation with primary data would be required to develop a deeper understanding of the topic [15].

Presentation and discussion of key findings

Description of search results

The documents retrieved using the search queries from the three electronic sources were varied. Out of 79 documents, 48 (60.8%) journal articles, two (2.5%) book chapters, four (5.1%) conference proceedings, three (3.8%) dissertations, and 22 (27.8%) websites were reviewed, and the year of publication ranged from 1974 to 2023. The complete lists of documents reviewed are presented as Tables 2–4 in "Appendix".

Thematic analysis

The three key themes derived from the analysis covered these aspects: (1) agriculture and beef production in Botswana, (2) symbolic dimensions of cattle and beef, and (3) beef-related cuisine.

Agriculture and beef production in Botswana

The significant agricultural activity in Botswana is beef cattle farming [17]. Cattle rearing in the country can be traced to the precolonial period, approximately 1850–1930, and the colonial period from 1930 to 1975 [40]. During this time, the Tswana (locals in Botswana) were agro-pastoralists with an agricultural system based on cattle rearing and crop farming. However, unlike other African pastoralist populations, the Tswana were not nomadic. Instead, they established residential villages surrounded by arable fields and grazing ranges, and depending on the season, household members moved between these three residences [40], forming the traditional land tenure system [31]. In the grazing lands, community members could graze their cattle without restrictions [31]. This was the status quo until the introduction of first, the Tribal Land Act in 1968, which transferred power over tribal land distribution from the tribal chiefs to the Land Board, a public institution accountable to the Central Government and not the community, and secondly, the Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP) in 1975 [75]. The TGLP brought radical changes to the traditional land tenure system as three grazing zones, the Commercial Grazing Areas, Communal Grazing Areas, and Reserved Grazing Areas were introduced, conferring different interests in land [31]. Under the Commercial Grazing Area, land was allocated to commercial ranchers. In the communal grazing areas, tribal communal land was unaffected, while the reserved grazing areas were kept for future allocations [31]. However, the implementation of the TGLP was not wholly successful, as it was later discovered that much of the designated commercial land was intensively used by tribal communities, thus creating controversy, which stands to date in the administration of land in Botswana [75, 113].

However, the history of cattle and land ownership rights became the basis for economic wealth and social status, further constituting the foundation of postcolonial economic production in Botswana [23, 40]. Due to the pre- and colonial cattle ownership status, a vibrant cattle and beef export market was promulgated in postcolonial Botswana [41]. With the opening of the Lobatse Abattoir in 1954, cattle exports increased steadily [41], making beef the country’s most significant primary agricultural export product [29, 44]. In 2016, the country accounted for Africa's most considerable beef exports and was ranked 18th globally, contributing 0.5% in total world exports by value [30]. In 2019, Botswana became the ninth largest beef exporter to the European Union, notably to the Netherlands, Greece, and Italy [30]. The two key companies responsible for the bulk of the current beef exports (frozen and processed meat) are the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) and Senn Foods.

The government enjoys a monopoly over the beef export sector [12], which was instituted through the creation of the BMC in 1965 [88]. The monopoly was unavoidable, as it ensured that the BMC promoted the livestock industry and the interests of livestock producers, including slaughtering cattle and its exports [43]. The BMC still controls Botswana’s privileged premium beef export market access.

Beef cattle farming techniques

Botswana’s national herd comprises indigenous and exotic cattle breeds [79]. The Tswana is the predominant indigenous breed [17]. Other indigenous breeds include the Tuli, the Bonsmara, and the Africander, while exotic breeds include the Brahman, Simmental, and Hereford, to mention a few [79]. Both breeds are exposed to free-range and natural beef farming methods [79]. In the communal grazing system, cattle are kept in open rangelands with no defined property rights (free-range). In contrast, in the commercial sector, they are kept in ranches, where over 90% of the feed requirements are provided from natural grazing with limited supplements during the dry season [60]. These farming methods, also practiced in Namibia [64] and other southern African countries, ensure that cattle live on unmodified pastures and roam freely [79].

