White man’s disease, black man’s peril?: Rinderpest and famine in the eastern Bechuanaland Protectorate at the end of the 19th century.

16 February 2015

During the late nineteenth century, a pandemic of Rinderpest exterminated large numbers of cattle in Southern Africa. Although in the Bechuanaland Protectorate the disease killed cattle only for two years between 1896 and 1897, its effects were to last until the very end of the century. The loss of cattle disrupted subsistence production, disintegrated the social fabric and caused famines. This paper examines the subsistence crisis caused by the loss of cattle and the multiple coping mechanisms that people employed to negotiate the ensuing famine. Despite being thrown into a state of desperation, the paper argues, rural communities in the eastern Bechuanaland Protectorate appropriated and reconstituted certain features of their cultural and social life to negotiate the hardships and, when these failed, they invented new strategies appropriate with specific situations.