Farmers slaughter their cattle at various abattoirs throughout the country. The largest export abattoirs, the BMC Export Abattoirs at Lobatse and Francistown, serve the country's southern and northern key cattle-producing areas, respectively [65]. BMC slaughters 44% of Botswana’s annual cattle slaughter, while smaller municipal abattoirs owned by the local governments and other butcheries, often unlicensed, account for the rest [106]. The cattle are brought to the abattoirs on foot or by road or rail transport. Upon arrival, the meat is inspected by certified meat inspectors [65].

However, several authors (e.g., [23, 48, 49, 60, 67]) noted with concern how the demand for beef globally has been cited as one of the leading causes of range degradation, bush encroachment, and grass composition changes in Botswana due to overgrazing, among other factors. Beef production is also prone to land use conflicts between livestock and wildlife, which are intensifying [67, 112]. Because of such factors, the heavy reliance on natural pastures is slowing, paving the way to a feedlot system, which could be financially and economically profitable but whose development is still in its infancy in the country [60]. Significant differences in production technology also exist between traditional and commercial farming production systems, leading to considerable differences in profit generation [4] and production efficiency [5, 7, 102].

The economic contribution of beef has also been hindered on several occasions by its sensitivity to disease outbreaks. In 1895–96, for example, close to 95% of the national herd was lost to rinderpest [41]. In 1995 Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) also infected around 320,000 cattle [76]. Cattle in the Okavango Delta, the Chobe, and the Nata River Basin are also at constant risk of infection with viral foot and mouth disease transmitted from buffalos [6, 89]. Furthermore, conditions such as sleeping sickness (nagana) were re-discovered in the Ngamiland district in 2001 [96].

By 1905, Botswana had set up a Veterinary Department to control lung sickness, East Coast fever, and other related diseases [41] that affect the beef value chain. In 1928, lung sickness was eradicated, and others, such as East Coast Fever, were controlled [41]. Disease monitoring occurs mostly at cattle farms [41, 66], abattoirs [65, 87, 106] and retail shops [19, 58, 74, 93]. Specifically, an automated livestock identification and trace-back system (LITS) that ensures the traceability of beef products to the farm has been adopted [82].

Despite such measures, Oladele [82] argued that most farmers in the Kgalagadi, for instance, had unfavourable attitudes towards the LITS system and experienced high constraints in its use. Amanfu et al. [3] also argued that it was essential that Botswana continuously uses the latest technologies at farms [3] to detect viruses [68] and other diseases, that have received limited attention in the literature [56]. Producers could also consider the use of ethnic knowledge [32] and the use of alternative responses to disease control [62].

Symbolic dimensions of cattle and beef

A strong connection exists between cattle and communal politics, where cattle, as beasts of burden, are symbolic of power and wealth [14, 39]; the more significant the herd size, the greater the influence the family or individual has in the community [97]. Under the traditional land tenure system, cattle were initially controlled by the Kgosi (Chief), or it was held as private property by wealthy members of the society [40]. In this system, women were excluded (until recently) from owning or controlling any land or cattle [45, 107]. Although women’s cattle ownership is rising in Botswana [88, 107], it is historically engraved as a masculine activity, a connotation consistent across other agro communities [50].

Furthermore, Ribeiro and Corção [91] contended that developing countries in contact with developed countries with high levels of beef consumption often tend to adopt a symbolism of meat as food par excellence, which could apply to Botswana. Botswana’s reliance on a lucrative Westernized beef export market has led to a representation of imageries in marketing that communicate excellence in beef quality. For example, Botswana beef is portrayed as high-value lean beef, known for its exceptional quality at the international level [11], and is ‘exceptionally tasty and full of flavour’ [13]. In these contexts, beef not only serves as an agricultural product but also serves to gratify political and economic interests.

Botswana beef has always been determined to meet the export quality indicators of high hygienic standards and acceptable veterinary conditions, resulting in investments in infrastructure and capacity that would not have otherwise existed [8]. However, position insinuates led to the institution of a monopolistic approach to beef production, as reiterated, which serves as a source of tension and conflict. For example, the monopolistic system by BMC has been attributed as one of the reasons why the total cattle holding figures and population numbers have remained steady but have depicted an overall declining rate [107]. The decreasing contribution of beef farming has also been attributed to a national agricultural extension system that, since 1926, has failed to address the needs of farmers adequately [105], resulting in the poor utilization of artificial insemination centres by cattle farmers [72], among other challenges. Livestock farmers also lack knowledge of advanced farming technologies [105], such as cattle feeding methods and alternative feeds [101] and could benefit from cooperative efforts with other countries like China in technology transfer and infrastructure [71]. Most farmers still need to cope with the capital-intensive nature of beef farming, resorting to small-stock (sheep or goats) rearing [84].

Above all, economic and political factors that have favoured a transition from agricultural to diamond-led earnings following the boom of the mineral sector in the 1980s also led to the reduced importance of the agricultural sector [53]. Love [53, p. 71] specifically argued that the pattern of state intervention facilitated the ‘transition by a traditional dominant group of cattle owners to a contemporary capitalist class of commercial farmers and industrialists’, transforming traditional cattle breeding into commercial production. Because of such government policy, between 2011 and 2015 alone, the number of traditional cattle holdings fell by nearly 50% from 74,664 to 37,755 [107]. This position insinuates a threat to the country’s traditions around cattle production [107] because, as Frimpong [31, p. 14] advised, interference with this status quo should be treated with “absolute caution”, since cattle are sacred and essential to the Tswana, being deep-rooted in their social traditions and customary practices [31]. Traditionally reared for meat and milk, draught power, social events, and prestige [17], cattle are central in Botswana [88]. First, cattle are used in building social relationships and as a traditional medium of exchange [20]. Social disputes can be settled with cattle payments, while men also pay their bridal price (Bogadi) in cattle [97].

At funerals and celebratory functions, beef also serves a central position in the food hierarchy and is used to display social cohesion. Symbolic values are observed in preparing and eating certain beef dishes at such functions [21, 36, 78]. For generations, for example, traditional beef slaughtering was considered of profound cultural importance in Botswana to the extent that it was a highly regarded skill commanded by cultural experts who are proficient in this respect [70, 83]. The beef carcass is slaughtered and butchered in a distinct style at traditional weddings and funerals across the Barolong, Bakwena, Bangwato, Bakalanga, and Hambukushu ethnic groupings [70] and the Bangwetse Tribe [83]. Instead of the typical English cuts of chuck, brisket, or sirloin, the carcass, in the Bangwaketse Tribe, for example, is cut into eleven distinct pieces, and each piece is ascribed specific cultural relevance [83]. The mokoto, one of the pieces cut along the spine, is eaten at the Kgotla (communal gathering place) and not at the homestead by all men (and only men) attending a traditional wedding celebration in most ethnic groups [83]. In some traditions, mokoto is cooked with other pieces of meat, such as the intestines [70]. Grave diggers (known as Diphiri) are also served unique cuts from the backbone of the slaughtered beast. The meat is believed to strengthen them as they prepare other final resting places.

Cattle have also been used as a symbolic gesture of philanthropy and self-reliance among the Tswana. For example, cattle were used to raise money for the construction of the UB (the first university in Botswana) campus through a fundraising event code-named 'Motho le motho kgomo’ (one man, one beast), in 1976 [69]. In front of the UB library, even lies the statute of a man herding an ox, representing the many cattle that contributed to the construction of the University [69].

Lastly, beef festivals in the country also strongly connect to beef, geography, and tourism. Notably, the Lobatse International Beef Festival and the Ghanzi Meat Festival, held in Lobatse and Ghanzi, respectively, tie tourism to historic beef strongholds. By showcasing inclusive activities between hosts and visitors, the festivals provide a vehicle through which communally agreed values and interests are shared [28]. For instance, the Meat Festival brings awareness to the importance of the cattle hides and skins market as raw materials for the leather industry. This aspect has yet to receive attention in the literature [51]. These festivals are thus an outward manifestation of the identity of geographical and historical places associated with beef production in Botswana.

Beef-related cuisine

Okech and Timothy [80] note that each African country has its distinct blend of cuisine. Beef is a national favourite, given that cattle are the predominant livestock in Botswana [61]. Beef is cooked in various ways, including Seswaa, a preferred meat dish [61]. A summary of the critical characteristics of Seswaa is presented.

Description of Seswaa

Seswaa (Fig. 3) is indisputably recognized as Botswana’s national dish [59, 77]. The dish assumes many names depending on the lexical variations that characterize the Setswana-speaking people [100]. Seswaa, as it is known by most tribes, including the Bangwato, one of the dominant ethnic tribes in Botswana, is pounded beef [33]. The Bangwaketse Tribe calls it loswao, a word that the Bangwato uses to refer to the two-pronged stick used for pounding instead [100]. Among the Bakgatla, another tribe, seswaa is known as chotlho (that which has been chewed), while among the Bakwena, the dish is known as tshwaiwa (that which has been pounded) [100].

Fig. 3
figure 3

Seswaa (Source: Author)

History of Seswaa

The Bakwena Regent, Kgosikwena Sebele, attributed the origins of seswaa to gastronomic necessity [22]. He claimed the pounded meat was easier to share and chew for the young and old. He also asserted that seswaa emerged from slaughtering extremely aged cattle (known as mekodua), which were more flavourful and succulent than younger and lesser mature cattle.

Seswaa preparation

Seswaa is made of three ingredients: beef, water, and salt. The meat is boiled in water with a considerable amount of salt for approximately 4 h until it is well done and soft [25]. It is then pounded with a wooden stick known as Tswaiso [57] or loswao in other dialects.

Seswaa is mainly prepared at significant public events or ceremonial occasions, including the opening of new government buildings [114], Independence Day, weddings, funerals [10], or local community meetings [54]. The cuisine was also featured at the Letlhafula Festival, a harvest festival showing traditional food, which was often held in Gaborone (the capital city) in May annually [27], and at the annual National Culture Day before COVID-19. It was also a prominent feature at past international beef festivals.

Seswaa is considered a delicacy whose preparation requires special skills and knowledge. First, butchery skills are necessary to identify the correct type of beef to use [54]. Not all kinds of beef cuts are used in traditionally preparing seswaa. Second, when pounding, the meat must reach a particular thread stage, that is, of the 'right consistency' and a perfect balance between dry and soggy, a process that requires some food preparation knowledge [54]. At Kgotla meetings, such as the ones held in Molepolole Village, predominantly under the Bakwena tribe, the task of preparing seswaa is reserved for an elite group of ‘seswaa chefs’ who have perfected the skill over decades [54]. At funerals and weddings, men cook seswaa, often considered the centerpiece [70], while women prepare starch (sorghum or maize meal porridge) and vegetable accompaniments [114].

Seswaa: traditional eating practices

While most traditional beef cuts follow gendered lines in that men and women are ascribed specific cuts to eat, seswaa is considered a communal meat dish [70]. The delicacy is served hot with starchy meals like soft maize or sorghum porridge. In traditional homestead dining settings, older guests are served first before family members and children. The norm is to also wash one’s hands before eating, although this is changing as modern utensils, like forks, gain preference.

Seswaa: recipe variations and modifications

One modification to the seswaa recipe is the addition of onions and cracked black pepper [104], [103], and bay leaves [2]. In other recipes, the beef is pressure cooked and lightly fried before pounding. Others add chili powder to create a spicy seswaa version [27]. Chef Kgafela, a prominent chef in Botswana, also created a new range of finger foods, including seswaa dumplings, seswaa and English mustard spring rolls, and seswaa samosas, served at tea parties [9]. Another notable fast-food chain, Debonnairs, recently introduced a seswaa pizza in 2022 [26]. Furthermore, Hilton Garden Inn introduced a new menu item, the seswaa taco, served with spicy salsa [37].

The recipe modification processes are driven chiefly by contemporaneity in the consumption behaviours of the Tswana. This trend is provoked by exposure to other cultures through television, travel, or direct cultural contact [1, 83]. The food preparation methods at traditional weddings and funerals in Botswana have also experienced considerable changes due to globalisation [61, 78, 83].

While the recipe modification process may contradict the goals of ICH preservation, failing to safeguard the original recipe, the process has conferred some distinction and exoticism to seswaa, awarding the cuisine a place in contemporary gastronomy. This proves that the cuisine is revered from traditional and modern platforms and is a testament to UNESCO's claims that ICH is a living heritage [92]. Seswaa is, therefore, undoubtedly a cuisine that should be nominated for inscription on UNESCO’s Representative List, as it is community-based, inclusive, and representative of Botswana’s beef heritage, critical criteria essential for consideration on the list.

Conclusions, implications, and recommendations


Through an analysis of electronic documentary evidence, this article concluded with the position that the food heritage of beef in Botswana is recognizable as ICH, a testament to the importance of cattle production in the Tswana economy and culture. Cattle and beef as agricultural products, including beef farming practices, the symbolic representations of cattle and beef from political, economic, and socio-cultural positions, the preparation techniques of beef-related cuisines, such as seswaa, and their associated eating practices, behaviours, and recipe modifications, are all part of the living cultural heritage of the Tswana in Botswana.

The article reviewed the historical development of a vital cattle and beef production system over the precolonial and colonial periods that formed the foundation of Botswana's postcolonial beef political and economic system. The system serves the interests of a profitable cattle and beef export trade system that is in existence to date. A national veterinary system was invested to support the export trade system, through disease outbreak monitoring, for example. Although there are challenges in administering the veterinary system highlighted in this article, it still stands as one of the best in Africa [23].

Evidence from the documents reviewed also supported the symbolic importance of cattle and beef from the political, economic, and socio-cultural contexts. However, the place of beef as a significant export product gratified political and economic interests more than socio-cultural interests. Government policies in the agricultural system, for example, have been blamed, in part, for the ailing traditional cattle system, a move some authors (e.g., [31, 53, 107]) purported would threaten the existential and symbolic value of cattle and beef in Tswana society. However, as reiterated, some socio-cultural traditions of cattle slaughtering and beef preparation practices among the Tswana are also threatened by contemporaneity. For example, the preparation of seswaa, a national delicacy, is prone to recipe modification. Due to several factors, the traditional beef heritage is thus slowly giving in to commercialisation and the effects of globalisation, thus heightening the call for safeguarding it.

Implications and recommendations

Botswana's beef heritage is a crucial resource that defines the country’s historical and economic development and socio-cultural legacy. Therefore, the article advocates for a motion to nominate the inscription of seswaa as a gastronomic element on UNESCO’s Representative List. Seswaa is a gastronomic resource significant in formulating Botswana’s beef heritage. By inscribing seswaa on the List, the cuisine will be accorded its long-overdue gastronomic recognition nationally and internationally.

The article also calls for the continued documentation of other forms of food heritage by researchers using either preexisting or primary data sources. Elderly residents in local communities, who are vital participants in safeguarding the transmission of ICH to future generations, could be used as potential data sources. With their assistance, other meat-related cuisines, such as serobe (made from ox tripe, intestines, kidneys, heart, or liver) or segwapa (dried meat), considered delicacies in Botswana [61], could be fully documented. It is also possible to corroborate the findings from this study using primary empirical data from interviews with relevant cultural representatives or observations at specific ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals.

In conclusion, this article argues that the several elements of Botswana’s beef heritage are currently fragmented across several disciplines, e.g., agriculture, economics, history, anthropology, culinary arts, and several socio-cultural spaces. Adopting an appropriate cultural heritage tourism policy is required to amalgamate these elements into a representative heritage at the national level.

Availability of data and materials

Only preexisting electronic documents were used. Documents used are cited accordingly.


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Chatibura, D.M. Beef as intangible cultural heritage in Botswana: a documentary review. J. Ethn. Food 10, 41 (2023).

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